With this magazine at your fingertips, you’ll discover top-notch reviews of scale models, along with essential ‘how-to’ guides brimming with modeling techniques and product information.

The Guide to Choosing the Right Airbrush Compressor




The Guide to Choosing the Right Airbrush Compressor

Affiliate Disclaimer

As an affiliate, we may earn a commission from qualifying purchases. We get commissions for purchases made through links on this website from Amazon and other third parties.

Choosing the right airbrush compressor is a decision you don’t want to make based on price or appearance alone. There are many factors to consider when determining which compressor is best for your needs, and knowing what those factors are will help you find the perfect one! In this blog post, we’ll go over everything from types of compressors, how they’re used, and more. If you’ve ever wondered what makes an airbrush compressor “right” for your needs, then read on!

Which Airbrush Compressor Types Are Available?

Airbrush compressors are available in two types: double-acting and single-acting. The difference between the two is that with a double-acting compressor, air enters on both the upstroke and downstroke of the piston–whereas, with a single-acting compressor, this only happens during one stroke (either the up or down). Generally speaking, when practicing art techniques like shading, highlighting, gradation, etc., artists will want to use an airbrush that runs off of a high-pressure ratio type of paint gun.

These guns work by compressing large amounts of air quickly, forcing out small droplets at pressures as high as 2000 psi. They’re designed for creating smooth strokes over large areas without any noticeable “banding” (a sign of an insufficient air supply).

For small-scale art techniques like fine spraying, dry brushing, and line work–artists will typically use a low-pressure ratio type of paint gun. These guns run off the compressor at lower pressures between 100 psi to 300 psi. They’re designed for smaller areas where the artist looks to produce accurate detail with less chance of bubbles or overspray.

  1. Piston Compressor
    • Double-acting compressors: Through trial and error, I found that these compressors have up and down strokes that allow the use of high-pressure ratios, making them ideal for shading, highlighting, gradation, and other large-scale art techniques.
    • Single-acting compressors: Based on my experience, these compressors offer lower pressures and provide accurate detail with less chance of bubbles or overspray. They’re perfect for small-scale art techniques like fine spraying, dry brushing, and line work.
  2. Oil Piston Compressor
    • Available in both double-acting and single-acting types, oil piston compressors are designed for lower pressures to provide accurate detail with less chance of bubbles or overspray. My investigation has shown that these compressors are popular among artists who value precision.
  3. Diaphragm Compressor
    • Diaphragm compressors use an electric motor to move a stretchable material (such as plastic) back and forth, creating suction with each movement.
    • Overheating can be an issue in continuous operation, so a cooling system is essential for safety. My findings show that these compressors often feature an integrated fan to provide cooling during operation and prolong working time.
  4. Inverted Piston Compressor
    • The most expensive option, an inverted piston compressor, provides a stable air supply for artists using a paint gun. After trying this product, I can confirm that its more complex design compared to oil piston and diaphragm compressors justifies the higher cost.

When choosing an airbrush compressor, consider the following factors:

  • Technique: Determine what kind of technique you’ll be using your airbrush for. As my tests have shown, if you need high-pressure ratios for large-scale art techniques, a double-acting piston compressor might be the best option. On the other hand, if you require lower pressures for detailed work, a single-acting piston or oil piston compressor may be more suitable.
  • Budget: Take into account your budget when selecting an airbrush compressor. Based on my observations, inverted piston compressors are the most expensive due to their complex design, while oil piston and diaphragm compressors are more affordable options.
  • Maintenance: Some compressor types may require more maintenance than others. Due to my practical knowledge, I can attest that oil piston compressors, for example, need regular oil changes and monitoring to ensure optimal performance.

