How to Get DIY Smoke Effects for Theater Productions Using Air Compressors

smoke effects

One of the most technical aspects of producing a stage play or film is the need to introduce a foggy environment. This environment has many applications: in film, it’s used in scenes that imply a hallucination on the part of a character. It is also used in scenes when there is fire involved, among others. In stage, it is used for various applications as well.

There are many ways for professional theater companies to achieve this effect. Most tend to involve dry ice. However, dry ice can be very expensive. As a result, theater productions tend to gravitate towards a more affordable mechanism. Unless a theater production is expected to rake in some big cash, dry ice simply isn’t that good an investment for a special effect.

How Theater Companies Come Up With Smoke

In addition to dry ice, theater productions use fog machines to create smoke. These machines draw in liquid and process it through a heat exchanger, which causes the liquid–often water–to evaporate and produce smoke. The heat is carefully controlled in order to produce dense smoke similar in appearance to fog.

A fogging machine is also paired up with a special contraption in order to produce low-lying smoke or fog. The concept is actually pretty simple: the smoke produced by a fog machine is pulled by a device that acts similar to an exhaust fan and is passed through an air compressor. The compressor reduces the temperature of the smoke so that it becomes denser. The coldness of the air makes it hug the ground upon exiting the air compressor, eventually evaporating when it warms up.

Are You Looking to Create Your Own Fog Machine?

Smoke effects can be useful not only in expensive theater or film productions. It can be used at home as well, especially when you’re organizing a Halloween party. DIY fog and smoke machines are also an investment for independent film makers who are looking to come up with theatrical smoke and fog effects without having to buy the more expensive rigs used in big-budget productions.

These are the things that you’ll need:

An air compressor – Just like the compressor in the industrial fog machine, a home-grade air compressor functions to produce pressurized air by taking in wind and blowing it out through a nozzle. You don’t even need a very powerful air compressor for this to work – something small and portable is ideal actually, as larger, commercial machines are expensive and bulky.

Glycerin, distilled water, and steamer – Create a DIY smoke machine using a can with a hole drilled into it, and a water heater. Drill a hole with the same size as the hole in the air compressor’s intake valve, and feed a hose from the can into the air compressor intake. Improvise a heating mechanism using a camping stove, a Bunsen burner or candles, and place it below the tin can. Fill the tin can with a mixture of 1 part glycerin and 3 parts distilled water.


Pour the mixture into the tin can and heat it up. This will produce dense smoke, which will then be taken into the air compressor and blew out for an even denser fog effect similar to films.

With an air compressor and an improvised smoke machine, you can make fog or smoke effects anytime you wish.