Compressors!

There are hundreds of different compressors on the market, all suitable for different types of airbrushing. This article deals with the best types of compressors for freehand airbrushing.


The compressor can easy become the most expensive item on your airbrushing set up list. There is a vast range and many compressors which claim to be airbrush compressors but which are not suitable at all for freehand airbrushing.

The three main components of the compressor are:

  • Tank
  • Motor
  • Air Regulator

household compressor

Compressor Tank

For the purpose of free-hand airbrushing it is strongly recommended by Airbrush Tutor that you purchase a compressor with a tank!
some models advertise themselves as being 'airbrush compressors' but these are not designed for continuous use.
Having a compressor/tank assembly kills two birds with the one stone - it ensures that your compressor motor gets a rest and it also means that you get a more consistent airflow.

It is recommended that a compressor with a minimum 2.5ltr tank is purchased. This is the equivalent of about 2/3rds of a gallon.

Compressor/Motor

The two main types of motors are the oiled and oilless.
In general oiled compressor motors are more robust, require less maintenance and are not so sensitive, whereas oilless motors may not last as long as long, but they tend to be much quieter.
The power of the motor is not so important when it comes to airbrushing. It simply needs to have enough power to be able to fill up a tank.
As long as you are not getting a stand-alone compressor then there is no need to look too far into the motor's power rating.

In general, you will be looking in the range of 1/6th HP to 2.5 HP for compressors with large tanks.

Air Regulator

This is what allows you to adjust the pressure of the air being fed into the airbrush. You want pressures coming through your airbrush of between 20 psi - 40 psi. 30 psi is usually the perfect pressure to spray with, depending on paint and conditions.

Moisture Trap

Be sure to include a moisture trap in your setup.
Whether it's at the compressor or a baby fitting as shown in Tutorial 1: How to set up an airbrush space, it is very important to have one as they will stop oils, moisture & impurities from getting onto your artworks.
This is especially important for automotive artworks.

Which compressor then?

For hobby airbrushing it is preferable to have a portable compressor, meaning that you want something small.
Fortunately if you are getting a small compressor with a tank attached then there are relatively few options.

  • The cheap way would be to go for an everyday compressor from the local hardware store. A typical 'GMC' compressor is pictured above and for the price it is hard to beat. These compressors often come with warranty and can put up with alot of punishment.
    The disadvantage of this type of compressor is the noise. They are extremely loud running whilst filling the tank, which is approximately 30 seconds out of every 10 mins.

silent airbrush compressor

  • The pricier alternative is to go for a silent air compressor.
    These aren't a necessity but they are extremely pleasant to work with and make airbrushing much more comfortable.
    The disadvantage to this type of compressor is that they are quite fragile. They are less robust, need to be handled with care and can tend to overheat after long periods of usage (over 2 hours continuous).

If possible it is recommended to go for a good quality silent compressor such as the one pictured (above). They are portable, can be used in public places and make little noise making them more practical.
However if the cheaper option is all that is available to you then a budget GMC type compressor will suit your needs just fine.