Welcome to another review here on the MSC Review Connect. Supplied from our good friends air Airbrushes.com in the UK, I have the opportunity at taking a close look at Iwata’s Studio Series Smart Jet Air Compressor (Model No. IS-850).
In addition to the video review I created for the Iwata Smart Jet Air Compressor, I have also provided a written version of the review below the video.
Iwata is constantly moving forward improving on designs of their growing line of airbrushes and compressors. For the purposes of this review, I will be looking at one of Iwata’s Studio Series compressors, the Smart Jet Air Compressor (Model No. IS-850). Technically the IS-850 has been around for a few years now, and other than a few changes to the coloring of some of the fittings and trim to the main housing, the compressor has remained basically unchanged in design.
There is an overwhelming selection of air compressors sold commercially today; so when looking for the first time to purchase of a compressor or simply replace one you already use, there are a few things that we need to consider before opening our wallets. Obviously a compressor that provides a flow of air that fits our needs is paramount. But there are some other factors that can help determine the best compressor for our needs? Cost is one of those major factors, but durability, power, maintenance, output of sound and longevity all play a role in making the decision. I will do my best to take this Iwata Smart Jet for a little test drive while discussing all of this compressors features and how it stacks up on my checklist of items when looking to purchase a compressor.
One of the most critical points when it comes to creating scale models might just be the painting stage. This is the point when you take that model you have spent countless hours cutting, sanding, fitting and gluing together parts bringing it to life by adding color. More often than not obtaining the best results does not apply not necessarily to the brand of paints and effects that we use as much as the tools and techniques in which you apply them. Since technique basically comes from perfecting through constant practice, this leaves the tools we use as one of the all-important cornerstones to the job at hand. When it comes to airbrushing, I would say most people think instantly about the airbrush itself, but a good source of air does play a major role in how this all works.
The first thing we need to do in this review is an unboxing of the new compressor and follow the instructions for setting it up. The compressor was shipped to me by Airbrushes.com in the UK and was packaged very well with the manufacturer’s boxing of the compressor inside a standard shipping box and nestled in a bed of packing peanuts. The Smart Jet compressor itself, is supplied in an attractive and study flip-top cardboard box. Inside, we find the compressor and all ancillary items provided, which are individually packaged in plastic bags and secured with foam and cardboard dividers.
Inside the box, Iwata provides a small instructional booklet. One of the first things that should be done before plugging in any new compressor, is to read the supplied documentation regarding setup. Number one on the list is to confirm the contents in the box. There is the Iwata Smart Jet air compressor, one coiled air hose, one straight air hose, a moisture trap assembly, one airbrush holder (already attached to the compressor), a small clear bag containing three coupling adapters for different airbrushes, a small round filter, one rubber O-ring and the compressor documentation.
Moving on with the setup, the coiled hose gets attached first. One end of the coiled hose is attached to the compressor outlet, and the other end is attached to the moisture trap assembly. Even though the input and output fittings are labeled on the moisture trap, there are two different size fittings which allows fool-proof installation. The next step calls for the straight air hose to be attached. The larger ¼ inch fitting is attached to the moisture trap and the other end will eventually be attached to your airbrush. While the instructions mention “snapping” the moisture trap into the bracket that was factory installed onto the compressor, you will need to install the supplied O-ring onto the clear plastic collection chamber on the moisture trap. Simply unscrew the clear plastic bottom, roll on the rubber O-ring, place the top of the moisture trap assembly on top of the bracket and screw the collection chamber in from the bottom. This will create a tight fitting seal between the bracket and moisture trap and ensure there is no movement of the moisture trap.
Basically at this point, the setup is complete. There is a small circular sponge-like filter included in one of the packages from inside the box. This is a replacement filter for the compressor’s air intake. This intake is located on the side of the compressor under a semi-rounded black cap. The cover can be removed by prying the top of using your fingers. Finally, supplied in the box was three coupling adapters that are used for three specific airbrushes; Badger, Paasche and Aztek.
As a result of this compressor being provided to me from Airbrushes.com in the UK, the power supply for the Smart Jet is equipped with a standard Type G power cord end for the 220 volt electrical systems in the UK. Since I am located in the US, I would normally need only a universal adapter, however, this particular compressor does not have an inline transformer. I am using an inexpensive step-up/step-down transformer instead. Please note, when purchasing this or any power equipment from countries other than your own, you will want to make sure the units are sold with power cords specific to your location; otherwise you will need to use an adapter or alternative transformer.
