Marilyn knows how to present the dullest topic in an interesting and easy-to-read way. When she’s not teaching English Literature at a local school or writing for our site, Marylin loves to knit and bake for her two grandchildren.
Julie owns a shop specializing in sewing equipment and accessories. No wonder she knows everything when it comes to technical specifications of practically anything we review. In her free time, Julie loves quilting and scrapbooking.
Last updated: February 19, 2021
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How do you know you have the right compressor for your airbrushing jobs? And what determines a good airbrush compressor? Is it the weight, dimensions, pressure, or tank capacity? This shouldn’t leave you confused because we’ve figured it all out. By choosing from our selection of compressors, you walk away with the best airbrush compressor for all your airbrushing tasks.
Our airbrush compressors are made in just the right size; they’re handy enough for both small and bigger jobs and light enough to carry around or transport from place to place. They also come with a spacious air tank that makes it possible for several people to use multiple airbrushes, all connected to the same tank, and most importantly, gives you a homogenous spray pattern. And with a noise level that is <60 dB (meaning two people conversing would be louder), you can run your compressor without worrying about disturbing those in your vicinity. Why don’t you read on to identify the model that would be right for your airbrushing needs?
For a high performance central pneumatic airbrush compressor, get the Paasche Airbrush D3000R. It comes with a ¾ gallon tank, which provides sufficient air storage space so the air moves directly from the tank to the airbrush for a smooth, even spray pattern. The compressor is driven by a 1.5 hp motor that kicks in when needed to keep the compressor running throughout the duration of the job.
This small airbrush compressor has a maximum pressure of 40 PSI and delivers up to 35 PSI, depending on the spray head you’re using. Speaking of spray heads, it comes with 3 head sizes – 0.25 mm, 0.38 mm, and 0.66 mm. All three are interchangeable, so you can switch them up as needed.
It comes with a moisture trap to ensure that only dry air makes its way into the airbrush and has a regulator, so you’re in control of the amount of pressure in use at any given time. Use the knob to increase or reduce pressure as needed for the job you’re doing.
The best compressor for airbrush, this compressor is sold as part of a kit that includes a TG airbrush and a 7-piece cleaning kit for your brushes. The best airbrush compressor kit, this is an all-in-one package that’s hard to ignore, especially when you consider that the cleaning kit cleans any airbrush. Also included is a fan air cap that boosts coverage, a 6′ braided air hose, an airbrush hanger, 2 wrenches, and an airbrushing lesson book.
What we liked: The moisture trap and pressure regulator both ensure excellent spray quality.
What could be better: The instructions are not comprehensive. For someone accustomed to airbrushing, this isn’t a big deal, but for one who is new to the business, the scanty details can be limiting.
Arguably the best airbrush makeup compressor at its price point, the Iwata-Medea Studio Power Jet Pro is powered by a 1/6 motor and comes with a half-gallon tank, ensuring that you have a steady, non-pulsating spray all through. The tank automatically shuts off once it’s fully refilled, allowing you to carry on with the spraying uninterrupted, and when pressure gets too low, the compressor automatically shuts off. Enjoy up to 75 PSI at maximum pressure, and you can adjust the pressure accordingly for each job. The compressor has two independent air regulators, so you can connect two air brushes for two different jobs, and each will have a dedicated regulator. Similarly, it has two moisture filters to ensure that moisture does not penetrate into the air brushes.
With a weight of 25.8 lbs, this Iwata airbrush compressor leans on the heavy side, so set it up in a location where you won’t need to move it about. If you have to move it, however, it has a handle that makes handling it easy.
This compressor is extremely well built, from the sturdy shell to the careful way that all the components are joined together.
Although the manufacturer doesn’t indicate its noise level, it is certainly one of the quieter compressors on the market.
What we liked: The dual connections that allow two people working on different projects to connect their airbrushes to the compressor.
What could be better: The airbrush holders are designed for top gravity fed brushes only. Side-fed brushes won’t fit on the holders.
Pick the Badger Air-Brush Co. TC910 Aspire Pro if you want a silent airbrush compressor. It comes with a 3/4 –gallon tank and is supported by a 1/6 hp motor. This is an oil-less and quiet mini airbrush compressor airbrush compressor with little to no maintenance demands – for example, it doesn’t require lubrication – and is therefore a top choice for anyone who is super busy and prefers a practical, low-maintenance machine.
