What is the Difference Between Hydraulic and Pneumatic

Hydraulic and pneumatic systems are two types of fluid power systems that use fluids (liquids or gases) to transmit power. Although they serve similar purposes, they operate in different ways and use different types of fluids.

What is the difference between hydraulic and pneumatic? Hydraulics use a relatively incompressible liquid, such as mineral oil, water, or fire-resistant fluids, whereas pneumatics use compressed air or gas.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Hydraulic 
      – Definition, Features
2. What is Pneumatic
      – Definition, Features
3. Similarities Between Hydraulic and Pneumatic
      – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Hydraulic and Pneumatic
      – Comparison of Key Differences
5. FAQ: Hydraulic and Pneumatic
      – Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Key Terms

Hydraulic, Pneumatic

Difference Between Hydraulic and Pneumatic - Comparison Summary

What is Hydraulic

Hydraulics is a branch of engineering that uses the power of liquids to perform work. It’s basically the liquid version of pneumatics, which uses compressed gases. Founded on principles like Pascal’s Law, hydraulics works by transferring pressure through a confined liquid.

The hydraulic system has a pump, which pressurizes the fluid, typically a special oil. This pressurized liquid then travels through tubes and hoses to various components like cylinders and motors. Cylinders convert the pressure into linear motion, which is ideal for pushing or lifting heavy objects. Motors, on the other hand, translate the pressure into rotary motion, which is useful for powering wheels or drills. Regulation of the flow and pressure of the liquid is done by control valves. Movement and force are controlled by the opening, closing, or partially opening of these valves.


There are many uses of hydraulic systems such as the use of it in bulldozers, excavators, heavy machinery in factories, and braking and steering of vehicles.

What is Pneumatic

Pneumatics is the engineering field that utilizes compressed air or gas to generate power, transfer energy, and control machines. In pneumatics, air, which is readily available and virtually free, is compressed to a high pressure using an electrically powered compressor. This compressed air is then channeled through tubes and hoses to perform various tasks. Pneumatic systems can be quite basic, like a single air-powered piston or a tire inflator, or incredibly complex, controlling entire factory production lines.


There are many uses of pneumatics. In industrial automation, assembly lines heavily rely on pneumatic actuators, which convert compressed air into force to power robotic arms, presses, and other machinery. Nail guns, jackhammers, and paint sprayers are all powered by compressed air, which makes them efficient and powerful. Moreover, air brakes on trucks and buses use compressed air for safe and reliable stopping power. Dental drills and nebulizers are a few examples of medical equipment that function using compressed air.

Compressed air is lighter and easier to transport, not posing a fire hazard and being cost-effective are the advantages of using pneumatics instead of hydraulics.

Similarities Between Hydraulic and Pneumatic

  1. Both systems rely on fluids to transmit and amplify force.
  2. They share similar system components.
  3. Both systems depend on pressurized fluid to perform work.
  4. Both hydraulic and pneumatic systems are often closed-loop circuits.

Difference Between Hydraulic and Pneumatic


  • Hydraulic systems are fluid power systems that use incompressible liquids, typically oil or water, to transmit power at high pressures, while pneumatic systems are fluid power systems that use compressible gases, usually air, to transmit power at moderate pressures.

Type of Fluid

  • Hydraulics use a relatively incompressible liquid, typically mineral oil, water, or fire-resistant fluids. Pneumatics, on the other hand, rely on compressed air or gas.


  • Hydraulic systems typically operate at much higher pressures (thousands of psi) compared to pneumatic systems (around 100 psi).

Power Density

  • Hydraulic systems can transmit a large amount of power, making them suitable for heavy machinery and equipment that require high force. Pneumatic systems have lower power density compared to hydraulic systems, making them suitable for lighter tasks.


  • Hydraulic systems are commonly used in construction equipment (e.g., excavators, bulldozers), industrial machinery, automotive systems (e.g., brakes, power steering), and aircraft, whereas pneumatic systems are commonly used in air tools (e.g., pneumatic drills, nail guns), packaging machinery, and automation (e.g., robotics, conveyor systems).


  • Hydraulic systems offer precise control and smooth motion due to the incompressibility of the fluid while pneumatic systems can offer fast and jerky movements due to the compressibility of the gas.


  • Hydraulic systems use fluids that can be flammable or hazardous if they leak. Since they use compressed air, pneumatic systems are generally considered safer, especially in environments where flammable materials are present.


  • Hydraulic systems require more maintenance due to potential leaks of oil.


In conclusion, the difference between hydraulic and pneumatic systems lies in the type of fluid used and their respective strengths. hydraulic systems are more suitable for high-force, precise control applications, while pneumatic systems are more suitable for lighter, quicker, and less expensive applications.

FAQ: Hydraulic and Pneumatic

1. Is a hydraulic hose the same as a pneumatic?

No. Hydraulic and pneumatic hoses are not the same. Hydraulic hoses are designed to withstand high-pressure environments typically associated with fluid power systems, whereas pneumatic hoses are designed for lower-pressure air or gas systems.

2. Which is better, pneumatic or hydraulic?

Generally, pneumatics are the first choice where cleanliness and hygiene are of immense importance such as in medical environments, whereas hydraulics provide the force and power needed in industrial and construction settings.

3. What are 5 advantages of hydraulics?

5 advantages of hydraulic system include:

  1. Small size and lightweight
  2. High stiffness and fast response
  3. Suitable for heavy load direct driving
  4. Presence of various speed control modes
  5. Self-lubrication and self-cooling

4. What are 5 examples of pneumatic systems?

Five examples of pneumatic systems are as follows:

  1. Air Tools: Nail guns, impact wrenches, and air ratchets.
  2. Pneumatic Actuators: Cylinders for linear or rotary motion in machinery.
  3. Automated Machinery: Packaging lines for sealing, labeling, and sorting.
  4. HVAC Control Systems: Controls airflow and temperature in buildings.
  5. Air Brakes: Used in trucks, buses, and trains for braking power.

5. What are 3 advantages of pneumatic systems over hydraulic systems?

  • Fluid air is free, therefore these systems are more cost effective than systems that use other types of fluids.
  • Pneumatic systems are safer for use in flammable environments because compressed air does not pose the same fire hazards as flammable liquids.
  • Pneumatic technology is cleaner as it does not involve the use of oils or other liquids that could lead to spills or contamination.

1. “Hydraulics.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation.
2. “Pneumatics.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Hydraulics Control Panel Truck Hydraulic Arm Hydraulic Free Photo” (CC0) via NeedPix
2. “Pneumatic Drill” By Anthony Appleyard at the English-language Wikipedia(CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasini A

Hasini is a graduate of Applied Science with a strong background in forestry, environmental science, chemistry, and management science. She is an amateur photographer with a keen interest in exploring the wonders of nature and science.

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