Key Differences between Pneumatic and Hydraulic Systems

Albeit pneumatics and hydraulics aim to produce mechanical motion through the use of a fluid medium, they have key differences any user must know. Some of these differences even make them suitable for specific applications, as well as unfit for other purposes. Knowing these differences helps in identifying the best system which fits your facilities for certain use. But whichever you need, be sure to find reliable Festo distributors for a purchase.

Here are the Major Differences of Pneumatics and Hydraulics

Fluid Medium

This is probably the biggest factor which sets pneumatics and hydraulics apart. They both use a fluid medium to elicit motion, but they use gas and liquid respectively. Pneumatics usually use air directly from the atmosphere, and compress it to achieve appropriate pressure. On the other hand, hydraulics uses liquid which is uncompressible, such as water, oil or synthetic liquid.

Pressure of Medium

Since air needs to be compressed for use, a pneumatic system only produces around 80 to 100 PSI of pressure. That’s considerably lower than the pressure hydraulics can produce, which can range from 1,000 to up to 10,000 PSI or more. That’s because liquid doesn’t need to be compressed for use in the system.


Yes, pneumatics produces significantly lesser pressure, but it’s perfect for applications which don’t require high force. Think of food and pharmaceutical production lines, as well as minor construction and mining tasks. Even dentistry uses pneumatics for some of the tools in clinics. It’s also suitable for applications which require superior cleanliness such as in food production, since it uses clean air free from any contaminants.

On the other hand, a hydraulic system is best for applications which have big demands for higher pressure and force. Think of heavy equipment in construction sites, as well as steering and wing adjustment of aircrafts. Moreover, in contrast with pneumatics, hydraulics isn’t applicable for food and pharmaceutical production, as well as other application which require superior cleanliness. That’s because of the contamination risk its liquid medium poses.


Another instantly observable difference of the two are their structures. Pneumatics usually involves smaller, sleek and even portable machines. That’s because it compresses air before use, which also decreases its volume. In contrast, hydraulic systems usually have large and bulky components to accommodate liquid.


Now, you already know that pneumatics and hydraulics uses gas and liquid respectively. That brings certain differences on how they function as well.

Pneumatics takes time to initiate since it needs to capture and compress air first. But once it starts, it’ moves much faster than hydraulic systems. On the other hand, hydraulic systems can start right away, but moves slower than pneumatics.

Moreover, components of a pneumatic system usually require lubrication for smooth motion. Whereas hydraulic systems are self-lubricating because of its medium.


Purchase cost and maintenance are the two biggest money-factors when talking about pneumatics and hydraulics. Hydraulics generally have higher upfront costs because of its bulky and durable parts. But since it’s durable, it lasts longer and requires lesser maintenance costs.

Pneumatic systems are more affordable when talking about purchase cost. Thing is, they often have less durable parts, hence it require more maintenance and repairs. Such maintenance cost can even go few times higher than the purchase cost of hydraulics today.

These are the essential differences between pneumatics and hydraulics. Carefully weigh them up to see which option suits your facilities.

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