My dad who was an amazing artist bought me my first airbrush compressor when I was at art college. It had no air storage tank, it got hot pretty quick, and wow was it noisy – but I loved it!
Within an hour of first using it, it took my art skills to a new level that both surprised and delighted me and it sealed my passion for art for life.
If you already work with an airbrush you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you’re just starting out though and want to give it a try, go for it, I guarantee that just like I was – you’ll be blown away.
A note about this guide:
Some of the models in our guide are capable of higher PSIs (pounds per square inch) of pressure and put out more volume of air (CFM or cubic feet per minute) than others, but more doesn’t always better – it just depends on what you need for your own particular art form.
One of the things that they do have in common, is that all of these compressors are oil-less. That means they’re all maintenance-free – and also suitable for cake decoration and makeup too.
The ones that made our top list also have air storage tanks. Though you can easily get them without. This is an invaluable asset for maintaining an even pressure and steady airflow, especially while working on larger projects or for painting for long periods of time.
If you find this guide helpful, and you need to choose an airbrush that’s suitable for your compressor you should head over to our best airbrush guide next.
Our Top Picks for the Best Airbrush Compressor
Whether you have an older compressor that’s seen better days or you’re looking to buy your very first one, this guide will help you choose the right airbrush compressor for your own chosen craft.
|Our Top Pick – Best Overall||Master Airbrush Professional Cool Running Model TC-96T|
|Best for Advanced Artists and Professionals||Iwata-Medea Studio Series Power Jet Pro Model TC-96T|
|Best for Detail and Small Scales Projects||Paasche D3000R|
|Best for General Medium Scale to Larger Projects||AW Pro|
|Budget Option for General Use||PointZero Airbrush Compressor|
Click below to jump to each topic in this guide.
- Our Top Pick – Best Overall
- Best for Advanced Artists and Professionals
- Best for Detail and Small Scales Projects
- Best for General Medium Scale to Larger Projects
- Budget Option for General Use
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Other Airbrush Compressors We’ve Reviewed
Our Top Pick – Best Overall: Master Airbrush Professional Cool Running Model TC-96T
Our Top Pick – Best Overall
The Model TC-96T Air Compressor is a great choice for beginners and advanced artists alike.
It’s capable of running at anything between 5 PSI and 86 PSI depending on your selection, making it suitable for a wide range of applications and media, from nail art and tanning, to cake decorating and all types of artwork including auto graphics and more.
Beginners will love the freedom to experiment with various techniques within the artform using a range of painting media from acrylics and watercolors to relatively thicker paints such as enamels.
Always use paint specifically intended to be atomized with an airbrush. Keep your paint to a consistency of milk using an airbrush reducer and practice first to avoid overspray (splatter). Start with a clean sheet of paper and set the pressure to arround 20 PSI. You can then adjust the pressure up or down and move the airbrush closer or further away from the paper, until you get the desired effect.
Advanced users will appreciate the ability to run 2 airbrushes or low CFM airbrushes, spray guns or airbrush stations due to the powerful ¼ horsepower, twin-piston motor compressor offering wide-range pressure and which puts out an airflow of 1.4 CFM at 57 PSI.
Professional artists and dedicated enthusiasts will love the scope to work for extended periods of time without the worry of overheating the unit. This compressor has a built-in fan, which runs to keep the motor cool. And if the motor ever does get too hot, it’s got an automatic shut off feature for safety.
The air-on-demand, constant pressure is drawn from the 1.5-gallon air storage tank which provides pulsation-free continuous airflow. As I’ve already mentioned, air storage tanks are an indispensable feature for maintaining even pressure while working on larger projects or for painting for long periods of time.
And the moisture trap does a great job of keeping water out of your airbrush.
The compressor has two pressure modes for working at a lower or higher PSI. It also has an auto-stop feature to save power and prolong the life of the compressor. It auto restarts when the pressure starts to drop too low for the mode.
On a practical level, at 62 dB the compressor is relatively quiet. Let me put that into perspective for you. Between 60 and 70 decibels is considered a normal conversation level. So you can certainly run this machine without any complaints from your neighbors.
What We Like:
- Powerful Motor | 1/4 horsepower, twin-piston motor.
- Large Air Storage Tank | A 1.5-gallon tank is larger than most.
- Selectable PSI | For a wide range of applications and painting media.
- Built-In-Fan | To prevent the motor from overheating – allowing for longer or heavier use.
Buying Factors to Consider:
We have looked at the TC-96T in this guide because it’s the better of the two, but there is a cheaper option that’s very similar. The Master Airbrush Model TC-40T has a less powerful motor (1/6 HP) and a smaller air storage tank. It also puts out less CFM (0.8) at 57 PSI. But it costs less than this one does. Therefore you might prefer to save some money and still get a great machine.
Check the latest price for the Model TC-96T on Amazon.
Check the latest price for the Model TC-40T on Amazon.
