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?
I’m actually looking into getting a gravity gun as I don’t like the airbrush coverage. Does anyone have any specific brand suggestions.
I have been using the Grex Tritium gravity-feed airbrush for several months now with a 2HP compressor (1 is probably enough, but because of an out-of-stock situation, I was given the 2HP at the same price). I am very pleased with the Grex, especially compared to the Paasche siphon-feed I had been using with a very small compressor. Coverage is much faster now (I suspect that is more the compressor than the airbrush). Note that this is an airbrush, not a spray gun. Unless you have significant volume, Grex does not recommend the gun it sells for chocolate work. For one thing, the paint cup is quite large and therefore requires a lot of cocoa butter–and I can only imagine how lengthy the cleaning process is. I agree with all the upsides and downsides mentioned above in regard to gravity feed, but with siphon feed, I had to stop and heat up the paint container every few minutes–now the situation is much better. But, to be honest, there is no getting around how difficult spraying chocolate through an airbrush is; after all, the instrument was never meant for this purpose. I do have a mini-spray gun in addition to the Grex (both are hooked up to the compressor), but have not used it very much because my production is fairly low and it is quite difficult to clean. I have the 0.7mm nozzle on the Grex (the largest they make). I’ll be glad to answer any questions you may have about the Grex. As was pointed out, their customer service is excellent–above and beyond the call of duty in my experience.
@DiscoverChoc Sure, we don’t have problems at this point–not that we haven’t learned to deal with in the flux and fuss of the seasons. I’ll never get 55% rH in our shop, too many variables.. When the offsite kitchen comes into being, you can bet we’re going to spend a lot of TLC on working environmental controls. You learn a lot with your first kid, right? hehe!
Thanks @dbdchocolate for the continued thoughts and recommendations, we’ll dig into their materials more fully and give a rep a call once we have our thoughts together to have a cogent discussion. 🙂 I’m looking forward to some new equipment!
@TheSecretChocolatier- with regards to the Grex line, I would definitely recommend reaching out them with your specific questions. That said, I would probably be most inclined myself to work with a gravity feed spray gun for higher volume production. That said, I do not know what higher volume means in your context. Having a small syphon feed airbrush is always good to have as well when you need to do finer detail and lot of color change over, so if it were me I’d look to have both….a syphon feed airbrush and a gravity feed air gun. That would cover all your needs from small runs, to lots of molds and sculptures.
@TheSecretChocolatier – I know all about life getting in the way of plans, so no worries on that score. Humidity control is very important, as is temperature control. Having some way to monitor both temp and humidity in the space where you’re doing the airbrushing is key as it will help you diagnose problems. I would think that trying to get to about 55% rH is going to help but more important is consistency in temp and humidity.
@dbdchocolate – Can you weigh in on the questions about Grex WRT gravity, siphon, and bulk?
Sorry for the delayed attention @dbdchocolate; between the onset of summer, family vacations and business the whirlwind made a longer orbit to come back to than usual!
Thank you for your detailed response. As I mentioned we’ve been in production with a really small setup for almost 5 years mainly if not exclusively for bonbon molds. We’ve used it in larger production of sculptings but as you know a small setup doesn’t lend itself to coverage and the immature spray delivery is really a one trick pony. Hence my desire to find some greater understanding and breadth of the toolset.
Like you also said in compressors our 1/8HP was cute, but the longer we’ve used it, the longer we’ve had it on due to project size scaling, the more it shows so many weaknesses so I’ll definitely look at something 1HP oriented. The size of that may be a challenge but we’ll see.
We’re in the Southeast here so humidity ranges from 60%-90%, the Summer can be a beast for us to stay in control of–especially when it comes to products like toffee–wooowhee hydroscopicity! hehe! We aim to keep the temp between 69′-72′–some days thats harder than others. A new production site is somewhere in the future.
Looking at the Grex lines they make quite a few product offerings. Would you have any suggestions within their lineups for gravity, siphon, and bulk?
Thanks @DiscoverChoc for moving things along, sorry for afk’ing far far too long on this.
HVLP is high volume low-pressure spray guns that supply the air with the help of compressor. The spray gun itself requires a low pressure to atomize the paint i.e. (LP) by using a higher volume of air (HV) to atomize and propel the paint. The result is a higher volume of material hits the surface which reduces material consumption and air pollution.
LVLP is low volume, low-pressure spray guns which require even less pressure at the nozzle cap to operate. They possess lowest overspray levels with softer sprays.
Andy, did Damion answer your questions?
@dbdchocolate – Damion, some definitions. HVLP vs LVLP. Thanks!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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…?)
I know you have thoughts on this, so I know we’d all be interested in hearing them.