Air Compressor Types: How are air compressors classified?

Air compressors are used as a power source for pneumatic electric tools. But all Air compressors are not the same. How are air compressors classified? There are different types of air compressors. Each compressor has its capabilities and disadvantages. Air compressors are categorized based on their internal mechanisms. In this article, I will discuss the classification of air compressors.   

Air compressors are a very important device in many industries. An Air compressor is a pneumatic device that converts air into strong energy and stores the compressed air for future use. Air compressors are categorized based on pressure range and volume flow rate or capacity of the compressor. The compressors are categorized on design and principle of operation also. Follow my article to know more about the classification of air compressors.

What is an Air Compressor?

An Air compressor is a pneumatic device. This device changes power into extreme energy by reserving pressurized air. To intensify the pressure an air compressor pushes the air again and again into the compressor’s storage tank. When the air compressor tank’s pressure touches its higher limit it closed. After that, the air compressor system store the compressed air in the tank for further use.The air compressor serves kinetic energy through the compressed air, this energy helps in various activities and can run different pneumatic tools when it is released air and the tank depressurizes.

Classification of Air Compressor

Air compressors are classified in several ways.

According to Pressure Range:

Air compressors deliver air pressure. So, it can be classified according to pressure delivery level. Such as-

  1. Low-pressure air compressors– the contraction from low-pressure air compressors is LPAC.  low-pressure air compressors have a discharge pressure, in pounds per square inch that is 150PSI. 
  2. Medium pressure air compressor– Medium pressure compressors’ discharge range is 151PSI to 1000PSI.
  3. High-pressure air compressor-  HPAC is the contraction of the high-pressure air compressor.  This kind of compressor has the highest discharge pressure, which is above 1000PSI.
  4. The hyper pressure air compressor- Very high-pressure air compressors discharge pressure above 1000PSI.

According to Volume Flow Rate:

  1. Low capacity air compressor–  The capacity of low capacity compressors is less than 0.15 m3/s
  2. Medium capacity air compressor– the volume flow rate of this kind of compressor is between 0.15 to 5 m3/s
  3. High capacity air compressor– capacity of the high capacity air compressors is greater than 5 m3/s

According to the Design and principle of operation:

  1. Positive displacement air compressor– positive displacement air compressor has a different kind of operating system. It increases the air pressure by reducing the volume of the air. There are two types of positive displacement air compressors-
  • Reciprocating air compressors: you can find the most common design nowadays is the reciprocating compressor. Usually, a reciprocating compressor has air compressing elements, heads and pistons, air intel and discharge valves, and air cylinders.
  • Rotary air compressors: rotary compressors don’t need much attention. It requires minimum maintenance. Rotary compressors are adjustable to direct drive by a multi-cylinder gasoline engine or diesel engine or an induction motor. These compressor units are compact and inexpensive.
  1. Dynamic air compressor- dynamic compressor use rotating impellers for pressurizing air that accelerate and decelerate the air. Deceleration means the restriction of the air that helps to increase the pressure. Some Dynamic compressors are oil-free. These oil-free compressors are good for sensitive environments. There are two types of Dynamic compressors:
  • Centrifugal compressor: Centrifugal compressor transforms energy effectively. It uses several steps to compress the air and keep the air cool that repeatedly flows into the unit. Here the air attracts inside an impeller and when air moves outside it accelerate. Then the flow of the air is decelerated by the diffuser by converting the kinetic energy to potential energy. In every step of air compression, it is important to keep the air cool and moisturized to enhance air efficiency and quality. The nonstop flow through different stages accepts a centrifugal compressor to improve maximum capacity.


The centrifugal compressor can run continuously for years without any serious maintenance.

This compressor can provide oil-free air. 

  • Axial Compressor: Axial compressors are usually seen in small-scale power stations, high-speed ship engines, and jet engines. These kinds of compressors are not regular in industrial settings.

Air compressors are categorized based on pressure range, capacity, design, and application. Each compressor has its capabilities and disadvantages.

Application of air compressor: 

All types of Air compressors have various uses for small projects and maintenance at home or in businesses to manage work efficiently and safely. We can use compressed air pressure to run so many pneumatic tools like framing nailers, roofing nailers, and impact wrenches. There is a lengthy list that will expand your knowledge about the vast use of air compressors in a large area of our environment. Different types of applications require different types of air compressors. There are several kinds of air compressors in capacity, power supply, and sizes. 

Read more: How to Size an Air Compressor?

Based on use we can divide the compressor into groups.

Consumer-grade air compressor: Consumer-grade air compressors are single-stage models like a pancake. This kind of air compressor is usually used for different kinds of household tasks and small operations such as inflatable products, inflating tires, blow cleaning, some low required air tools- brad guns, staplers, etc.

Professional grade air compressor: these types of air compressors provide higher pressurized air and more power. Rotary screw models or two-stage reciprocating models are Professional grade air compressors. This provides extra power to run various pneumatic tools at once with nonstop use.

Industrial-grade air compressor: Industrial-grade air compressors are like a workhorse in a manufacturing plant. These are the dependable power source on an oil rig. Industrial grade air compressors are designed for a constant flow of compressed air for a long time. It can handle fluctuating surges. 

Hotdog vs Pancake air compressor

Air compressor for home use:

Air compressors are useful for a home project. From small to big sizes like 60-gallon air compressors used in home use. 