Best for Advanced Artists and Professionals: Iwata-Medea Studio Series Power Jet Pro Model TC-96T
Best for Advanced Artists and Professionals
If you are serious artists or professional, then this is the compressor you should choose. It’s our high-end pick but it’s the best bang for your buck out there – you are basically getting the functions of two separate compressors, built into one.
That means two air pressure regulators for individual adjustment of airflow – great for two separate workstations. It also has two separate pressure gauges and two separate moisture traps. So it’s ideal for working on joint projects or for setting up different airbrushes for a single project.
The ⅙ HP twin-piston motor is adjustable between the range of 1 PSI to 70 PSI so the machine is suitable for a wide range of art applications and also painting mediums, from high flow acrylics, watercolors, and inks, to leather paint or even food coloring. The compressor can be used with any airbrush including those used for spray tan, airbrush makeup, and more.
The TC-96T has a ½ gallon air storage tank which provides pulsation-free continuous airflow, and though you can’t see it in the image above, it comes with an air hose and adapters, so you can hook it up to any brand of airbrush.
Iwata is a well established and highly regarded brand that specializes in high-performing airbrushes and air compressors.
What We Like:
- Dual Airbrush Set Up | Suitable for two separate setups including two air pressure regulators for individual adjustment of airflow and two separate moisture traps.
- Powerful Motor | ⅙ horsepower, twin-piston motor.
- Air Storage Tank | ½ gallon air storage tank for constant, pulsation-free pressure.
- Adjustable PSI | From 1 PSI -70 PSI for a wide range of applications and painting media.
Buying Factors to Consider:
It’s a well-built high-performing unit and a great option for advanced artists and professionals. It’s not the best option for beginners or casual artists though. The dual nature of the compressor is probably more than a general hobbyist would need.
Check the latest price for the Iwata-Media Power Jet Pro on Amazon.
Best for Detail and Small Scales Projects: Paasche D3000R
Best for Detail and Small Scales Projects
It wouldn’t be a best guide without Paasche making an appearance in our top pick list and though at this low price range, all airbrush compressors, whether they say so or not, will most likely be made in China, Paasche is a US company – they’ve been around since 1904 so it’s safe to say, they know what they are doing, and the quality you get with this unit isn’t compromised.
The D3000R is a solid choice, but you’re not going to be able to use a paint gun or work on large projects especially those that use thicker mediums that require a high PSI to push the paint through. This compressor is designed for those who work at a lower PSI level, for example, those that use gravity feed (cup) airbrushes. This type of airbrush generally needs less airflow to work than the siphon-feed ones. It operates between 20 and 40 PSI making it’s ideal for those who specialize in painting miniatures and models or those who do detailed work such as illustrations, paintings, cake decorating or other small scale hobbies.
The compressor has a ⅕ horsepower piston motor and like our other top choices, it has an air storage tank. This is a feature worth going for to keep constant pressure and steady airflow while you work.
There’s a moisture trap to keep water out of your airbrush and to increase the compressor’s life, it has an auto-shutoff feature that turns off the compressor when the airbrush isn’t in use.
And if you’re so keen that you’re up at 3 am to get a head start, this machine is as quiet as they come. To give you an idea, 47 decibels is below normal conversation level which is generally between 60 and 70 decibels.
What We Like:
- Low PSI | If you specialize in small scale hobbies arts or crafts, a high PSI compressor is likely to be overkill.
- Super-Quiet | 47 decibels is quieter than most out there, it’s below normal conversation level which is generally between 60 and 70 dB.
- Low Price | This little machine is good value at a low price. It’s perfect for hobbyists but doesn’t skimp on the features an advanced artist would look for.
Buying Factors to Consider:
If you want a compressor for larger projects such as auto graphics you should give this one a miss and go for our next choice.
Check the latest price for the Paasche D3000R on Amazon.
Best for General Medium Scale to Larger Projects: AW Pro
Best for General Medium Scale to Larger Projects
The AW Pro twin-cylinder airbrush compressor is a powerful unit for an impressively low price. Its ⅓ horsepower motor can put out 1.3 CFM.
The PSI pressure is adjustable up to a maximum of 100 PSI but the unit has two power modes so the compressor can be tailored to suit any craft.
It’s most suitable for artists that work with mid-range to higher PSI pressures, for example, those that use siphon feed airbrushes for larger areas. Siphon feed airbrushes generally need more airflow to work. It’s ideal for body art or any larger projects including auto graphics – it even works well with spray guns though there is a limit to the size of project you’ll be able to take on. For furniture spraying, you would need to look at HVLP Spray Guns or even airless paint sprayers.
It has a 1-gallon air storage tank for smooth operation and steady airflow and an auto-stop feature to save power and prolong the life of the compressor, it also has an auto-restart feature for when the pressure starts to drop. It can easily maintain enough pressure to run most airbrushes.
