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In case you haven’t heard of airbrushing – it’s an art form which uses airbrushes and compressors. An airbrush is a tool, which sprays various media – paints, dyes, and inks – onto the canvas or surface of your choice (such as airbrushing your car). It’s almost like spray painting (using compressed cans of paint) but with more finesse. Alone, an airbrush cannot provide a continues supply of air for extended airbrushing, but with a compressor any project is possible. The remainder of this article tackles the subject and introduces you to the best airbrush compressors.
With tools that require such a fine touch, our review of these top compressors was detailed down to the finer points of the art form and what manufacturers and painters suggest will make the best models. One of these features is maximum pressure in a tank, because not only does pressure control how quickly the air gets used up but also how rapidly your medium hits the canvas; some artists actually prefer slower painting for better detail. Other features were tank capacity, for how long the airflow would last, as well as power, source, and settings. Finally, we considered the general size, weight, noisiness, and warranty for every product.
Our research into airbrush compressors included reviewing design plans and asking manufacturers, as well as asking verified customers what they thought. Each product was vetted and compared before being chosen or listed in our buying guide, and we made sure to narrow our detailed product chart down to the top 6 compressors on the market. It’s our hope that you’ll easily be able to navigate through this guide and make the best choice of the best airbrush compressor.
This single cylinder piston motor runs at 1/6 horsepower off of any 110-120v outlet (meaning it would work perfectly in your outdoor powered shop or tool shed).
It’s designed to work only when you do, producing full-capacity air on demand with a preset turn-on pressure of 43 psi which can reach up to 57 psi. The air itself is drawn from the large 0.8-gallon (3 liter) storage tank for a constant regulated pressure while airbrushing.
The entire system is regulated with a gauge and water trap which allows for precise adjustment of airflow as well as air that’s clean and dry, meaning your paints, thin oils, inks, and other mediums won’t ever be watered down when they come out.
This machine is light and comes with a carrying handle, it also provides for a built-in fan that will keep the compressor motor from overheating; if overheating ever does occur, this model is thermally protected and will automatically turn itself off. Maintenance free, oil-less, and with a quiet operation of 47 decibels. This machine is easily one of the best competitor’s out there. Yet our reviewers have noticed that it develops some pulsation problems over time due to intensive work.
This standard size airbrush compressor will fit comfortably in any personal art studio, tool shed, office, or basement space.
Its piston style operation provides amazing performance at a maximum pressure of 60 psi and a minimum of 20 psi, ideal for this model because its tank allows for on/off painting at a higher pressure or constant painting at lower pressures. Automatic compressor can shut off if it is overheating or going above 60 psi, and allows for ideal quiet operation below 55 decibels at lower power settings.
The included integrated airbrush holder is convenient for any sized nozzle and allows for easy storage, it also allows for a steady pressure at double the rate of other hoses. It’s fairly lightweight for easy handling and moving around to different art sites and art projects.
The single cylinder piston design comes with a built-in cooling fan and will allow your compressor to provide continues airflow and airbrush painting without fear of overheating. This would be a great tool for beginners and professionals, and it will fit for all kinds of projects.
This premium twin-cylinder airbrush compressor operates very smoothly with an amazing 1-gallon tank that runs at 1/3 hp.
The precision forged pistons can deliver a maximum of 100 psi, though the engine runs on two power modes for any task and have automatic start and stop settings for power saving and reducing heat from the motor. This machine is great for high quality body art, and maintains enough air pressure for all your brushing needs throughout one paint job. Our solution to a limited bathroom space is here!
This oil-less model is not only fashionable but also easy to use and comes with rubber feet to protect your work surface. It’s capable of lower pressures even for food decorating and nail art.
Some assembly required, though it comes with simple instructions and easy specifications, and includes a regulator and moisture trap, which will create pure dry air with no watering down of your mediums. This would be a great purchase for any light home touches and artwork, and can easily be used even by not-skilled airbrushing enthusiasts.
This is a highly functional device which allows for multiple airbrushes at once, meaning several colors, several mediums, and different touches and touchups for all your art.