The Iwata Smart Jet Air Compressor is a single piston, oiless compressor. This compressor employs what Iwata call, Smart Technology and is also considered to be maintenance free. Although there is no external sir tank included with this compressor, there is a uniquely designed system created by Iwata to compensate for the lack of pressurized air an external tank provides. Leading off of the compressor, we see a coiled air hose; this provides basically two functions. First being the coils, which provide cooling to the air flow from the compressor which in turn helps to reduce condensation. The second purpose is that this coiled air hose acts somewhat like and external tank in that is provides a small amount of space to store pressurized air in the line. The Smart Technology automatic function includes an inline non-adjustable regulator. This allows the compressor to store a static amount of pressure at around 50 to 55psi giving a working pressure of between 30 and 35psi. When the compressor is turned on, the internal pressure reaches 50 to 55psi and the compressor automatically shuts off. When in use, as the pressure internally decreases to about 30 to 35psi, the compressor will automatically turn back on, again, shutting off at the maximum pressure setting of 50 to 55psi. From the coiled air hose, the airline leads into a special water trap Iwata has provided. One this water trap, there is a small pressure gauge to show the stored and working pressure of the system. Below the gauge is the water trap itself. Attached to the bottom of the water trap, is a small bleed valve, commonly referred to as a MAC valve. This valve serves a dual purpose in that is can be opened to drain off the water trap reservoir if and when it fills with excess condensation. This valve is also used to control the overall flow of air through the system to your airbrush for fine adjustments in flowrate.
Since the Smart Jet Compressor does not have an adjustable regulator installed, the small bleed valve at the base of the water trap compensates for the lack of a regulator. When the valve is opened, effectively creating a leak in the air line, the flowrate is changed allowing the user to obtain lower velocity of airflow with their airbrush. What does all this mean you might ask? Well, if the working pressure set by the compressor is 30 to 35psi with the airbrush trigger held in the wide open position, the user can open the bleed valve and reduce the working pressure even further. Depending on the airbrush you are using, the paint and/or what you are trying to accomplish at the time, the lower pressures might be needed. With all of the components installed correctly from the compressor to your airbrush, Iwata states this will reduce the pulsating which occurs in a number of tankless air compressors sold today. When I get to the testing phases of this review, I will be putting this to the test.
Finally, from the output side of the water trap, a straight, polyurethane air hose is to be attached. This will provide air flow directly to your airbrush. This straight air hose comes equipped with a fitting that works on all Iwata airbrushes, Harder & Steenbeck, Sparmax and Grex airbrushes (probably more…but that is what I have on the bench right now). Iwata also provides thee small adapters for use with Badger, Paache, and Aztek airbrushes as well.
Once the setup of this compressor is complete, it is time to turn the system on! There is a small on/off switch located on the top back section of the compressor, just above the internal motor. With a flick of the switch, the motor turns over effortlessly and produces airflow. With an airbrush or quick disconnect installed on the straight air hose, the compressor runs until the internal regulated maximum pressure of 50 to 55psi is reached and the compressor automatically stops running. This only takes a few seconds to happen. The Smart Technology start/stop feature is controlled through the inline automated regulator located just before the coiled hose attachment. The auto start/stop feature turns the compressor back on when the internal pressure of 30 to 35psi is reached and will run until the maximum pressure setting is achieved. I you hold the airbrush trigger down fully, and do not release, the compressor will turn on and run continually as the airflow is greater than the full recovery rate of the compressor; however, the output flow is never less than the lowest preset regulated pressure of 30 to 35psi as this is the actual working pressure of the compressor.
Another one of the bigger concerns with airbrush compressors next to the overall flowrate, it the decibel level output it produces…or to put it simply, the noise level. Documentation form Iwata Smart Jet Air Compressor states a sound output of 50 decibels. Without knowing what parameters Iwata uses to test these levels, I will base my findings on placement of the compressor between two and three feet from my working surface. For starters, a normal speaking voice is around 60 to 70 decibels. The room I was in when testing the compressor is very quiet, but still recorded a sound level of about 36 decibels. When I held a decibel meter within one foot of the compressor while it was running, I recorder levels around 64 decibels. When the compressor was place on the floor three feet away as I would typically have one set in my work space, I recorded levels around 45 decibels. Basically put, the compressor’s output of sound is extremely low and meets the suggested output levels documented by the manufacturer.
For this review, I am using a number of personal airbrushes to test out the functions and capabilities of this compressor. Unfortunately I do not own an Iwata airbrush at this time; however, I can assume that Iwata airbrushes will perform at least at the same levels as the quality airbrushes I am using.
As you may or may not know, airbrushes will perform differently depending on needle and tip size, select design features and of course by manufacturer. In any case, this does not mean that an airbrush is good or bad because of its manufacturer or design. Typically most issues experienced with airbrushes stems from the users lack of understanding of the product being used…or possibly it could be as simple as the product being used and the consumer do not fit each other. I mention this because choosing an air compressor has to do with finding a compressor to supply air to your airbrush and not necessarily how well your airbrushing will turn out in the end. This is one reason why I try and use as many airbrushes as I can to test the compressor out. This will hopefully give anyone who chooses to read or watch my video reviews a better understanding on what the compressor can do. With that said, off to the bench to give the Smart Jet Air Compressor a test run!
