Current Airbrush Recommendations?

Looking for recommendations on airbrush setups. Our basic one needs an upgrade.

We started airbrushing 5 years ago and somehow got lost in the day to day operations. Recently we looked at our system and thought--this was a first step, how did we forget to go forward? Our current equipment is all cheap Harbor Freight gear, which amazingly gets small jobs done. However, our job scale has grown. Our 1/8HP airbrush compressor is getting close to water in the line and our little siphon fed airbrush is just at the end of line--and for $10 over 5 years, I think we beat the maximum life out of it.

So, we're researching some ideas. What are you all using? Gravity vs Siphon? Any other thoughts?

@dbdchocolate -

I know you have thoughts on this, so I know we'd all be interested in hearing them.

Well, any recommendations would really be based upon what you are planning to do. Is airbrushing just an occasional decorating technique or are you planning lots of consistent spraying? Are you doing chocolate designs (i.e. easter eggs, holiday decorations, general chocolate sculpturing etc...?)

As a general rule, I like to have both an airbrush and a spray gun. The airbrush allows for less spray more narrower detail when desired and the spray guns for higher through put covers and larger through put. In terms of siphon vs gravity feed, there are pros and cons to both. Siphon feeds are great because you can have multiple bottles set up and quickly change between colors with minimum clean up or carry over. The down side is that the siphons pump air into your color in order to force it up and and out the tip. This tends to shorten the "open time" of your cocoa butter....especially if you are working in a cooler environment. The gravity feeds are great because they tend to keep your cocoa butter in temperature longer and are easier to heat up and adjust viscosity when needed. The down side being that change over between colors takes longer and requires more care/ cleaning to ensure no bleed over between colors.

Honestly, I tend to use both gravity and siphon and juggle between them based upon production needs (how many colors/ molds and how much coverage is needed) and the general environmental. Is it warmer or cooler, how's the humidity (remember the siphon pumps not just air into your cocoa butter, but potentially any moisture it contains). One thing to definitely consider is the nozzle size. Everyone seems to have personal preference, but I like 1mm for my airbrush and 1.2-1.5 for my spray gun. Cocoa butter is more viscous than typical airbrush paints, even the glycerine based food colors. For this I like to ensure having a slightly larger nozzle. The bigger the nozzle, the more color comes out and the more coverage area that can be sprayed. One can typically adjust airbrushes to be a bit narrower than the stated nozzle size so why not have the extra leeway?

With regards to compressors, again one must assess their current needs and try to project some extra capacity for growth. If this is something that will be used very frequently, then I wouldn't advise anything less than 1hp and definitely try for something that has some storage capacity, like 2-4 gallons. At the end of the day, you don't want the motor to kick on every time you press your trigger. this will certainly tax the motor and will likely prevent your airbrush/ spray gun from performing to spec. They need steady air at certain rates in order to spray consistently. Another consideration is whether the compressor is oil lubricated or "oil less" type. The
"oil less" types tend to be a bit louder but there is no concern for contamination in the hose and thus your food. It is true that you can purchase oil traps (and moisture traps for that matter) for your line, but guarantees can be hard to ensure.

At the end of the day, it really comes down to what your needs are and what you see yourself needing the future. How much storage do you have and what's the budget. I guess the same can be said for just about everything in our field!! A good place to start looking would be Grex. They are making some solid spray equipment based upon a newer Japanese LVLP system. They tend to use a bit less air to achieve the same results as HVLP systems, which is good if one has a smaller air supply. They have good customer service, are knowledgable about food applications and a lot of professionals seem to be using them these days.

I hope this helps!!