Easily the best airbrush compressor for beginners, it comes with an adjustable air regulator that puts you in control over how much pressure you have pushing through the airbrush at all times. There is also a pressure gauge that lets you know how much pressure is remaining in the tank at any given time. You also have an automatic shut-off switch that is activated when you use an attached airbrush. Plus, there are 2 airbrush holders where you can conveniently keep your airbrushes.
A built-in moisture filter ensures that the air entering the airbrush is moisture free, which means that your paint job won’t have any bubbles or water spots, which is the exact effect you’re going for.
You can connect it a slight distance from your work area since it has a 6-foot cord, which can make a difference in a busy work area. It also has a carrying handle, which makes it easy for you to move it.
What we liked: The oil-less operation makes maintenance easy and minimizes the likelihood of malfunctioning due to blockage, jamming, etc.
What could be better: It heats up rather quickly so it’s not optimal to run it for hours at a go.
Buy the Grex GCK05 Genesis.XGi3 airbrush compressor with tank, a top-fed dual brush unit that comes with 3 reservoirs: 2 ml, 7 ml, and 15 ml top gravity cups. It relies on a1/8 hp motor, and although it doesn’t have a tank, it provides a continuous flow of air, and hence paint, with no pulsating whatsoever, to leave a smooth, even finish. A built-in pressure gauge lets you know the available pressure at all times.
For easy handling, the compressor has a retractable carrying handle, which makes transporting the machine easy. Plus, it weighs only 11 lbs., so it’s not heavy. It also has a slip-on ergonomic grip that makes the brush more comfortable to hold. You can hold the brush with or without the soft grip.
It comes with everything you need to start airbrushing, including an airbrush and a MAC valve that controls the amount of paint flowing into the airbrush. Also included is a 6′ braided nylon hose that completes the connection to an airbrush. There is an airbrush holder where you can place your airbrush when you’re done. You also get a complimentary airbrush carrying case.
Best of all, this compressor runs quietly, so you can use it at home or in a busy location without disturbing others.
What we liked: The dual-brush connection that allows you to use two airbrushes simultaneously.
What could be better: It does not have a tank, so it may not be the best choice for use on large models.
The best cheap airbrush compressor, California Air Tools CAT-1P1060S uses an oil-free single piston pump that is not only maintenance free, but is quiet too. Its 0.6 hp motor rotates at no more than 1680 RPM, which contributes to the low noise level (56dB). It has an expected lifespan of 3,000 hours, and for someone doing small airbrushing projects, this adds up to many jobs successfully completed. It has a one-gallon tank that fills up in a rapid 50 seconds. If you’re doing a small job, this tank size suffices and will get you through a big portion of your project before the motor kicks in to refill it, if at all. If you’re working on a bigger project, the motor may kick in a lot more often, but this shouldn’t be a problem because it’s not loud and it doesn’t interfere with the flow of paint. In any case, the compressor is indicated to have a 60-minute runtime, which is commendable for a compressor of its size. It has 2 pressure control gauges that let you know what the pressure level is at all times. And it is thermal protected, so you can use it in environments with diverse temperatures. At 29 lbs., it’s a little heavy to carry, and the carrying handle simplifies things.
What we liked: The oil-free piston improves performance, lifespan, and is maintenance free. We like that it’s thermal protected too.
What could be better: A bigger tank would make it perfect for large airbrushing projects.
The best airbrush compressor for models in its size category, the AW Pro AS-196 is a twin-cylinder compressor with a 1/3 hp oil-free motor requiring no extra maintenance. With this, you can finally enjoy your airbrushing activities without worrying whether the motor will sputter and die before you’re through with your project or not.
It comes with a 3.5L air tank to ensure that the spray is continuous and non-pulsating, and this yields uniform and balanced results.
The compressor has 2 power modes. The first, Double Switch 1, auto-starts at 3 bar and auto-stops at 4 bar. The second runs at the maximum 7 bar. This means you can count on the compressor for any airbrushing project. And because you get 100 PSI at maximum power mode, you will find it useful for even the more demanding, paint-intensive projects.
Two carrying handles make transporting the compressor easy. And its light, 17-pound weight means you won’t exert too much pressure when lifting it either.
The only thing we could consider a shortcoming about this compressor is the fact that it’s only guaranteed for 3 months. And that’s only because, if 90 days after purchase you have a problem with any of the connections, you won’t get any help from the manufacturer. We have to say, though, that chances of the compressor developing mechanical problems are slim. It’s that well built.
