An airbrush is a specialized tool that uses pressurized air to spray paint, ink, dye, or other liquid mediums. It’s essentially a delicate form of spray painting used in crafting and art projects like decorating cakes, applying makeup, or painting on vehicles and interior walls.
An airbrush gets its power from an airbrush compressor. An airbrush compressor provides the airflow that propels paint, ink, or dye out of the tip of the airbrush. Simply put, the compressor gives an airbrush its mojo, so it’s important to buy the right one.
The best airbrush compressor for you will depend on the kinds of projects you do and how much power you need. Read on for reviews of some of the best airbrush compressors.
- BEST OVERALL: Master Airbrush 1/5 HP Cool Runner II Air Compressor
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: ZENY Pro 1/5 HP Airbrush Air Compressor Kit
- BEST DUAL PISTON: AW Pro Twin-Cylinder Airbrush Compressor
- BEST DIAPHRAGM: Badger Air-Brush Co. TC910 Aspire Pro Compressor
- BEST TANKLESS: Iwata-Medea Studio Series Ninja Jet Air Compressor
Types of Airbrush Compressors
Airbrush compressors come in three main types: piston, tankless, and diaphragm.
Piston compressors are the most common type of airbrush compressor. They use one or more pistons to take in and compress air that’s held in an attached storage tank. Piston compressors can be oil-lubricated, meaning they use oil to lubricate their moving parts, just like a car or lawn mower engine would. Or they can be oil-free, using piston rings made of a nonstick material to lubricate the machine.
Oil compressors are larger, heavier, and quieter than oil-free models. They cannot be used for some airbrush applications—like decorating a cake or applying makeup—because the oil can transfer through the spray and get on skin or food. Oil filters also require regular maintenance, while oil-free compressors do not. Oil-free compressors are smaller and lighter, making them a popular choice for hobbyists and those who work on the go and need a portable compressor.
A tankless airbrush compressor is a subclass of piston compressors, but it doesn’t store the compressed air in a tank. Instead, the compressor runs only when needed, sending air directly to the airbrush. Tankless compressors tend to be smaller and are well suited for a small workspace. They don’t produce as much air pressure, so they don’t spray with the force of a compressor that stores air in a tank.
Diaphragm compressors, also called membrane compressors, use a rotating diaphragm to draw air into the compression area, where it’s pressurized to power your airbrush. Diaphragm compressors have lower air pressure than piston compressors, so they’re suitable for projects that require midrange pressure like model painting.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Airbrush Compressor
When shopping for the best airbrush compressor, there are several factors to consider.
Before selecting an airbrush compressor, consider the types of projects you’ll be doing. If they require delicate detail, like decorating a cake or applying makeup, you can go with a light-duty compressor that produces fewer pounds per square inch (PSI) of air pressure.
If you plan to use an airbrush for painting cars or murals, a single-piston or double-piston compressor may be most suitable. Piston compressors are more powerful and will give you the higher PSI you need to spray a large design quickly and efficiently.
An airbrush compressor’s power is typically measured in horsepower (HP). Most airbrush compressors produce less than 1 HP, with the majority having between 1/12 HP and 1/2 HP. For jobs in which you need a lot of air pressure, a compressor with at least a 1/6-HP output is desirable. Keep in mind that more HP means the compressor will be louder and larger.
The capacity of an airbrush compressor refers to the amount of compressed air that can be stored in its tank, usually measured in liters. An airbrush compressor’s capacity determines its run time. The bigger the capacity, the more compressed air it stores. The more compressed air it stores, the longer it can run.
Some airbrush compressors do not have a tank. Since they don’t have a supply of stored, compressed air, they have less power and can’t run as long.
Size and Weight
The size and weight of an airbrush compressor depend on the capacity of the tank, the power output of the motor, and the type of compressor. Generally, the bigger the motor and tank, the bigger and heavier the compressor will be.
Tankless airbrush compressors tend to be the smallest and lightest, normally weighing around 5 pounds. Piston and diaphragm airbrush compressors are larger and heavier, typically weighing 8 to 15 pounds.
Airbrush compressors can operate with a variety of hose lengths. Some come with hoses; others require you to purchase a hose separately. The size of hose you need depends on the jobs you’ll be doing with your airbrush. A hose longer than 6 feet allows you to work farther from an electrical outlet. Long hoses are your friend if you do broad applications like painting cars or painting the walls of your house.
If you work in close quarters, like sitting at a work table painting model airplanes, a shorter hose is a more appropriate choice. A shorter hose also maximizes a compressor’s PSI. The longer a hose, the more power it takes to push the compressed air to the airbrush. If the air has to travel a shorter distance, you’ll get more PSI.
Pressure Regulation and Display
On average, airbrush compressors have a range of 10 to 100 PSI. If you’ll be using the airbrush for a range of applications, look for a compressor with a manometer (pressure gauge) so you can monitor the air pressure. This allows for precise PSI control.
Most air compressors have an auto-stop function that turns off the machine when the compressor reaches a specific air pressure, when the tank is full, or when it’s not in use. This lengthens the life span of an airbrush compressor and conserves electricity. It also cuts down on noise.
Airbrush compressors produce 40 to 60 decibels of sound when running, which is about as loud as a normal conversation between two people. Generally, the more powerful the compressor, the louder it is. Diaphragm compressors are quieter than piston compressors, and oil-free compressors are quieter than oil compressors.
Tips for Buying and Using the Best Airbrush Compressors
When deciding which airbrush compressor to buy, consider the projects you’ll be doing. If you’re doing tasks that only need a low PSI like body painting, spray tanning, or food decoration, a diaphragm compressor or a tankless compressor might be your best choice. It delivers the PSI you need in a small, lightweight machine. If you’re doing jobs that need more PSI, like custom-painting cars or murals, a piston compressor with a tank is likely more suitable.