The ¾ hp dual piston oil-free compressor provides a pressure from 40-90 psi which can provide constant air-flow to 4 airbrushes at once. The dual air hose connections have quick-connect fittings to the rust-free aluminum air tank and its powerful dual piston engine.
It’s a louder model then the others in our list, running at 58 decibels, but for the pure power and pressure it creates for multiple airbrushes, its well worth the background clamor. This machine is designed with a regulator and moisture trap for pure dry air and no watering down of your mediums.
It’s heavier, at 36.3 pounds, but does not come with a carry handle. For an artist’s purposes, this air compressor would be best used where it doesn’t need to be constantly moved – such as a garage, tool shed, or private studio. All airbrush and hose fittings are ¼ NPT, so any brushes or hoses with connections larger than this will need adapters.
This would be a great model for the professional artist wanting to use multiple mediums or different colors at the same time.
This is easily one of the best airbrush compressors for both the beginner and the professional. It’s also one of the largest kits available along with the compressor, containing 24 popular airbrush paints, an airbrush cleaning pot, cleaning solution, and a universal airbrush holder.
The included 6-inch braided air hose has a universal airbrush holder with a 0.3mm nozzle which is made from high quality precision components that enable the airbrush to provide exceptional atomization and accurate spray control. The air compressor runs at 1/5 horsepower to delivers more air volume (CFM) and an air pressure safely of 35-75 psi and up to a max of 85 psi before automatically shutting off.
Nozzle caps and needle can be removed to enable spraying a full range of textures without stippling effects. This model is portable and includes a built-in carrying handle. It’s designed with a mounted pressure gauge and water trap filter for precise adjustment of dry airflow without watered down mediums.
The included paints come in exceptional water-based acrylic opaque colors.
This airbrush compressor is great for occasional and general airbrush applications, perfect for the beginner just learning the ropes of airbrush painting and design. It’s a rather small compact compressor, but its 1/8 horsepower motor creates a working pressure from 1 to 35 psi. Yet some users have complained, that they couldn’t get the pressure higher than 25 psi.
It’s easily the most portable device on this list, but has enough room for a mounted air-pressure gauge, pulsation-free moisture filter, and high-strength polyurethane hose. It’s a great pick for your kid who has taken interest in this art form, and its also easily controllable with a ‘bleed valve’ which allows for manual adjustment from lower to higher air pressures.
The moisture filter creates ideal air flow with dry air and no watering down of your mediums or runniness on the surface/canvas you paint. You’ll never be disappointed with this reliable and quiet machine which only weighs 8.7 pounds.
Why are we impressed?
Suitable for novices
High-strength polyurethane hose
On-demand air supply
What negatives must you be aware of?
No air tank
Small pressure range
No automatic shut off feature
Things to Consider
Introduce yourself to the world of airbrushing
This tends to be an artform undiscovered by most artists, and you typically hear about it on a larger scale where airbrushing car designs and colors are involved. However, this is a popular art style among some groups and allows the artist to use their mediums in a different and unique way which brushes, fingers, and printers can’t reproduce.
This technique was first used in 1876 and was called the ‘paint distributor’, although back then the paint was sprayed more sporadically and in clumps. Today the paint is often dry sprayed – so your medium won’t be watery and running – and transforms your medium into very tiny droplets sprayed at a high velocity. High-power spraying allows for better paint metering and application to fine surfaces which brushes could never evenly or beautifully apply paint to. Additionally, the effects of airbrush are often smooth and blending, which allows for two or more colors combined seamlessly.
There are many techniques to airbrushing, one example is ‘freehand airbrushing’ which creates images that have a floating quality with soft edges between colors and an impressionistic styled distinction between foreground and background images. This is just one example of many, but it’s an art style which only airbrush art could create.
Types of airbrush compressors
Diaphragm Compressors: These are a type of compressor often considered ‘beginner compressors’. They use a pulsating membrane (which air passes through) to compress the air and run continuously without an air tank. Typically, these run a pressure up to 40 psi.