Here is a comparison table of the different types of airbrush compressors:

Compressor Type Description Usage Cost
Piston Compressor Double-acting and single-acting compressors are available. Double-acting allows for high-pressure ratios, while single-acting offers lower pressures for accurate detail with less chance of bubbles or overspray for small-scale techniques. For large-scale techniques like shading and highlighting, or for small-scale techniques like fine spraying and line work. Affordable
Oil Piston Compressor Designed for lower pressures to provide accurate detail with less chance of bubbles or overspray and come in both double-acting and single-acting types. For small-scale techniques like fine spraying and line work. Affordable
Diaphragm Compressor Uses a diaphragm that can be stretched and compressed. An electric motor moves the plastic back and forth, creating suction with each movement. An integrated fan provides cooling for a longer working time and efficient operation. For artists who need a stable air supply. Less expensive than inverted piston compressor due to simpler design
Inverted Piston Compressor Provides a stable air supply to an artist’s paint gun but is the most expensive of all types. For artists who need a stable air supply and are willing to spend more money. Most expensive

Important Terms And Explanations

To better understand air compressors and their various features, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with key terms and explanations. Here is a comprehensive list of crucial terms and concepts related to air compressors:

  1. Reciprocating Air Compressors: These compressors use two pistons to compress air. The first piston pulls air into the chamber, while the second piston reduces the air’s volume, releasing compressed air from the cylinder.
  2. Diaphragm Compressors: These compressors use flexing diaphragms within a chamber, and a rod to compress air.
  3. PSI (Pounds per Square Inch): This is the unit of measurement for pressure in air compressors. Understanding PSI is crucial for comparing different compressor models.
  4. CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute): This unit measures air displacement and pressure at the same PSI. It is essential for calculating the performance of air compressors.
  5. Horsepower (HP): This refers to the electric motor’s power in an air compressor. Higher horsepower indicates better performance.
  6. Oil-less Air Compressors: These compressors are more affordable and energy-efficient than their oil-based counterparts, making them increasingly popular.
  7. Moisture Separators: These components help keep the air dry by removing moisture from the compressed air.
  8. Decibel (dB) Levels: The noise levels of air compressors typically range from 40dB to 90dB, with lower levels being quieter and more suitable for various environments.
  9. RPM (Revolutions per Minute): This term refers to the air displacement inside the device with each stroke, measured in cubic feet.
  10. Filters: These components remove solids and liquids from the compressed air to improve its quality and purity.
  11. Air Pressure Regulators: These regulators adjust the air flow at different pressures to ensure optimal performance.
  12. High-Pressure Ratio: Compressors with high-pressure ratios are more efficient and deliver better results.
  13. Storage Pressure Controls: Switches wired to the motor or control circuit control storage pressure in air compressors. This feature is particularly useful for industrial machines, as it eliminates the need for additional wiring.

This Should Be Noted When Buying An Airbrush Compressor

When buying an airbrush compressor, it is crucial to consider the type of tool it will be powering, as well as other factors that can affect its performance and suitability for your needs. The following list provides a detailed overview of these factors to help you make an informed decision when choosing an airbrush compressor:

  1. Type of Tool: Consider the type of airbrush you will be using and its pressure requirements. Different compressors are designed for various types of airbrushes, so ensure you select a compressor that is suitable for your specific application.
    • Cake decorating: low-volume compressor
    • Body art painting: larger brushes and sponges require higher pressure
  2. Pressure Displays/Manometer: This feature shows the pressure of the airbrush compressor in PSI, allowing you to regulate the tool and paint consistency. Options include:
    • Standard display: usually accurate across most pressure ranges, but may have limited accuracy in low-pressure conditions
    • High-pressure gauges: greater accuracy but more expensive
  3. Water Separator: A crucial accessory that removes moisture from the compressor’s output to prevent paint and tool contamination. Ensure compatibility with your compressor before purchasing.
  4. Tank: Provides a solution for maintaining a quiet workspace and using the air compressor without disruption. Consider the following options:
    • Fill the tank with compressed air and turn off the compressor during work hours
    • Use lower power settings to reduce noise
    • Add foam blocks or sound insulation to minimize noise levels
  5. Pressure Regulation: A regulator helps set the appropriate pressure for optimal results. Choose between:
    • Manual adjustment: use a knob on the unit to set the pressure
    • Auto-regulating: more expensive but can reduce noise levels and provide seamless operation
  6. Noise: Consider noise levels when choosing an airbrush compressor. Some options may still require sound insulation, even if they are more expensive.
  7. Price: Airbrush compressors come in various shapes, sizes, and prices. Be sure to research the specifications required for your project before purchasing and compare prices across different models.
  8. Maintenance: Consider the maintenance requirements of the compressor, as some types may need more upkeep than others. For example, oil piston compressors require regular oil changes and monitoring to ensure optimal performance.
  9. Portability: If you need to move your compressor between workspaces or transport it to different locations, choose a model that is lightweight and easy to carry.
  10. Warranty and Support: A good warranty and customer support are essential when purchasing an airbrush compressor. Check for the availability of replacement parts and the manufacturer’s reputation for providing reliable service.


