Buying an Airbrush Compressor? Here is what you need to know before you buy!

Buying an airbrush compressor to use with your airbrush is actually pretty easy. To get the right one for you, you need to make decisions based on your personal requirements.

What are your personal requirements? Let’s find out!

But WAIT!! Before we get started, I’ll let you in on a secret about airbrush compressors – you DO NOT need one that is specifically designed for airbrushing! In fact, many of the ones designed for airbrushing are the hardest to work with. Read on for more information…. just thought I would tell you that up front!

PRICE

Price, for most beginners price is a huge consideration. You will be out there looking for the cheapest air compressor possible and, again, you will be disappointed with what you’ll get. The old adage is true: you get what you pay for.

I have good news though! Because you know the “secret” that you do not need an air compressor specifically designed for airbrushing you can get one anywhere compressors are sold.

Watch for sales at your local hardware store, watch the newspapers for used ones, go to garage sales and see if you can find one. Once you have your eyes open looking for any old air compressor rather than an “airbrush” compressor you will see them everywhere.

AVAILABILITY

Again, now that you know the secret availability of compressors is no longer a problem! Do not feel like your compressor has to have the words “airbrush”, “pasche” or “iwata” on the side of it to be used. It is just not true.

UNCERTAINTY

Still not sure what to look for? Let’s discuss the factors.

Personal Needs

Before we get to actual air compressor parts and pieces let’s talk about HOW you are going to use your compressor…

Do you and your equipment need to be mobile? Then look for a small one that is easily transportable.

Do you need it to be quiet as not to disturb your family or customers? Consider one with a larger tank so that it runs less often or consider only having a pressurized tank that you can fill as it depletes (yes, you can do that!). Lot’s of airbrush artists who work out in public (like t-shirt artists at a mall) use canisters or tanks (like a helium tank) and when it is out, they get a new one. Note that this can be pricey because the larger, higher pressure containing tanks are not cheap!

Tank or No Tank?

In my personal opinion, a tankless air compressor is a waste of money. These little compressors have to run constantly to produce pressurized air. They are noisy (not because they are loud, but because they never stop!) and they tend to overheat (again, because they never stop!).

Another downfall with tankless compressors is they tend to pulse. That is, inside the machine there is a piston driving back and forth to pressurize the air. Because there is no tank the pressure “surge” caused by the piston has no where to dissipate except through your airbrush. This pulsing WILL show up in your work – especially when painting lines.

Do yourself a favor and overlook tankless airbrush compressors – they are cheap, yes, but you’ll regret buying one in the long wrong.

So, what size tank? Again, consider your personal needs and your budget. The larger the tank, the more money, but also the less the compressor runs to fill the depleted tank.

Don’t know how long a tank will last before the compressor kicks in? That’s a hard question because it depends on the pressure you are spraying, how much you spray etc. I can tell you that my tank is approximately 6 liters / 2 gallons and pressurizes to 125 psi. That lasts me about 40 minutes at the rate I paint. It will vary from person to person.

HINT: My air compressor pressures up to 125 psi, then turns off. When it gets depleted to 80 psi in the tank, the motor kicks back on and re-pressures. it probably kicks in every 15 minutes or so – which is annoying. However, I have discovered I don’t NEED 80 psi in the tank to paint – in fact, when painting at 20 psi, I just need more than 20 psi. So what I do is turn it on, let it pressure up to 125 psi and then turn the power switch off. Then I paint interruption free for about 45 minutes and when I need a boost of pressure, I flick the switch back on! It is probably hard on the motor, but the noise is hard on me

Pressure Gauge and Regulator

Most air compressors come equipped with a pressure gauge and regulator however it is best to double check that the one you are going to buy has these. The regulator is how you are going to adjust the pressure going to your airbrush – you will likely adjust this often so make sure the dial is easy to read and the knob to change the pressure is easily accessible.

Water Traps

Water traps are an in-line accessory you can add to an airbrush compressor. Basically, air is wet (humidity) and when you compress air you get small amounts of water that build up in the tank and sometimes spray out your airbrush.

Personally, with acrylic (water-based paint) I have never found this little bit of water to be in the least bit problematic. However, if you are planning to spray urethane paints (which should be very few of you), water in the line is a problem and you will need to get a water trap.

Summary

So let’s re-cap!

  • Consider mobility
  • Consider noise level
  • Watch for sales at hardware stores or deals in newspapers
  • Avoid tankless airbrush compressors
  • Make sure it has a pressure gauge and a regulator gauge
  • Make sure the regulator gauge is easy to adjust
  • If spraying urethane, get a water trap

My Personal Experience

When I first started airbrushing I too believed that there was something “special” about airbrush compressors so I bought a Paasche, tankless compressor because of two things: it said Paasche on the side and it was cheap.

Well, I was so excited to paint that I painted day in day out and that little compressor never ever stopped running. And when i shut it down for the night, I practically had to wear oven mitts to move the darn thing!!!

I was fed up! I went to Home Depot when they were having a sale and picked up a 2 gallon compressor that is small enough to be carted around should I want to go do a mural at someone’s house and quite enough it doesn’t make my whole house rumble!

I have never had a problem with it….and, I am a hit with the neighbors when they have a flat tire!!

3 thoughts on “Buying an Airbrush Compressor? Here is what you need to know before you buy!”

  1. Good tips for people who are new to this. I actually do the same thing with my compressor, let it fill the tank to around 130psi and the i turn off the switch, and turning it off has another good thing, when the presure gets down where the compressor wants to turn on, you will only hear a little “click” instead of getting a shock when the compressor starts and you might shake the airbrush and destroy your work ;-)

    coz some of the compressors are really really noisy

    Chris

  2. VERY GOOD TIP. Get them started right.
    Regulator must! diff paint and spray size needs it.
    I started off with a mult use 1/2 hp tankless.
    Then got a mult use 3/4 hp tankless with a spray gun. And did that one get hot. Had to replase hose ends seveal times.
    Now I have a 4 hp 11 gl tank @ 9+ cfm that run a high end auto paint gun. 125 psi, 85psi refill. Tank would last close to a hr with 40 Sec to refill. But could be heard two houses away.
    I am also using a 1/5 hp with a 1 leter tank. 60 psi max refill at 40 psi. And I can talk normaly with it on the floor next to me running. I do use paint guns.

  3. Here is idea take the compressor in a different aria use a 25 foot air hose. On the end of the air hose attach a female quick release. Take a regulator (found at your local building supply store). On the input side attach the male quick release. On the exit side attach the airbrush hose. Turn the regulator at the compressor all the way up. And control the air at the regulator by the brush.

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