Compressor Types

Air Compressor Types

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Screw Air Compressor SOLIDair SOLIDscrew Central Compressed Air System
Screw Air Compressors - BOGE oil injection cooling S_111-4_LF
Reciprocating Air Compressors - High pressure, high durability & relatively low maintenance costs
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Piston Air Compressor - NuAir low noise silenced S-N5NT701FPS083-AIR-SIL2-NB5-5.5FT-270

Reciprocating, screw or vane air compressors – what’s the difference?

There are several ways of compressing air.

What’s the difference between them, and which is best for your application?

What is a reciprocating air compressor?

Reciprocating air compressors (reciprocating means to move back and forth) use a piston within a cylinder to generate pressure by positive displacement.

Air is drawn into the cylinder and ‘squeezed’ by the piston, increasing pressure.

Oil Lubricated Piston Compressors SRM_610_(vl)
Screw Air Compressor SOLIDair SOLIDscrew Central Compressed Air System

What is a screw air compressor?

Screw air compressors generate pressure using two screws (or rotors) – one male, one female. As the screws turn they draw in and trap air between them.

The trapped air is then forced along the screws while the space between the rotors decreases. This compresses the air.

What is a vane air compressor?

A vane compressor (aka a sliding or rotary vane compressor) features a rotor which contains numerous sprung blades (vanes) with a compartment between each.

As the rotor spins the vanes slide open and shut, enabling the air to pass from one compartment to the next, decreasing in volume and increasing in pressure as it goes until the pressurized air is released at the outlet.

Hydrovane Airen used air compressor

Which air compressor type is best?

Each type of air compressor is suited to slightly different applications although it’s fair to say that in many instances, there’s a large amount of overlap.

In many businesses, any of the compressor types could work perfectly well. In others, pressure, noise or operating cycle requirements could mean that one compressor is better suited than others.


Ideal for high pressures (particularly above 150 psi)

Efficient, generating higher pressures for less energy, especially when used intermittently

Requires frequent maintenance compared to a screw compressor, but maintenance tends to cost less

Tends to run louder and hotter than alternatives


Better suited to constant running than reciprocating compressors, especially at lower pressures.

Efficient for businesses running compressors at high load, less so for intermittent running and low loads

Lower maintenance requirements due to fewer moving parts

Relatively low noise and heat


Good for moderate pressure applications

Ideal for a continuous air supply and typically more efficient than screw compressors because of reduced leakage

Long working lives when regularly maintained

Relatively low noise

Oil Free Air Compressor MGF Dental Oil Free With Dryer Air PureAir Open Frame

Which compressor type has an oil-free option?

You’ll be able to find an oil—free option with each of these compressor types.

Which compressor type is right for me?

We’ve been matching businesses with the most efficient, effective air compressors since the 1980s. For help in choosing your ideal compressor type and model, talk to us.

Call 0114 243 2347, or contact us.

Algar Air

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