Pressure – Absolute, Gauge, and Units of Both

Compressed air is a common utility used throughout industrial facilities and it has to be measured like any other utility in order to know just how much a facility is using. When dealing with compressed air a common unit of measurement that readily comes up is psi, pound-force per square inch. This unit of measure is one of the most basic units used to measure pressure in the compressed air industry. There are other means to measure this though, so let’s discover the difference.

Again, the pressure is a force distributed over an area, the Earth’s atmosphere has pressure, if it didn’t we would all balloon up like the Violet from Willy Wonka, just without eating some prototype gum causing internal pressure. PSIA is a unit of measure that is relative to a full vacuum. It is pounds per square inch absolute (PSIA). The absolute pressure is calculated as the sum of the gauge pressure plus the atmospheric pressure. If you were to travel into space, the atmospheric pressure would be absolute zero which is actually a vacuum. There is nothing pushing from the outside in so the inside pushes out, hence the ballooning.

The atmospheric pressure on earth is based on sea level. This is 14.7 pounds per square inch absolute pressure. This pressure will change along with the weather and the altitude at which the measurement is taken.

So how do we get to the pressure that is displayed on a pressure gauge?  When shown open to room air, my pressure gauge reads zero psi. Well, that is zero psi gauge, this already has the atmosphere showing. It is not showing the Absolute pressure, it is showing the pressure relative to atmospheric conditions. This is going back to the fact that gauge pressure is the summation of absolute pressure and atmospheric conditions, for sea level on earth that is 14.7 psia. So how do we increase this and get the gauge to read higher levels?

We compress the air the gauge is measuring, whether it is using a screw compressor, dual-stage piston compressor, single-cylinder, or any other type of compressor, it is compressing the ambient, atmospheric air. Some materials do not like being compressed. Air, however, reacts well to being compressed and turns into a form of stored energy that gets used throughout industrial facilities.  By compressing the air, we effectively take the air from atmospheric conditions and squeeze it down into a storage tank or piping where it is stored until it is used. Because the air is being compressed you can fit larger volumes (cubic feet or cubic meters) into a smaller area. This is the stored energy, that air that is compressed always wants to expand back out to ambient conditions. Perhaps this video below will help, it shows the GREAT Julius Sumner Miller explaining atmospheric pressure, lack of it, and when you add to it.

Lastly, no matter where you are, there is a scientific unit that can express atmospheric pressure, compressed air pressure, or even lack of pressure which are vacuum levels. To convert between these scientific units, some math calculations are needed. While the video below is no Julius Sumner Miller, it does a great job walking through many of the units we deal with daily here at EXAIR.


If you want to discuss pressures, atmospheric pressure, how fast the air expands from your engineered nozzle to atmospheric, why all the moisture in the air compresses with it, and how to keep it out of your process, contact an application engineer and we will be glad to walk through the applications and explanations with you.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer

1 – Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory – Violet Blows Up Like a Blueberry Scene (7/10) | Movieclips, Movieclips, retrieved from

2 – Lesson 10 – Atmospheric Pressure – Properties of Gases – Demonstrations in Physics,  Julius Sumner Miller, Retrieved from

3 – Pressure Units and Pressure Unit Conversion Explained, Chem Academy, retrieve from


Air – What Is It?

Air… We all breathe it, we live in it, we even compress it to use it as a utility.  What is it though?  Well, read through the next to learn some valuable points that aren’t easy to see with your eyes, just like air molecules.

Air – It surrounds us – (Yosuke,1)
  1. Air is mostly a gas.
    • Comprised of roughly 78% Nitrogen and 21% Oxygen.  Air also contains a lot of other gases in minute amounts.  Those gases include carbon dioxide, neon, and hydrogen.
  2. Air is more than just gas.
    • While the vast majority is gas, air also holds lots of microscopic particulate.
    • These range from pollen, soot, dust, salt, and debris.
    • All of these items that are not Nitrogen or Oxygen contribute to pollution.
  3. Not all the Carbon Dioxide in the air is bad.
    • Carbon Dioxide as mentioned above is what humans and most animals exhale when they breathe.  This gas is taken in by plants and vegetation to convert their off gas which is oxygen.
    • Think back to elementary school now.   Remember photosynthesis?
      • If you don’t remember that, maybe you remember Billy Madison, “Chlorophyll, more like Bore-a-fil.”
    • Carbon dioxide is however one of the leading causes of global warming.

      Moisture In The Air – (Grant)2
  4. Air holds water.
    • That’s right, high quality H2O gets suspended within the air molecules causing humidity.  This humidity ultimately reaches a point where the air can simply not hold anymore and it starts to rain.  The lack of humidity in the air leads to static, while lots of moisture in the air when it gets compressed causes moisture in compressed air systems.
  5. Air changes relative to altitude.
    • Air all pushes down on the Earth’s surface.  This is known as atmospheric pressure.
    • The closer you are to sea level the higher the level of pressure because the air molecules are more densely placed.
    • The higher you are from sea level the lower the density of air molecules.  This causes the pressure to be less.  This is also why people say the air is getting a little thin.

Hopefully this helps to better explain what air is and give some insight into the gas that is being compressed by an air compressor and then turned into a working utility within a production environment.  If you would like to discuss how any of these items effects the compressed air quality within a facility please reach out to any Application Engineer at EXAIR.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer

1 – Air – Creative Commons – Tsurutea Yosuke –

2 – DSC_0750 – Creative Commons – David Grant –

Video Blog: How To Calculate Air Consumption At A Pressure Other Than Published Values

The below video shows how to calculate the air consumption when operating at any pressure.

If you want to discuss efficient compressed air use or any of EXAIR’s engineered compressed air products, give us a call or email.  We would enjoy hearing from you!

Steve Harrison
Application Engineer
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How to Calculate SCFM (Volume) When Operating at Any Pressure

If you need to operate at a different pressure because you require less or more force or simply operate at a different line pressure, this formula will allow you to determine the volume of air being consumed by any device.

Volume Formula

Using the EXAIR 1100 Super Air Nozzle as our example:


Lets first consider the volume of the 1100 Super Air Nozzle at a higher than published pressure.  As shown in the formula and calculations it is simply the ratio of gauge pressure + atmospheric divided by the published pressure + atmospheric and then multiply the dividend by the published volume.  So as we do the math we solve for 17.69 SCFM @ 105 PSIG from a device that was  shown consume 14 SCFM @ 80 PSIG.


Now lets consider the volume at a lower than published pressure.  As shown it is simply the ratio of gauge pressure + atmospheric divided by the published pressure + atmospheric and then multiply the dividend by the published volume.  So as we do the math we solve for 11.04 SCFM @ 60 PSIG from a device that was shown to consume 14 SCFM @ 80 PSIG.


When you are looking for expert advice on safe, quiet and efficient point of use compressed air products give us a call.  Experience the EXAIR difference first hand and receive the great customer service, products and attention you deserve!  We would enjoy hearing from you.

Application Engineer
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