If your air compressor has a tank, be sure to turn it on and let it run for a few minutes before you use it. This allows the tank to fill with compressed air. Otherwise, paint may spurt out in uneven bursts because the airbrush doesn’t have a supply of consistently pressurized air yet.
Our Top Picks
This guide reviews airbrush compressors measured against key shopping considerations, representing some of the best models available.
From Master Airbrush, this air compressor can handle big jobs that require long run times. The device won’t overheat, with two cooling fans built into its interior. So you can paint for hours without giving the compressor engine a rest. This single-piston airbrush compressor has a 1/5-HP motor and a 3-liter storage tank that holds a constant supply of pressurized air while you work. The compressor operates automatically when you turn it on to build up the pressure in the air tank to a max of 57 PSI.
This Master Airbrush compressor comes with a 6-foot air hose and a dual-airbrush holder that can be attached to the pressure regulation control on the compressor. The compressor weighs only 12 pounds and can be easily moved to another location with the built-in carrying handle.
The ZENY gives you a lot of features for a small price. The piston compressor can produce up to 95 PSI with its 1/5-HP motor. It has a 3-liter air tank and a pressure regulator that pressurizes the tank up to 57 PSI before shutting it off to conserve power. If you want more pressure, turn off the regulator and the compressor can produce up to 95 PSI. It has enough power for crafting, cake decorating, and body painting.
The ZENY is compact, measuring 12.6 by 6.9 by 15.1 inches, and weighs about 12 pounds. It has a built-in handle so you can tote it with ease. The compressor comes with a 6-foot hose and an automatic shutdown function if the unit overheats. This additional protection gives you peace of mind to keep working knowing you won’t burn out the motor.
If you need enough power for bigger airbrush jobs, AW’s twin-cylinder compressor is a worthy option. Its precision-forged pistons deliver lots of power and control, so the compressor can work for a range of projects. The unit has a 1/3-HP motor, a 3.5-liter tank, and can produce a maximum air pressure of 100 PSI, with two power modes and an automatic stop function that saves power and reduces motor heat.
Despite its large capacity, the AW is not overly heavy, weighing just 17 pounds, and comes with a carrying handle. It also has rubber feet that protect your workspace and prevent the compressor from sliding. The compressor is relatively quiet, producing 59 decibels of sound while running.
If you prefer a diaphragm airbrush compressor, this is an excellent option, with an automatic shut-off setting and a 1/5-HP motor. The Badger comes with a built-in 3-liter air tank and two airbrush holders. A moisture trap prevents accumulated moisture from combining with your paint and producing air bubbles in your spray.
The Badger Air-Brush Co. compressor has a maximum air pressure of 57 PSI that can be controlled and monitored with the air regulator and attached pressure gauge. The compressor has a carrying handle and weighs 18 pounds.
The Iwata-Medea is good for low-pressure airbrushing jobs. It produces 5 to 18 PSI, enough power for decorating food, applying makeup, creating nail art, or body painting. Its oilless piston compressor comes with a hose that’s compatible with all Iwata-Medea airbrush guns.
The 1/12-HP motor on this unit is lightweight and compact, so the whole compressor weighs just 5.5 pounds. In size, it’s no larger than a book, and there’s a built-in carrying handle so you can tote it on the job.
The Advantages of Owning an Airbrush Compressor
An airbrush compressor adapts your airbrush for a variety of projects, ranging from low-pressure applications like body painting or food decorating to high-pressure applications like painting vehicles or murals.
An airbrush compressor with a tank gives you an instant supply of pressurized air. Airbrush compressors with larger tanks tend to have fewer issues with moisture getting into the paint and disrupting the airbrush spray.
If you have an airbrush compressor with a long hose, you can move around in a large workspace, like an automotive shop, without having to move the compressor as you work. This allows you to work faster because you won’t have to stop and move the compressor.
An airbrush compressor with a wide PSI range allows you to work on a variety of projects. Adjust the PSI up or down when you move on to a different project, ensuring the right air pressure is used each time.
FAQs About Airbrush Compressors
Not sure which model is the best airbrush compressor for you? Read on for tips to help you make a decision.
Q. Do you need a special compressor for an airbrush?
No, but you do need a compressor that can produce enough PSI for your specific airbrush. If the PSI is too low or too high, your airbrush won’t work correctly. Always refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations for an airbrush before trying a new compressor.
Q. What is the best PSI for airbrushing?
There isn’t a specific PSI that is best for all airbrushing applications, but, generally speaking, you need a compressor capable of producing 10 to 100 PSI.
Q. What is used to connect the airbrush hose to the compressor?
You can connect the airbrush hose to the compressor directly if the hose is the appropriate size. If the hose is not the right size, an adapter is necessary. Adapters can be purchased separately, or they may be included with an airbrush compressor.
Q. How do you solve problems with moisture in an airbrush compressor?
Moisture in the form of condensation can build up inside the compressor while it is operating. That moisture can mix with the paint, resulting in thin paint and poor-quality spray. To prevent this problem, some airbrush compressors come with a built-in moisture trap. If a compressor doesn’t come with a moisture trap, you can buy one separately and install it on the compressor to stop moisture contamination.
Q. How do you add more volume to an airbrush compressor’s output?
To increase the air pressure (measured in PSI) of your compressor, you can add an additional compressor tank, clean the hose and airbrush to ensure the flow of air and paint is uninterrupted, or use a shorter airbrush hose so less pressure is lost on the way through the hose.