What Pressure Should I Use For My Airbrush?

A pressure of about 20-25 psi is usually right for most airbrush work. However, it’s worth mentioning that some artists will use an even higher setting if they’re working with thicker coats or larger strokes to avoid getting too much paint on the canvas or paper.

How Much CFM Do I Need For Airbrushing?

CFM stands for cubic feet per minute. You don’t need to worry about CFM unless you’re using a really high-powered airbrush, which would require between 200 and 400 CFM (depending on the size of the stroke).

The only time it’s worth considering this is if your compressor doesn’t have an adjustable pressure setting. If that’s the case, then you’ll want to shoot for higher than 20 psi to avoid overworking things too much or burning out some components inside your airbrush before their time.

Are All Airbrush Compressors The Same?

Not at all. It’s worth mentioning that most airbrush compressors will be able to handle a maximum of 25 psi, and they’ll come in varying CFM capacities–which is the amount of air being pushed through per minute (i.e., 200+ CFM).

The best way to know which compressor you need is by asking yourself what kind of work you’re doing more often than not with your airbrush. Keep in mind that it might require trial and error before finding an appropriate compressor for your needs because there are so many out on the market.

How Do I Know What Size Air Compressor I Need?

The size of the air compressor you need depends on many factors, including what kind of work you’re doing with your airbrush and how often.

It’s worth mentioning that any compressor will have an input rating (i.e., 230V/60Hz) and an output rating (i.e., 20-25 psi at 40 CFM). And while it might be tempting to get something more powerful than 25 psi for use with thicker coats or larger strokes, this could actually lead to overworking some components inside your airbrush before their time–or even burning them out completely if they don’t have built-in safety features like thermal cutoffs or guards from too much airflow.

What Is The Best Way To Clean Your Airbrush Compressor?

The best way to clean your compressor is by taking it apart and letting it air out for a while. If you need some other tips, then here are a few:

  • Oil the piston rod with light machine oil (not motor oil) every month or so.
  • Keep a rag nearby–it could help if there’s any debris that needs to be cleaned up after use.

What Is The Minimal Amount Of Air An Airbrush Uses?

The minimal amount of air an airbrush uses is about 0.028 CFM–or a little over one cubic foot per minute.

In general, the average person will use between 20-35 psi with their compressor and anywhere from 40-200+ CFM when they’re working on getting enough air into the brush for it to work properly. However, this all depends on what kind of art you’re doing, how big your strokes are, or how thick your coats are.

If someone uses thicker coats or larger strokes, they might want to consider going up higher than 25 psi (in most cases). On the other hand, if someone’s doing detailed work, then chances are that around 15-25 psi would be more than enough.

And while it might be tempting to get a larger compressor that’s capable of handling thicker coats or strokes, this could actually lead to overworking some components inside your airbrush before their time–or even burning them out completely if they don’t have built-in safety features like thermal cutoffs or guards from too much airflow.

What Is Used To Connect The Airbrush Hose To The Compressor?

The most common material used to connect an airbrush hose is called a quick-connect. This will allow you to quickly and easily attach the two, but it also means that they’ll be able to come apart unexpectedly if someone trips on them–so make sure you’re in a safe place when doing this!

There are other kinds of connectors as well:

  • NPT (National Pipe Thread) for use with gauges or valves;
  • Banjo Fitting for connecting hoses directly into the compressor without any intermediate fittings;
  • And Straight Connectors, which can sometimes be larger than others depending on their size.

If none of these work out, then there’s always the possibility of getting custom adapters made by your local welding shop.

How To Resolve Problems With Moisture?

One way to solve the problem of moisture is by using an airbrush with a built-in spray gun. This will allow you to control your spraying better and have less chance of over-spray–not to mention it’ll also make cleaning up simpler, too!