What we liked: Dual pumps and tanks ensure a constant and even flow of air.
What could be better: A longer warranty period would have been more reassuring.
The best airbrush compressor for miniature painting, Master Airbrush Model TC-828 runs on a 1/6 hp motor which delivers 1.5 CFM in air volume and a maximum pressure of 60 PSI. A ¾ gallon tank ensures smooth and uniform air flow for flawless results. The compressor comes with a true diaphragm pressure regulator that allows you to make precise air pressure adjustments. It’s complemented by a pressure gauge that lets you know what the pressure level is at all times. Like the best airbrush compressor for model making would be designed, it has a double switch for the automatic ON/OFF shutoff. The first switch position automatically turns on when the air tank pressure is below 35 PSI and automatically shuts off at 60 PSI. In the second switch position, the air tank reaches 85 PSI, and then the automatic safety release kicks in and releases the excess pressure. Running the compressor in Switch 1 keeps the runtime short, leading to less heat buildup, less motor wear, and longer lifespan. Switch 2 makes it possible for you to work on airbrushing tasks that require high air pressure, meaning you’ll be able to use the compressor for almost any project. This portable airbrush compressor is lightweight and easy to carry, thanks to the comfortable handle.
What we liked: The double switch makes it possible to run the compressor at different pressure levels, and best of all, it starts/stops automatically.
What could be better: Only runs up to 85 PSI, although the gauge goes up to 150 PSI.
Sparmax runs on a twin-cylinder, 1/6 hp motor that uses an oil-free piston, delivering enough continuous power for even those tasks that demand high pressure. It runs at a maximum pressure of 80 PSI, and with this, you should effortlessly tackle a diverse range of airbrushing projects. It has a 3/4 gallon tank which ensures constant flow of air. When doing paint work, this gives even results where the paint is equally distributed across the model and any details are intricately brought out. The motor automatically switches on at 40 PSI and off at 60 PSI, maintaining a short runtime, which in turn boosts the compressor’s lifespan. The down side to this is that you won’t get higher pressure when using the automatic switch, meaning you won’t be able to achieve the higher PSI required for some projects. This unit is powerful enough to run two airbrushes of any size simultaneously. Moreover, it has two air outlets and two airbrush holders that make this all the more possible. It has a regulator through which you get to control the air pressure and a moisture trap that filters out moisture so that only dry air flows into the airbrush. The compressor comes with a braided airline and adapters for all major airbrush brands, so you can use it with any airbrush.
What we liked: The automatic ON/OFF switch that’s activated at a specific pressure level makes it easy to run the compressor at a set pressure range for consistent results.
What could be better: It’s expensive
Things to Consider
With a good airbrush compressor, you’ll be breezing through your airbrushing tasks. Airbrush compressors deliver the right amount of air precisely, consistently, and evenly, turning your work into a neat, masterfully crafted piece of art. In this next section, we discuss how to choose an airbrush compressor and the features to consider so you end up with a compressor that works as described in the previous sentence.
The many benefits of airbrush compressors
Airbrush compressors are designed to pump out air through an airline, and this air pushes paint out of an attached airbrush in aerosol form. You then direct the spray paint to the desired surface. You can use airbrushing compressors for lots of projects, most notably those touching on crafts, miniatures, body art, nail art, fine art, and illustrations.
They are also used around the house for tasks like inflating tires, toys, and beds, work that requires use of a staple gun or nail gun, air sanders, shears, or any task that needs a blast of air. Having an airbrush compressor at hand makes doing all the above easy, and because you can do these jobs on your own, you won’t have to pay a handyman or technician to do it for you.
To get the best results from an airbrush compressor, ensure that it can release the total air volume needed for the job you are doing. If your task requires 20 CFM and the compressor can only pump out 15 CFM, you won’t get the desired results.
In addition, the airbrush compressor should filter moisture and any type of dirt that could tarnish your spray work. This may mean adding an extra moisture trap if the one the compressor comes with isn’t efficient or fitting in one if the compressor doesn’t come with a filter – because some airbrush compressors don’t have air and moisture filters or traps. How you can use them, how they make tasks easier etc.