  • Pumping tires and inflatable: if you think the compress air pump is simple but that is not right. It helps to pump tires for bikes or other vehicles and inflatables mattresses, pool accessories
  • Pressure Washing:  to pressurize the water air compressor helps in pressure washing.
  • Yardwork: Air compressors are very useful in yardwork such as cleaning the yard, tight spaces on equipment, and cleaning crevices. Compress air also uses for spreading weed killers to the larger yard.
  • Crafting: There are so many crafting tools people use with air compressors. Using a paintbrush for a home project, painting a vehicle or bike, or another large surface. Air blow gun for cleaning after a home project.
  • Woodworking: Woodworking will be very challenging without the air compressor.  In woodwork, people use different kinds of pneumatic tools like nail guns and sanders. 

Use of compressed air in small and mid-size businesses:

  • Air compressors help to run hammers and pneumatic drills on the construction site.
  • In an auto body, a shop air compressor helps to paint vehicles.
  • In an auto body shop or any woodworking project air, the compressor uses for sanding
  • Air compressor helps to run various air tools in the automotive repair shops
  • Air compressor powering pneumatic nail guns for roofing
  • Medical services and dental clinics use air compressors also.
  • Air compressor helps to sandblast in different machine shops and manufacturing facilities. 
  • Using the air blowgun to clean various machinery items air compressor helps.

Industrial use of air compressor

  • Manufacturing Industry: air compressor works in the central power source which keeps the business in production for the plastics, refineries, metal fabrication, or assembly of the plants. 
  • Pharmaceutical industry: an air compressor is very effective in the Pharmaceutical industry. Compressors help to move products on the conveyor system,  packaging and bottling, and different spray coating on pharmaceuticals.
  • In Agriculture: the air compressor helps the glasshouse and ventilation system. It helps for spraying crops and powring the dairy machines.
  • In Dry cleaning: an air compressor helps to deliver chemical applications into cleaning guns.
  • Energy exploration: Air compressors use in onshore and offshore operations, powering the ventilation system, and reactor rods inserting and withdrawing.
  • In the food and beverage industry: In the food and beverage industry for packing, closing, palleting, cooling, and freezing air care compressor is used. For checking devices and filling equipment for drinks air compressor help.


What do you mean by a compressor and how is the compressor classified?

A mechanical device that is used to compress air is a compressor. Usually, a compressor pressurizes the air to change into potential energy for different kinds of applications. Compressors are used in many industries. Air compressors can run different kinds of pneumatic tools. Air compressors are classified based on design and principle of operation, volume flow rate, and pressure range. According to the design and principle of operation, air compressors are divided into two types: Positive displacement air compressors and Dynamic compressors. Volume flow rate compressors are divided into low, medium, and high-capacity air compressors. Compressors can be divided by their pressure range also, these are low pressure, medium pressure, high pressure, and very high-pressure air compressors.

In what two ways are compressors categorized?

Based on compressors mechanism compressors are categorized. Compressors are divided into two categories. One is Positive displacement and the other one is Dynamic displacement.

Positive displacement: This type of compressor is very common. The Positive displacement compressor pulls gas or air in a volume. Then decreases the pressure and that arises in pressure. After that slow the pressure gradually through the diffuser.

Dynamic displacement: a dynamic compressor use an impeller that raises the velocity of a gas stream or air which transforms into pressure, then slows it through a diffuser.

What is the 4 most common air compressor?

Air compressors are classified according to pressure range, Volume flow, and design and principle of operations. But there are some compressors we use often. The most common four air compressors are- 

Reciprocating air compressor: reciprocating air compressors are positive displacement air compressors. This compressor usually increases its air pressure by decreasing the volume. It means the compressor takes in continuous volumes of air that are restricted in a closed area and fixes this air to an upper pressure. Reciprocating air compressor used in a smaller project like home construction or garage.

Rotary screw air compressor: it’s a common displacement compressor. This compressor has internal cooling abilities so, the compressor doesn’t require much attention or maintenance. Rotary screw compressors are large-size machines usually good for industrial use. This compressor can run with oil or oil-free.

Centrifugal air compressor: These air compressors keep slow and cool incoming air through a diffuser for building up effective energy. In their multi-phase compression system, centrifugal compressors are capable to produce a high range of energy in a comparatively small machine. This compressor requires less maintenance and uses in construction areas like the large-scale steel industry and chemical plants.

Axial Compressor: This kind of compressor is highly efficient. But expensive than other air compressors. That’s why Axial compressors are best suited for aerospace applications and require high horsepower. Axial compressors are usually found in high-speed engines on ships and airplanes.

What is a 3-stage air compressor?

A three-stage compressor is different than other compressors. Here the total compression system is divided into three ratios.  You can call a three-stage air compressor a multi-stage compressor also. There are three separate chambers in a multi-stage or three-stage compressor. Air moves into the first compression stage after that goes through two heat exchangers and two extra chambers. For the most balanced power output, the three-stage compressor is reliable. A multi-stage compressor can operate for long periods.

Final thought

Air compressors are classified based on many things. Compressors can be categorized amount of the pressure output. It can be classified on volume rate. Based on compressors’ internal mechanism compressors are categorized on the design and application. But each type of compressor is unique. Each compressor has a different capability. Every compressor has some disadvantages and limitations also. But according to the application every air compressor is made for a different kind of task. If you know more about the classification and application of the air compressor then you can utilize your compressor or select the right one for your project.

Air Compressor hose size chart