Choosing the Right Airbrush Compressor

Internal or external mix, nozzle size, cup size, and so on: many parameters are to be taken into account when choosing your airbrush. In addition, it needs pressurized air to operate. Although it is possible to use propellant cans, this solution has a cost that can quickly become exorbitant. In the long run, it is more economical to invest in a good air compressor.

However, just as with airbrushes, there are several criteria to consider when choosing a compressor. If you settle for the first model that comes along, you risk ending up with a discontinuous airflow and an airbrush that keeps spitting and sputtering

So, which airbrush compressor should you choose among the many products that can be found online or in specialized stores? Keep reading to find out!

Airbrush compressor

First and Foremost, Choose a Silent Airbrush Compressor

The air compressors you can find in hardware stores (Lowe’s, The Home Depot, etc…) are typically very loud: nearly 90 dB (decibels), which is about the same noise level as a lawnmower. They are primarily intended for inflating tires, sandblasting, or to be used with a stapling gun.

You do not want that kind of compressor in your personal art studio! How could anyone concentrate with that much noise? That’s the reason why you should definitely look for a quiet airbrush compressor. The quietest air compressors are piston compressors. They can either be oil-filled or oil-free.

Oil-filled compressors are quieter than oil-less compressors because there isn’t going to be as much friction on the pistons thanks to the lubrication of the oil. They generally top out around 40 – 45 dB, which is around the same as a refrigerator. Oil-filled compressors are however quite expensive, and just like a car, you have to check the oil level regularly and add oil to the sump once in a while. Moreover, it is best to install a coalescing filter to prevent oil from coming through your airbrush and mixing with your mediums. Especially for cake decorating with edible ink!

Oil-less piston compressors generate between 47 and 55 dB when turned on. They are still very quiet and significantly cheaper than oil-filled compressors. Plus, they don’t require any oil-related maintenance.

How Much Airflow and Air Pressure Do You Need?

When choosing a compressor, it is important to select a model that can ensure sufficient airflow capacity for your needs. An airbrush air consumption rate is usually around 0,5 to 0,8 CFM (cubic feet per minute).

But it is also important to consider the pressure that the air is built up to. Air pressure is measured in psi (pounds per square inch), and the recommended value is anywhere between 10 – 60 psi depending on the viscosity of the airbrush paint being sprayed.

Since most airbrush compressors come with an air regulator that allows you to adjust air pressure, it is best to get a compressor that will give you at least 60 psi. It will give you room to experiment with psi settings.

A Good Airbrush Compressor Should Have an Air Tank

When you use an airbrush, you do not want a pulsating airflow that will cause an erratic spray. This is why it is best to have a compressor equipped with an air tank. The tank stores the compressed air produced by the compressor and acts as a buffer so the airflow remains smooth and constant. A tank also traps moisture more efficiently than a filter would. This is a good thing as there won’t be water droplets mixed with the paint.

Compressor air tank and pressure regulator

Compressors with tanks usually have an automatic or “auto-stop” switch, which means that the motor of the compressor will automatically switch off when a sufficient pressure is reached. The motor only starts up again when the pressure is too low. That way, the motor wear and noise are kept to a minimum.

The bigger the air tank, the longer the compressed air will flow to the airbrush before the tank needs to be refilled. If you only plan to paint small canvases or miniatures, a small tank (3 liters) will do the trick. But if you plan to use your airbrush continuously for long periods of time (painting very large canvases, for example), then you will need a large tank (6 liters or more). Otherwise, you may be interrupted in your work and waste time waiting for the tank to refill.

2022‘s Best Airbrush Compressors

Paasche D3000R Master Airbrush TC-326T Iwata Studio Series Power Jet Pro
Picture Paasche D3000R compressor with water-trap system Multi purpose compressor for airbrush artists Iwata Power Jet Pro compressor for airbrushing
Type Oil-free piston compressor Oil-free piston compressor Oil-free piston compressor
Tank Size
0.8 gallons
(3 liters)
0.8 gallons
(3 liters)
0.5 gallons
(2 liters)
Air Flow at 0 psi 0.5 CFM 0.8 CFM 0.88 CFM
Max Pressure 35 psi 57 psi 70 psi
Air Regulation tick tick tick
Auto-stop Switch tick tick tick
Noise 47 dB 47 dB 50 dB
View at bouton a
View at bouton a
View at bouton a

Air Hoses & Connectors

To connect the airbrush to the compressor, you will need a flexible air hose, which you usually have to buy separately. Most airbrushes and airbrush compressors have a 1/8″ fitting.

Compressor hose with quick-disconnect system

The ideal is to use a model with a quick release connector like this one available on view. This enables you to connect/disconnect the airbrush to the compressor easily and very quickly, and therefore avoid air leak during the operation. This is ideal when you need to maintain and clean your airbrush during a work session, or if you are using multiple airbrushes at a time.