Piston Compressors: This type of compressor uses one or two pistons to compress air, and they can often compress more significant amounts of air than diaphragm compressors can. With multiple pistons, these compressors can run several airbrushes at once and are usually attached to an air tank because they produce such an excess of air.
Oil-less pistons: Some pistons use oil (though there are none of these featured on our list) and the oil acts as a lubricant to decrease noise from the running pistons. Oil-less, on the other hand, tend to work louder but with less maintenance. Oil-less also means they’re safer for nail and body painting, as well as art decorating food. One of the best body and food friendly airbrush compressors on our list is the AW Pro Twin-Cylinder Airbrush Compressor.
How safe is airbrushing?
Airbrushing is very safe, though avoid pointing the airbrush at people’s eyes. The paint or other medium comes out in a fine spray, which won’t damage skin or pressure backfire and create injury.
All compressors have an automatic stop function for overheating and dangerous pressure levels, and although this can suddenly stop your art, it’s also a safety measure which manufacturers have designed for you and your kids.
The only danger to keep in mind is the danger and risk of harmful chemicals from your own mediums – oils, inks and paints. So you wear a respirator or a mask just in case.
What can you create with an airbrush?
The wide range of airbrush creation is insane, from doing your makeup with it to decorating cakes. Airbrushes are used for portraiture and landscape painting; they’re used to airbrush large cars and living room wall designs, they’re even connected to computers sometimes to airbrush images directly off of your computer (though this requires quite a lot of setup).
Any decoration for any holiday can be made using an airbrush, from airbrush painted pumpkins to airbrush painted ornaments for the tree. The possibilities are limitless, and the airbrushes come in sizes even as fine as the quill of a pen.
Features to consider while choosing an airbrush compressor
These are many of the features you might have seen listed above in the detailed descriptions of each product. It’s our hope these explanations and examples of the following features will help make your shopping process more understandable and much easier.
Size and weight for portability
You’ll want to counter the weight of any airbrush compressor over ten pounds, with the attachment of wheels or a carry handle. Heavier compressors can be frustrating and difficult to move and are best kept in permanent locations such as garages and art studios. One of the most portable and lightweight compressors most ideal for beginners without a permanent studio is the Iwata-Medea IS 800.
The power of all compressors is going to be listed as a fraction and then horsepower. The term horsepower was adopted in the late 18th century, and measures the rate at which work is done. So, for an airbrush, take a guess at how long your project would normally take if you were just using regular brushes, and then times by the fraction of horsepower listed for the specific compressor.
Tank compressor: is it a necessity?
It is if you don’t want to repeatedly start and stop during a large project. For instance, if you were airbrushing a car you’d want a tank compressor with a large tank capacity. Compressors without tanks can’t constantly run compressed air through an airbrush, and so these types of non-tank compressors are best for fine drawing where starting and stopping is a necessity. Painting a car without a tank compressor would take an exceptionally long time because the machine would always shut off your air supply.
How much air is necessary to operate an airbrush?
You can operate an airbrush from anything as small as 1psi – though this won’t get thicker mediums out of the brush as easily. The ideal pressure for any medium is at 10psi and up, because not only will this apply your medium directly and without any breaks, but it will also be the perfect air pressure for fine art and specific lines. For a range of purposes, you should consider a model like the Iwata-Medea IS 800 which has a controllable range of pressures.
What is the best airbrush pressure?
There is no ‘best’ pressure per se because the ideal pressure will depend on the project. Once again, if you were airbrushing a car, you’d probably want an extremely high pressure (80-100psi), first to get the job done quickly and second to get your medium to apply directly and not wash away. For massive projects, you would probably need a Paasche Airbrush DC850R with its impressive tank capacity and a wide pressure range.
Away with the noise
The compressor on our list are safer because they’re oil-free, but they will be slightly louder because they don’t use oil as a lubricant to stifle the noise. The quietest compressors are diaphragm compressors which don’t use pistons, and because of this, the quietest compressor on our list is the Master Airbrush TC-40T. Diaphragm compressors will even be more silent than piston compressor which uses oil, though a rule of thumb tends to be the quieter a compressor, the lower its maximum pressure.
