Air Brush Compressors

Here are some tips on selecting the right air compressor for your airbrush painting needs, and some things to watch out for.

The first question often asked is if an inexpensive, relatively low capacity air compressor purchased at your local tire store, or big box store, or even work properly for air brush painting? If so, what are the issues with them?

Of course these air brush compressors will!

There are differences between DIY and industrial types and air-brush-compressors though, and it will help you to select the right one for you if you understand the variables.

The most significant issue is, I think, noise. Good quality air brush air compressors run fairly quietly. A "cheapie" air compressor does not!

Regardless of what compressor you use, as long as it's got the air flow your paint apparatus / gun requires (CFM) at the air pressure you need (PSI), and the air is of sufficient quality, then that unit will work for you.

After you read the information on this page, if you have a question for the forum or want to see what others are talking about with their air brush compressors here is the air brush compressor forum page.


In my opinion it is always good to "oversize" your air brush compressors a little, as you'll see below. Even if the air-brush-compressor flows 10 CFM @ 80 PSI, and you only need 2-3 CFM @ 20 PSI, with the appropriate air pressure regulator, you can adjust a higher capacity unit to the level you need.

Having excess capacity means that you can handle the more viscous paints, as you'll have lots of air in reserve!

Here are some things to consider when looking for a compressor to excel in supplying compressed air for air brush painting.


Recognize that the lower cost compressors, and many expensive ones for that matter, are very noisy. It's pretty hard to concentrate on doing just the right blend, or an intricate fill, when all of a sudden the compressor under your bench "blaattsss" into life, scaring the bejeesus out of you, and disfiguring your hard work as your steady-hand jerks away from the sound.

One of the most important hallmarks of an air brush type compressor is that it's quiet. It can cycle on with almost no sound, and cycle off with a gentle "psssssht" as the unloader valve dumps air from the compressor head cylinder.

That quietness doesn't come cheap. Depending on the size you pick, you might not get much change from a $1,000.00. Silence is golden, and it costs a lot of gold!

As a result of that high cost for a quiet compressor, we'd be inclined to purchase the $200-or-less compressor from the tire store, spend another couple of hundred building a soundproof box around the darn thing, and put the rest of the money we saved from not buying a "quiet" compressor in the bank!

When you do that, make sure you leave good air access for supply air and to allow cooling of the compressor head.


No professional air brush painter will put up with oil carry over from the air compressor creating "fish eyes" on their finished artwork. As a result, some feel obliged to purchase an oil-less compressor.

The downside of this decision is that oil-less compressors usually cost more, they are often quite a bit noisier than the oil-lubed comparable units, and they tend to run hotter which, unless the hot compressed air is mediated via "air preparation", will have some negatives as to compressed air quality. (See this link for more information about water problems in your air). A hotter running compressor usually means more maintenance and shorter compressor life, too.

Instead of buying into an oil-less compressor, simply ensure that the air that exits the lower cost, oil-lubed compressor, is adequately filtered to remove free water and oil. Please see here for detailed information about compressed air filters in general, and here for information on filters that remove oil from the air.


Regardless of the type of compressor you purchase, water spraying out the end of your nozzle will wreck your paint job, and ALL compressors generate water and water vapor. The general purpose filter can remove free water from the air, but won't remove water vapor.

If you are using a lot of compressed air, say a quite large piece of work, it's likely that the water vapor exiting your compressor receiver will condense in your air line or your gun, leading to water droplets projecting onto your work.

That being the case, you can add a "point-of-use" dryer to ensure that no water can reach your work. Have a look at this page for information about dryers.


Regardless of the type of compressor you purchase, and even after adding the accessories referred to earlier and at this link , one thing you will want to have is a precision regulator .

Using a precision regulator means that you can "dial in" the correct pressure that works best with your gun and your paint mix, and since they are so much more sensitive than general purpose units, the precision regulator will ensure that flow is consistent and steady.

Duty cycle!

An acquaintance recently told us that they'd a friend that had "gone through" a number of low cost compressors recently, taking them back to the store and complaining to the retailer that the compressors were junk.

When I asked for details, it boiled down to the fact that the user did not understand that all compressors are not designed for continuous operation, and the compressors that they were purchasing were definitely not! Their lack of knowledge about 'duty cycle' did them in.

Take a look at this page for more information on air compressor duty cycle, and do make sure that the compressor you purchase has enough flow capacity, at the pressure you need, so that it can rest as often as necessary to ensure long life.

Don't Forget!

Make sure that the unit you select has ample flow, and ample pressure, for your airbrush painting equipment needs today, and as your business grows.

Don't forget to drain the receiver regularly to eliminate free water from the reservoir, and also remember that the liquid you drain is now considered a hazardous waste as it contains water and oil, and should be disposed of properly.

Good luck with your airbrush compressor hunt!