How airbrush compressors work
Air compressors use a compressed air mechanism to push the paint contained in an airbrush so that it comes out in spray form to land on the surface being painted. The airbrush is connected to the compressor via a small hose. The compressed air travels to the airbrush through an attached airline.
Most airbrushes can be used with different types of paint, but some only work with specific paint types. So always check what types of paint you can use with the compressor before buying one so you don’t end up with a compressor you can’t use.
Since airbrushing requires a fine supply of paint, a regulator is used to control the air pressure allowed into the airbrush. This isn’t your regular regulator, but one that is specifically calibrated for airbrush work.
Airbrush compressor maintenance tips
You’ll keep your airbrush compressor working for longer if you follow these maintenance tips:
Drain the tank after every use. This prevents condensation buildup which could lead to rust, ultimately damaging the compressor.
Use a stiff brush to clean the compressor regularly and remove any dust and dirt that may be on its surface.
Open up the compressor occasionally and clean up the components, ensuring that all the O-rings and connectors are clean and dry.
If the O-ring seals are stretchy and loose, replace them.
Lubricate the piston and piston ring regularly.
Observe the compressor’s duty cycle. This means that if it has a duty cycle of 50%, you should only use it 50% of the time in one hour (that is, run it for 30 minutes only). Exceeding this time fraction will shorten the life of your compressor.
On average, airbrush compressor prices range between $120 and $600. The prices can be lighter than this, and it’s not unusual to find a few models selling for $100-115. The price is determined by many things, among these being the size and capacity of the compressors. Integrated features like air and moisture traps, regulators, and gauges also influence the price. The type of motor pistons used, whether they’re oil-free or not, may also have an impact on the price.
The following features will help you choose the best airbrush compressor
Below are the factors you need to pay attention to when buying an airbrush compressor:
Unless you’re going to be working small airbrush jobs all the time, you need an airbrush compressor with a reservoir, available in the form of a tank. The tank acts as a storage area for the air and provides a steady supply of air, eliminating the pulsating that’s common in tank-less airbrush compressors and which often leads to uneven spray patterns. Some airbrush compressors have small tanks, others have bigger tanks. Choose a tank size that is proportional to the amount of work you’ll be doing – a big tank allows you to work on bigger projects.
Dimensions and weight
If you’ll be working in different locations, choose an airbrush compressor that is light and easy to carry. It should have carrying handles to make lifting and transportation easy, like Grex GCK05 Genesis.XGi3. If you’ll be working from a permanent work space, you can make do with a heavier compressor since you won’t need to move it about.
In airbrush compressors, air pressure is measured in pounds per square inch (PSI). The higher the PSI, the more pressure the compressor can operate at. Ensure that the compressor you choose has a PSI range that caters to the kind of jobs you do. Often, the word bar is used in relation to PSI, and it’s used to quantify air pressure, where a higher bar (number) equals more pressure and therefore higher PSI.
The main types to choose from are piston compressors and diaphragm compressors. Piston compressors are the most popular, and they come with either single or twin pistons. Most come with an air tank that ensures a constant flow of air. They have an automatic stop function which turns the motor off when the compressor reaches a pre-determined maximum pressure. And when the pressure drops to a preset minimum, the motor automatically turns on. They are the best option for artists who work for long hours at a time.
Diaphragm compressors, on the other hand, rely on an oscillating membrane to compress air. They do not have a tank to store air, and so they run throughout during use. They’re noisier than piston compressors, but they’re also less expensive.
Airbrush compressor noise levels range from approximately 45-59 decibels. These tend to be mostly piston compressors. Those emitting 50-59 dB in noise level are only as loud as two people having a normal conversation are, so they’re not too loud. Those with noise levels in the 40s (dB) are generally quiet, such that you wouldn’t tell the compressor was running if you were in a different room. For example, Paasche Airbrush D3000R delivers mere 47 dB of noise working on maximum power.
The best airbrush compressors come with air and moisture filters, whose function is to filter the air so that it has no moisture or impurities as it makes its way into the airbrush. Not all compressors come with filters so confirm if the compressor you want to buy has them. If it doesn’t come with filters, or if the ones it comes with are not of the quality you want, you can always buy the filters separately and install them.
Airbrush compressors come with a 1- or 2-year warranty on average, although some like AW Pro AS-196 have an unusually short warranty period, 90 days in this case. Check what kind of guarantee is covered under the warranty because not all models have a full warranty like Master Airbrush Model TC-828. In fact, most come with a limited warranty, so understand what’s included in the warranty and what’s not.