First off, there is no apparent reason to question the 50psi holding pressure of this compressor or the 30 to 35psi output due to the fact the pressure gauge provided appears to be in excellent condition and consistently records the same values each time in both static holding mode or when the system is flowing fully free. Taking this into consideration, I used an anemometer to check the difference in flow with each of the five airbrushes I am using. I am looking for any fluctuation in flow by doing this. In addition, I want to check the workability of the attached bleed valve and how well the air flow can be controlled.
As I mentioned, I am using five airbrushes form my personal collection; Harder & Steenbeck Infinity (0.15mm needle), Harder & Steenbeck Evolution (0.2mm needle), Badger Renegade Krome (0.2mm needle), Sparmax SP-20X (0.2mm needle) and the Grex Titanium Gravity Feed (0.3mm needle). Each airbrush is made a little differently and there is a difference in needle sizing for some of these. In all cases, the Smart Jet Air Compressor performed exactly as it is advertised. There is more than enough airflow produced by the compressor to adequately spray a wide variety of enamels and lacquers as well as acrylic paints.
As for the bleed valve, this part (and function) works exactly as intended. When the valve is closed completely, the maximum flow of air is allowed through the line to your airbrush. When the bleed valve is opened, the flow of air is effectively controlled reducing the velocity of the airflow through your airbrush. This is extremely useful depending on what is being painted and often what type of paint is being used. Please note, the compressor will run continuously when the bleed valve is open large enough to surpass the recovery rate of the compressor to the 50 to 55psi level. Basically, this eliminates the start/stop function of the compressor when the bleed valve is used.
I noticed when using the Harder and Steenbeck airbrushes, I am able to control the flow directly at the trigger of the airbrush. This is due to the design specifications of the airbrushes themselves. The air valve design of the H&S airbrushes are typically more sensitive to positioning than most and you can control the air flow much easier. Another note on my testing, I noticed there was indeed airflow fluctuation when using the Sparmax SP-20X airbrush. This was only when I held the trigger to the airbrush in the full open position. While the compressor cycled between 50 and 30 psi, the airflow appeared to reduce slightly for a moment; this was confirmed by using the anemometer. By using the bleed valve function and creating a small leak in the line, this fluctuation was eliminated. A final note, it is possible to add an inexpensive inline air regulator to the system. I would suggest if you were to do this, that is be placed just after the auto stop/start regulator and just before the coiled air hose. By doing this, I was able to set a working pressure lower than the minimum pressure of 30 to 35 psi. The compressor cycled flawlessly allowing me to maintain the lower pressures without any fluctuation and the compressor ran intermittently turning on only when air for the stored static pressures were needed and automatically shutting off when reaching the maximum internal pressure of 50 to 55psi.
All in all, the Iwata Smart Jet Air Compressor is a high quality, beautifully designed airbrush compressor. The Smart Technology is a great feature, even though when using the bleed valve attachment to regulate lower pressures pretty much eliminates this function. The coiled air hose and water trap are more great features to this compressor. The coiled air hose does help keep the air produced by the compressor cooler….cooler air produces less condensation. For any water buildup in the in the water trap, the bleed valve doubles as a drain plug to remove water from the system. The Smart Jet Air Compressor produces more than enough air to adequately airbrush the wide-ranging list of model paints offered today. The biggest drawback I noticed this compressor is the lack of an adjustable inline air regulator. Even without the adjustable regulator, the bleed valve attachment will adequately allow the user control over the ability to change the output flowrate of the compressor. Depending on personal needs and wants when it comes to the bleed valve function, installing an inline regulator is possible.
The Smart Jet Compressor is super quiet, which is always a welcomed feature. The automatic start/stop function along with the solid construction to this compressor and all of its included parts, lets me know that the Smart Jet Compressor will last a very long time for the average modeler. This compressor is virtually maintenance free. There is nothing to oil and no tanks to empty besides the clear water trap included if and when it collects condensation. There is a small air filter installed on the side of the compressor, but depending on overall length of operation and the conditions of the environment you are using the compressor in, will define if and when this filter is needed to be changed. Finally, I feel the Iwata Smart Jet Air Compressor is moderately priced for the quality, design and usefulness of the unit. This compressor sells for around $255.00 UD (£249.00 inc. VAT [£207.50 ex. VAT]) from Airbrushes.com. This is more than reasonable when comparing the quality of this compressor and all of its features to similarly equipped compressors on the market today.
I would like to thank the kind folks at Airbrushes.com in the UK for sending me the Iwata Smart Jet Air Compressor for this review. Please stop by their website to check out this compressor and the full line of Iwata airbrushes, compressors and accessories.