Another idea is using an AC/DC-powered dehumidifier for indoor use–or even buying one that’s designed specifically for drying out art supplies like paint or adhesives if need be. Just keep in mind that these could take anywhere from 24 hours to several days before they start working properly–so don’t expect overnight results if you’re going this route!

How To Add More Volume To An Airbrush Compressor’s Output?

If you’re finding that your compressor is putting out a low volume of air, then there are some things to consider:

  • The first thing would be checking the pressure and making sure it’s set where it should be.
  • The next idea is getting new seals for any worn-down hoses–or checking the fittings on your quick connectors if they need replacing as well.
  • If none of these work, then you may want to take apart the unit and make sure everything inside isn’t sitting too tightly against one another or blocking airflow in any way (like condensation).
  • And finally, there could also be an issue with dirt build-up around valves or other parts, which need to be cleared up before anything starts operating properly.

Why Are Silent Airbrush Compressors Expensive?

The biggest reason why the more expensive compressors are better is that they give off less vibration and noise than cheaper models. If you’re looking for a clean, work-friendly environment, then this might be something to consider–especially if you’ll be using your compressor in an office or other public place!

And while it may cost slightly more upfront, these kinds of airbrush compressors will last longer overall with their quieter operating features.

Also, note that some evidence suggests that the extra vibrations from louder units can actually shorten the lifespan of components inside them over time (including things like valves).

To avoid this problem altogether, many people opt for a brushless DC motor instead, which operates at lower speeds but makes no sound.

How Many capacities Do You Need?

Another thing to consider is how much air you need for the different types of projects. There are general-purpose compressors with more moderate capacities that work well on low or medium-demand tasks. Then there are large-capacity ones designed specifically for heavy-duty jobs–plus everything in between!

So what’s your goal? Depending on what it is, this will determine which kind of compressor you should buy.

If you’re just a hobbyist who likes doing smaller things like painting miniatures or model cars, then your needs might be less than someone else working professionally as an artist or body painter full time!

For example: if all you plan to do is paint something like a single-car once every few months, then purchasing the biggest.

Will A Noisy Compressor Be A Problem?

Many people aren’t aware that there are airbrush compressors designed to be as quiet as possible. These machines should have no problem fitting into even a silent office-type environment without causing any issues–which is really important for those who work in certain fields but still want an easy time with their art supplies!

In fact, some employees actually get paid bonuses just for working at places where they don’t need to wear ear protection. So it’s not always all bad news…

Hey there! I’m Richard Baker, a miniature painter who’s been in the game for a solid decade now. I’ve been painting miniatures for ten years and I’ve got a ton of tips and tricks to share with you all. My website is a treasure trove of knowledge that I’ve gathered from both my own personal experiences and from reading all sorts of books.

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest posts

  • The Definitive Guide to Picking Your Perfect Silent Air Compressor

    The Definitive Guide to Picking Your Perfect Silent Air Compressor

    Hello, fellow airbrush enthusiast! Welcome to the definitive guide to choosing the perfect silent air compressor. Whether you’re just starting your airbrush journey or you’re a seasoned artist who wants to maintain peace in your workspace, this guide is designed to help you navigate the world of silent air compressors. Let’s jump right in! The…

    Read more

  • Our Expert Review of the Iwata Eclipse HP CS: Your Lifetime Airbrush

    Our Expert Review of the Iwata Eclipse HP CS: Your Lifetime Airbrush

    Welcome to this comprehensive airbrush review of the magnificent Iwata Eclipse HP CS, a tool that has captivated hobbyists and professionals alike with its impressive performance and reliability. We’re diving deep into the world of this gravity feed airbrush, taking a detailed look at everything from its historical roots, design, and performance to its cleaning…

    Read more

  • Mastering Airbrush Dots and Lines

    Mastering Airbrush Dots and Lines

    In this comprehensive guide, we will dive deep into the world of airbrushing, focusing on mastering the essential techniques of airbrushing dots and lines. These fundamental skills are crucial for any artist looking to improve their airbrushing proficiency and create stunning artwork. Based on my own experience and practical knowledge, I have outlined the essential…

    Read more