If you’ll be working for long periods of time or handling large projects, buy an airbrush compressor with a reasonably long runtime. If a typical airbrushing session for you lasts 45-60 minutes, a compressor like California Air Tools CAT-1P1060S will serve you well. If you mostly handle small jobs or work in short sessions at a time, a compressor with a short runtime will suffice.
Hose length and attachment
Most airbrush compressors come with a standard 1/8″ hose connection, with a number using a different connection size. Often, if the connector is of a different size than an existing hose you would like to use, you can use an adapter to connect the hose to the compressor without any problem. Where a hose is included, it tends to be of an average length of 6 feet. In case your compressor doesn’t come with a hose, you can readily buy one online or at your local hardware store.
You’ll get more value from your airbrush compressor if it comes with additional features like automatic stop. This is activated when the unit reaches a certain pressure. It may also happen when you stop using the airbrush, and for this second mechanism, the motor will automatically start when you start using the airbrush again. In regulating how often the motor runs, it lessens motor wear and extends the life of the compressor.
It may also have thermal protection; in which case it will automatically shut off when the temperature is too high or when the unit begins to overheat.
Many airbrush compressors come with complete airbrushing kits that may include airbrushes, airbrush adapters, and cleaning kits, meaning they come with everything you need to start airbrushing right out of the box.
Operate your airbrush compressor in a well-ventilated area to eliminate risk of suffocation, or in extreme cases, explosion. It’s important to use a spray booth, especially if you airbrush a lot, because such a structure ensures you’re not in direct contact with any fumes. It also minimizes chances of explosion. Don’t use the compressor in a wet environment. This carries electrical circuit risk and will likely cause rusting and damage your tank. Don’t carry out any maintenance work, including draining the tank, when the compressor is on. Doing so can cause electric problems and could even cause a fire. Plug your airbrush compressor into a properly grounded outlet to avoid damaging the compressor and/or causing a fire. And use the recommended extension cord type and length. Using a cord that’s longer than recommended could damage the electrical components of your compressor, for example, because the power flowing to the compressor is less than it should be. Note that some manufacturers recommend that you don’t use an extension cord at all.
Go for an airbrush compressor that is light enough for you to move it around, especially if you don’t have a dedicated work area and you’ll be painting in different locations. An airbrush compressor with a carrying handle is easier to handle than one without. It should also have rubber feet to absorb vibrations which could lead to poor quality work. Finally, choose a compressor with an air trap, moisture filter, pressure regulator, and gauge. Without these tools (most of them built in), it will be difficult to get the desired results in your airbrush work because the amount of air flowing out and the air pressure are not regulated. Plus, the spray may contain impurities which will compromise the quality of your work.
Airbrush compressors for miniature painting must have a precise pressure regulator, so make sure that the compressor you choose has this. This is important because the paint needs to be released in precise amounts and at a precise pressure point. Ensure that the regulator does not stick at all so you don’t end up spraying more paint than is required. Equally importantly, confirm that the compressor you’re buying is compatible with the type of paint you’ll be using, whether this is ink, acrylic paint, or any other.
Choose a dual action airbrush compressor because this type gives you better control over the integrity of pigment and ensures even application. Secondly, it needs to be compatible with gravity-fed airbrushes because you’ll be using gravity feed for makeup application. Thirdly, it should have a wide PSI range that includes small PSIs for facial makeup and larger ones for body makeup application. Lastly, you should be able to use it with a range of makeup pigments which may be alcohol-based, silicon-based, or water-based.
Our top choice is Paasche Airbrush D3000R, which leads the pack because of its large tank, the easy-to-control pressure regulator, the effective moisture trap, and the fact that it runs quietly. We also like the 3 interchangeable spray heads and the complete air brushing kit it comes with.
Our second choice is Iwata-Medea Studio Power Jet Pro, which stands out for its dual regulators, moisture traps, and airbrush holders, a setup that makes it easy to connect two airbrushes to the compressor. We also like its sturdy construction and the low noise level.
Our third best airbrush compressor is California Air Tools CAT-1P1060S, which stands out for its quiet, oil-free motor, and lifespan. Other remarkable features in this unit are a long runtime, dual pressure gauges, and thermal protection, with the latter safeguarding it from extreme temperatures and overheating. We also noted that the tank fills up super-fast, which is a plus.