For multipurpose environments such as a personal studio, you should get a hose with a length of at least four feet. Four feet will provide a lot of freedom for adjustments on a canvas or other small to the medium-sized surface. If you’re doing your makeup or decorating food, four feet should also do perfectly. For full range around a vehicle making body touches, you might need a hose as long as 10 feet. Make sure you get a compressor with a hose that best matches the range of the project you’re doing.
Single piston vs dual piston
Single pistons will be quieter machines overall, perfect if you’re painting in one room while your kids are asleep in the other. The Master Airbrush TC-40T has a single piston motor and a diaphragm setting which makes it much quieter than other compressors but will mean that it has a lowered maximum pressure. Dual piston machines, on the other hand, provide a higher maximum pressure with the drawback of more noise and a higher chance of overheating. With a built-in fan, the Grex AC1810-A is easily one of the best choices for a dual piston compressor.
For standard American voltage, 110-120-volt outlets and generators, all the compressors on this list will provide up to their maximum pressure without overheating.
Dual piston compressors tend to pulsate more than any other compressor, but this is usually very quiet and can be mitigated even more by adding rubber feet to your machine. The AW Pro Twin-Cylinder Airbrush Compressor has built-in rubber feet to decrease any pulsing, especially where heavier pulsing compressor can splatter paint or vibrate your airbrush.
Helpful optional features
Some optional features which may tip the scale in some compressors favor are: a built-in fan for cooling the high-powered working engine, a kit option with starter paints and hoses, thermally protected engine components which will decrease the machines overall heat, rubber feet, and a comfortable carry handle.
For buyer’s safety, your best consideration will be for products with at least a year-long warranty. Though the longer, the better. A longer warranty will give you time to test your compressor and ensure that it didn’t come with any unlikely manufacturing errors.
Cleaning an airbrush compressor will mostly consist of cleaning the hose and airbrush attachments. Paint can clot and rust (if metal based) when left over a long period of time. A rule of thumb, always clean your airbrushes the moment you’re done using them. Cleaning these fine brushes is best done with a thin pick and even thinner brushes which can fit inside your airbrush. A great toolkit any airbrush artist should have is the ABEST 3 Set Airbrush Spray Cleaning Repair Tool Kit. You can apply water to your brushes and picks, although with metal components you may risk rust; another option is to use a liquid cleaning agent like the Iwata-Medea Airbrush Cleaner. Some airbrushes can even be broken down and opened up for the most extensive cleaning, and always clean your maintenance tools as well.
Not everyone uses paint, though if this is your medium of choice the colors and paints you choose should depend on your project. For instance, you would want waterproof paint if you were airbrushing a decoration for your lawn. On the other hand, watercolor paints look great on a canvas and can come in multiple variations. You can even spray paint on food with the 4.5-ounce AmeriColor Pearl Sheen Food Colors in 14 different edible colors.
Yes, you can easily spray different types of paint through the same airbrush, so long as you clean the airbrush in between. Thick paints like oil paints, however, are not typically applied using an airbrush; these thicker mediums tend to clot and stick to the inside of the brush.
Decided by their impressive design and exceptional features, this final list of three contains our top picks for the best airbrush compressors:
Master Airbrush TC-40T. With a large gallon tank and an exceptionally long airbrush hose for use one larger scale projects around a room, this is the best all-around pick for our list. It has an exceptional fan and pressure regulating features.
Grex AC1810-A. This compressor was voted a close second because of its mix of lightweight usability with an exceptional engine and ability to produce a controllable pressure with a large project maximum pressure of 60psi.
AW Pro Twin-Cylinder Airbrush Compressor. Our budget pick for this guide, this air compressor is exceptionally safe for body painting and food painting. Its pressure controlled and has a maximum controllable pressure of 100 psi with a reserve gallon tank.