Buyer’s Guide


When a person, who has just begun taking up airbrushing, goes in search of the appropriate equipment, one of the most important (and at the same time the most expensive) items is exactly the air compressor.

Anyway, unless you have money to burn, you usually find it difficult to browse various sites such as Amazon and eBay and to google and compare different prices and specifications.


you get the feeling that the adverts of leading brands echo in your mind.

No doubt about it – many people simply cannot resist it as it is much easier to pick a brand that sounds good and surrender to it without thinking too much while you’re holding a credit card in your hand.

The following post is for all those readers who are beginners in this sphere of buying and think that choosing the appropriate air compressor is a big deal


First of all, you should get some information about the basic working principles and necessary specifications for certain spheres of application. I wrote the following airbrush buying guide with the idea of making the very first steps easier for you. At the end of this text, you’ll see my recommendations when it comes to choosing the right equipment. Let’s start from the beginning.

How does an air compressor work?

An air compressor is a device that usually compresses outside air with the help of one or two pistons and by the means of tubes generates the air pressure, which makes the tool function.

Speaking about it, pistons usually compress the outside air firstly into the air storage tank and there create a certain amount of pressure.

Later on,

the air is released and the tool is ready to perform its function flawlessly. The pressure produced by the compressor is extremely important bearing in mind that for certain applications you need certain amount of air pressure.

Question: Do I need an air compressor with an air tank?

…. I’ll give you a direct answer to this question – YES, you do, and I dare say THE LARGER THE TANK IS, THE BETTER!

Now, you’re probably asking why.

Well, I haven’t mentioned one problem in the previous paragraph.

When the air is being compressed, valves don’t run quietly – they make extremely annoying and unbearable…


Air compressors which aren’t comprised of air storage tanks are forced to work constantly in order to produce compressed air and inevitably they heat up.

When it comes to an air compressor with an air storage tank, it makes noise only when it operates i.e. when it compresses air. When a certain level of air presure is achieved in the tank, it stops operating.

Anyway, every time you use the air, pressure in the tank slowly decreases. The moment it falls under certain value, the compressor starts operating again.

All over again.

That’s why it is necessary that the capacity of a tank is large enough to prolong the period between two compressors activation. Not to mention that your workshop will be perfectly quiet.

You’ve probably come across information that on/off has something to do with the compressor activation, which leads us to the next question:

Question: What’s exactly on/off switch and do I really need it?

Let me explain it in the following way –

As you’ve already seen, compressor works until it reaches certain amount of pressure.

Let’s say that such pressure is approximately 120 PSI (check our glossary of terms).

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Since the air is being spent, the presssure in the tank falls to 80 PSI and that’s the moment when the compressor is switched on again. The thing is, it isn’t necessary for a compressor to maintain the lowest pressure of 80 PSI in the tank as you’ll need (depending on the application) the pressure of 10 to 40 PSI

That’s why you need switch…

When a compressor reaches the pressure of 120PSI in the tank, you simply switch it off and paint quietly until the pressure in the tank falls low enough so that it enables you to work.

You use pressure gauge to control the pressure in the tank. But we’ll deal with it later.

…You might be wondering:

It all makes sense when it comes to regular, noisy compressors. But what about silent compressors?

There’s no two ways about it – you can find silent compressors on the market which make far less noise. Nine times out of ten, such noise equels the noise your fridge makes. What’s more, many compressor models are small in size, convenient and have on/off switch embedded.

Still, there is a great disadvantage of it – they are extremely expensive!

You’ve guessed it alone. It’s pretty obvious – if you want to afford a luxury, you have to spend a lot of money on it, and the same goes for the lack of noise.

If you want to know  how to build a cheap airbrush compressor, read this tutorial.

Question: Do I need pressure gauge?

airbrush compressor buer guide

I’m sure you do!

Pressure gauge actually tells you how much pressure you have at your disposal.

Do you remember how we use on/off switch?

Let me refresh your memory – compressor works as long as it reaches certain amount of pressure, then you switch it off and paint quietly until the pressure in the tank falls below lower limit i.e. the lowest level of pressure needed for carrying out normal operations.

That’s the moment when pressure gauge comes into play.

With the help of this device you are enabled to read the current level of pressure in the tank. If painting requires pressure of about 10 to 40 PSI, you’ll be able to work with ease as long as the pressure in the tank is above 40 PSI.