What We Like:
- Powerful Compressor | This machine’s ⅓ HP twin-cylinder piston motor can put an impressive 1.3 CFM and its maximum power mode is 100 PSI.
- Quiet Operation | Considering its power, 59 decibels is lower than normal conversation level.
Buying Factors to Consider:
It packs a punch but if you generally work at a low PSI this one won’t be your best option. If you want a powerful PSI to push heavier painting mediums through or you work on larger projects, however, this is a good one to choose.
This one doesn’t come with a hose so you would need to buy one separately if the airbrush you choose doesn’t come with one. Some of the specialist brands like Paasche and Badger do a good range of air hoses and adapters.
Check the latest price for the AW Pro on Amazon.
Budget Option for General Use: PointZero Airbrush Compressor
Budget Option for General Use
The PointZero is a great budget option. But there’s nothing that you could describe as cheap about its construction.
It has a ⅕ horsepower piston motor that can push out around 1 CFM.
It has a 0.8-gallon storage tank for smooth airflow and zero pressure pulsation, and an air-on-demand automatic turn-on and turn-off feature to maintain constant pressure but not overwork the motor.
It runs and maintains enough power to operate most airbrushes. It’s quiet too 55 decibels is quieter than a conversation level.
This one doesn’t come with a hose and you may also need an adapter, however, so you would need to buy these separately if the airbrush you choose doesn’t come with them. Some of the specialist brands like Paasche and Badger do a good range of air hoses and adapters.
Check the latest price for the PointZero Airbrush Compressor on Amazon.
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of paint do you use in an airbrush?
Airbrushes work with any type of fluid that has the consistency of milk. Ready-made paints and inks are the best options because they’re safe to use and free from material and debris that may clog the airbrush.
Acrylics are always a good choice for beginners. They’re non-toxic, come in a wide choice of colors and many can be used straight from the bottle, though adding an airbrush reducer will often give you the optimum result.
They’re suitable for spraying paper, canvas, wood, fabric, leather, plastics, metals, ceramics, special effects prosthetics, and much more.
Other mediums include watercolors, guaches, enamels, oil-based paint, makeup including foundation, blush, and bronzer or even food coloring for cake decoration.
What PSI should I use for airbrushing?
The PSI you will need to use will depend on the type of project you are working on the air tool you are using and the medium you want to use. As a general guide, thicker paints require a higher PSI than thinner ones to atomize.
Siphon feed airbrushes generally need a higher PSI to work than gravity feed (cup) ones.
If you are a beginner, it’s a good idea to start with a PSI of around 20 and practice to see the kind of result you get. If your pressure is to low you will notice an overspray effect which would generally mean you need to increase the PSI. Once you get the desired result you’ll have an idea which PSI works best for you.
Another general rule is that for larger projects you’ll generally need a higher PSI and for small fine details, a lower PSI will work best.
Should I wear a mask while painting?
Yes, absolutely you should always wear a mask or respirator while painting. Although many paints that are specifically made for airbrushing are non-toxic and so safe to use, they still create millions of fine particles that fill the air that you are breathing in.
Any types of foreign particles in your lungs are not good for you and it’s good practice to wear a mask so that you’re protected if you start using paints such as enamels, that you need to take extra precautions with.
Why isn’t my airbrush spraying any paint?
If you are using a paint that’s too thick for the PSI you have selected, the pressure won’t be high enough to push the paint through your brush. Your paint should be the consistency of milk.
If your paint is thinned correctly but your airbrush doesn’t spray paint, you may be using a PSI that’s too low.
If your airbrush stops working it may have become blocked. You should always have an airbrush cleaner to hand to clean out your airbrush after each use.
Other Airbrush Compressors We’ve Reviewed:
These are the products that didn’t quite make our top picks, but they’re still pretty good so you might like to take a look:
Good for General Use
This one doesn’t have an air storage tank but it’s a well-made machine and does run smoothly.
- Adjustable up to 60 PSI.
- ⅛ HP, Piston compressor.
- Standard ⅛ ” fittings for max compatibility.
Compact Compressor | Low PSI
This is a light-weight easily portable machine.
- Single Piston Air Compressor.
- 1-35 PSI with bleed valve airflow adjustment to lower air pressure.
- Moisture trap.
This one is a high power compressor. It can run up to 4 airbrushes at once.
- ¾ HP dual-piston.
- Suitable for small touchup spray guns.
- 2.4 CFM at 40 PSI and 1.5 CFM at 90 PSI.
Great Budget Option
This is a super-low price. You’ll need to be handy with the included pipe thread tape to seal your connections but do this and you’ve got a great compressor.
- It comes with a 0.8 air storage tank and a hose.
- Auto shut-off turn-on.
- ⅕ HP motor up to 95 PSI.
Alt Choice for Our Top Pick
The spec is just one step down from our top choice but the quality’s just the same.
- ⅙ HP single piston motor.
- Built-in Cooling Fan.
- 0.8-gallon air storage tank.