The Guide to Choosing the Right Airbrush Compressor

  • By: Richard
  • Time to read: 12 min.

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.

Piston Compressor

Double-acting compressors are available, where the up and down strokes allow the use of high-pressure ratios. Single-acting compressors offer lower pressures to provide an accurate detail with less chance for bubbles or overspray for small-scale art techniques like fine spraying, dry brushing, and line work.

Oil Piston Compressor

Oil piston compressors are designed for lower pressures to provide an accurate detail with less chance of bubbles or overspray and come in both double-acting and single-acting types.

Diaphragm Compressor

A diaphragm is a type of material that can be stretched and compressed. A device using this technology would use an electric motor to move the plastic back and forth, creating suction with each movement. The air within compressors usually becomes overheated in continuous operation without any cooling system present; ensuring safety should always remain paramount when building any such devices or machinery!

The engine is then automatically switched off until the unit has cooled down. A longer working time is made possible by an integrated fan that also provides cooling during operation for a more efficient workday!

Inverted Piston Compressor

The inverted piston compressor is the most expensive but provides a stable air supply to an artist’s paint gun. The other two options–oil piston and diaphragm–are less expensive due to their less complex design.

The choice of which type of compressor will depend on what kind of technique you’re looking to use your airbrush with as well as how much money you want to spend.

Important Terms And Explanations

  • Reciprocating air compressors use two pistons to do their job. The first piston sucks in a ton of air into the chamber, and then the second moves inside it to reduce its size until some pressure is released from the cylinder as compressed air.
  • These compressors are different from reciprocating air compressors because they use flexing diaphragm thrusts within a chamber with the help of a rod.
  • Pressure is measured in PSI, but the different forms of pressure can often be confusing.
  • This passage is about the importance of knowing the unit cubic feet per minute to understand working. It helps you understand the amount of displacement and pressure with CFM at the same PSI for accuracy.
  • The electric motor that powers the compressor might not make a big difference, but its horsepower should still be considered. If you don’t compare it based on power, what else can determine how well your new air conditioner will work?
  • Oil-less compressors are the new cool way to go! They’re cheaper than they’ve ever been and use less power.
  • Air compressors have moisture separators that keep the air as dry as possible.
  • On a typical day, an air compressor can be heard between 40dB to 90 dB. Often the sound of these machines is lower than your average human voice and varies from product to product.
  • Air displacement inside the device with each stroke is due to the RPM or revolutions per minute in cubic feet.
  • The air compressor filters the air through a material that catches solids and liquids to purify, filter, or otherwise improve its quality.
  • In addition to that, they also have air pressure regulators so you can adjust the flow of air with a variety of different pressures.
  • A high-pressure ratio is a must if you’re looking for the best air compressor.
  • Depending on size, the storage pressure can be controlled with these switches that are either wired to the motor or control circuit. For an industrial machine, this is quite convenient because it means you don’t have to worry about wiring too many things together – everything’s already taken care of!

This Should Be Noted When Buying An Airbrush Compressor

The most important factor to consider when buying an airbrush compressor is what it will be powering. Airbrush compressors are made for different types of tools, so make sure you know whether your brush needs a high volume of low pressure before selecting one. For example, a lower-volume compressor might suffice if you’re using the tool as part of cake decorating work. Still, that same type of unit would not be appropriate for body art painting with large implements such as brushes and sponges to get sufficient coverage on larger areas without leaving streaks.

Pressure Displays / Manometer

Pressure displays, also known as manometers, give a running tally of the airbrush compressor’s pressure in PSI. This is useful when regulating your tool or paint consistency for maximum effect; you can measure how much more time it’ll take to finish with this gauge and then adjust accordingly if necessary. A typical display will be accurate throughout most pressure ranges but may not have the accuracy needed for precision at low levels due to manufacturing variance. Units featuring separate high-pressure gauges are available, which provide greater accuracy over their full range than others that lack such units–they’re typically pricier, though, so make sure you know what specs are required before making any commitments!

Water Separator

Water separators are an often overlooked but crucial accessory for the airbrush painter. These devices filter out liquid from the compressor’s output and return it to a safe, usable form so that moisture can’t contaminate your paint or tools! The last thing you need is for your airbrush compressor to fail because it got too wet.

Ideally, a water separator will be easy to maintain or replaced regularly to keep the unit running smoothly and efficiently. It’s worth noting that some models only work with specific types of compressors, so if you don’t want any surprises to make sure you’re buying one from the same brand as your machine!


An air compressor is a necessary tool in an artist’s workshop, but it can be disruptive to the creative process. One solution for maintaining peace while still using this essential piece of equipment? An air tank! When you fill your tank with compressed air at the start of each session, then turn off your compressor after filling up that first time (or use less powerful settings), there will be no noise from either device during work hours. With one simple adjustment like setting down some foam blocks or getting more sound insulation between areas where they’re most likely to get noisy – such as on top of thin carpeting – artists need never worry about being interrupted again by machinery clanking away when all they want is silence.

Pressure Regulation

The pressure at which your brush tool works is important for getting the best results, and airbrush compressor manufacturers often include a regulator to help you get this set just right. This can be done in two ways: either by using a knob on the unit that sets it manually or with an automatic system, typically called “auto-regulating,” where all you need to do is turn the device on. It will take care of everything else automatically.

The latter type is more expensive, but they’re worth their price if noise levels or other factors come into play; as long as there’s enough power coming through from your electrical supply, then these units should work without any problems making them ideal choices; for studios!


Whether we are working close or because we want our art studio soundproofed with foam blocks and/or carpeting, many artists will appreciate their compressor having less noise output. When choosing which unit to buy for yourself, make sure to keep this criterion in mind – not all compressors feature low levels of noise, so check before making any commitments–and remember too that sometimes no matter how expensive the unit, you might still need to be adding sound insulation.


Airbrush compressors come in all shapes and sizes–and while it might be tempting to get the most expensive unit for your needs, you must take time to research what kind of specifications are required for your specific project. Airbrush compressor prices vary widely, so make sure you do some comparison shopping before making any commitments!

Frequently Asked Questions And Answers

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…

Hi! I'm Richard Baker, a miniature painter who has been painting for about ten years. My website is packed with great advice that I've learned from both books and personal experience on building and painting miniatures.

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