When you’re experienced enough in your field, you’ll know when the pressure reaches bottom line judging the way in which the colour goes out of the tool.

Anyway, the best thing is when you know exactly the correct pressure value at precise moment.

Question: What is a pressure regulator?

Pressure regulator is very important as it determines the amount of pressure that should be sent to your airbrush tool. It reduces pressure in the tank to the level you need at a specific moment.

Imagine yoursef taking up airbrush make-up. You must be cautious about your tool when you turn it under pressure towards someone’s face.

A regulator can also include a pressure gauge.

A gauge tells you the exact pressure level of the regulator and that’s why it’s essential.

airbrush compressor regulator

Question: And what’s a moisture trap?

As you may already know, compressor uses outside air from the environment. This air contains certain percentage of moisture, which means that it is also transmitted to the tank.

Once it reaches the tank,

it condenses.

As a result, moisture can cause lots of problems during the process of painting if you don’t use acrylic paint. Even if you do use acrylic paint (I recommend it wholeheartedly to all beginners), moisture can be a serious problem.

So, unless you live in desert or on the Antarctic, you should by all means get a a moisture trap. It isn’t usually a component of air compressor , which means that you should buy it separately.

Don’t forget to check if it fits your air compressor model.


iwata compressor

  • Bear in mind that the smaller compressor is, the less noise it makes. But its PSI is also smaller. More often than not such compressors (small
    diaphragm models) are known as ‘compressors for beginners’ and producers guarantee that they will deliver pressure of 40 PSI to your airbrush.
    However, if you’re absolute beginner in car painting, then you need continual air flow source. Small diaphragm models won’t do the job.
  • Silent compressors are very expensive!
  • If you can afford to pay for it, it’s always better to opt for compressors with the tank. The larger the tank is, the better.
  • On/off switch is very useful when it comes to quiet work environment. They mostly come together with the compressor.
  • If you live in an area with damp climate, you must have moisture trap!

Here, on my website, you’ll find reviews of those compressors that have best price and quality relation and that fit perfectly in all above mentioned criteria.

Also, check our glossary of terms in order to get acquainted with the basic parameters that you should pay attention to when choosing the right compressor.

Page ‘the application area’ provides you with the list of areas where airbrush compressors can be applied as well as with the list of models designed for certain areas, which I recommend wholeheartedly.

10 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. I’m looking to buy a generator to power my compressor, what type of wattage should the generator put out for my compressor?, is too much wattage a thing that will harm the compressor?

  2. This is a great article. But I don’t get something. My compressor has a tank. A small tank, granted. The whole reason I purchased it was because I crave a little silence. But my compressor seems to work ‘almost’ continually!! Nearly as much as my non-tank compressor.

    Am I don’t something wrong?…

    I like to work at around 20psi. So I set the regulator to 20psi. The compressor revs up. It reaches 20psi and stops. I turn it off. I start spraying. After 10-15 seconds of spraying the compressor starts up again.

    So where’s the peace and quiet? Surely not 15 seconds worth.

    I may the doing something wrong? any help would be appreciated.

  3. problem is the regulator is for the tank you need more pressure in the tank and use a smaller regulator to control the flow to the brush.

  4. Would a small diaphragm compressor be quiet enough so as not to annoy my family! But powerful enough to paint minatures? I’m not quite up to car painting more models.

  5. If I get to 120psi and I turn it off and start spraying. I’ll be spraying at 120psi which is unworkable for me. I need ro wait and start to Spray around in drops down to 20psi. I think I’m missing something. A video of this switch on/off would be great!!

    1. You a regulator for your tank and a regulator for your line to your airbrush, one set high for the tank for example 120 psi and then the one set for your airbrush at 20 is what i think BLW is saying.

  6. Hi
    I just bought a IWATA HP M2 SINGLE Stage Airbrush.
    I have a Sears 3 gallon tank compressor. The question is please with the right hose connections, can I use this compressor with my new airbrush
    Thank you

  7. I’ve just purchased a tc90t twin piston compressor but reading the info it came with it says only run for max 10 mins then leave to cool down before using again, does anyone else have this compressor and could clarify if it’s any good or have I just wasted my money (uk based)


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