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Air Compressor for Painting: How to Choose the Best One

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As we move in to summer, it’s the perfect time to start thinking about projects around the home. These could range from re-spraying the faded panels on your project car, finishing some furniture or craft projects, or even painting a particularly weathered section of your home.

With these projects the main obstacle is always time, but you can cut down on the time and inconvenience by making use of an air compressor for painting and a spray gun.

When you use an air compressor for painting you can save on material while also ensuring that you achieve a perfectly even coat. The only problem you will have then, is selecting the best compressor for painting cars, furniture or your home.

What to Consider in an Air Compressor for Airbrushing

When you’re looking for the best air compressor for airbrushing and spray painting, your requirements will differ when compared to other tasks. Painting and sealing requires near continuous air flow, depending on the size of your project. In the case of a vehicle, unless you’re finishing panels individually, you will need an air compressor with a powerful motor and a large storage tank. For smaller tasks like painting a chair, or any kind of craftwork, the volume of air required will be less.

Because of this, your most important question should be, what size air compressor do I need to paint?

PSI and CFM Values

PSI (Pounds Per Square Inch) indicates the pressure of the air that a compressor is able to deliver to air tools, while CFM (Cubic Feet Per Minute) relates to the flow of the  mass of the air coming from the compressor.

To say it more simply, for each air tool, in order to operate it , you need to know two things from the  air compressor specifications:  One is the level of air pressure that the air compressor is capable of delivering (expressed in PSI) and the other is how fast (its velocity)this air flows through the nozzle of the air tool (CFM). Note that CFM without PSI is meaningless, in other words CFM varies according to the PSI level. Most commonly, CFM is stated at the 90 PSI and 40 PSI levels.

The importance of pressure required for spray painting is relatively low compared to CFM, because spray painting and airbrushing is more about volume.

For smaller projects it’s possible to use only 10 – 15 PSI with a compressor producing 1 – 2 CFM. Smaller compressors typically have smaller storage tanks, so the only problem you will encounter in this situation is that you won’t be able to maintain airflow continuously. For furniture and crafts this will not be a problem, however the best air compressors for automotive painting will need to have more potent figures.

What Type Of Spray Gun Should I Use for Painting ?

What will determine the type of air compressor you will use for painting , is largely dependent on the type of the paint spray gun that you will use.

Now, there are basically three types of spay guns that are available on the market:

siphon spray gun
siphon spray gun

The first is called a . As the name suggests, the paint reservoir or canister is at the lower part of the tool and the paint that is contained in it is siphoned to the nozzle via a feed tube that is inside the canister. This type of gun was mostly used in the old days (but it is still used by many) when the two newer types explained below did not exist.

Its disadvantages over its two rivals are two: First, as the paint cup  is situated below the nozzle it requires more air pressure coming from the air compressor to assist with the process of paint atomization (that is the conversion of the fluid paint into a mist to be ejected through the tip of the nozzle) and secondly, it causes a lot of paint wastage as it spreads in a wider angle.

gravity spray gun
gravity spray gun

The second type is the . As its name implies, it produces a high volume (or flow) of fluid paint leaving the nozzle tip and requires low air pressure to operate efficiently.

The reason it needs less pressure to operate is because the paint cup is located on the top part of the tool, thus it is also called a Gravity Spray Gun. There is no need for extra air pressure to feed the paint to the gun nozzle, as the paint falls with the aid of gravity down from the cup into the nozzle.

To be more specific about the operation requirements of the HVLP gun, a typical gun of this type will require :

  •  26- 29 PSI at the tip of the spay gun nozzle. To make sure what’s the exact PSI for your gun, you should squeeze the trigger while watching its digital gauge or analog dial display. Ideally, this should be about 26 PSI. Of course, depending on the type of paint job you intend to do ( automotive, furniture, etc) this ideal PSI number differs. For example, for car painting, 26 PSI is good for base coat, while 29 PSI is good for a clear coat.

Now, the air pressure requirement coming from the air compressor (without squeezing the trigger) should be 90 PSI.

  • The CFM requirement for most HVLP guns is around 10-14. That is defined at 90 PSI. So, in order to meet this type of spray gun requirement, the air compressor you should be looking for should be rated 10 -14 CFM at 90 PSI.

The third and last type id the . This was invented later than its HVLP counterpart and as its name implies, their main difference is that this one delivers a lower volume of fluid coming out of the nozzle, thus a lower CFM requirement.

Construction wise, this is also considered to be a gravity spray gun, as the pain cup is also located on top of the nozzle. Because of the lower CFM requirement, this gun paints more slowly that the high volume type, but on the other hand it is characterized by a higher transfer efficiency (better atomization of the paint).

Talking about the operation requirements of the LVLP guns, their CFM ratings ranges from 5 to 7 at 40 PSI (coming out from the compressor), while the air pressure at the tip of the nozzle when squeezed is in the range of 10 – 15 PSI.

Contrary to the siphon type, both the HVLP and the LVLP spray guns have very low paint wastage, thus being very economical and environment friendly. As a matter of fact, the demand for the wide use of this type of technology on spray guns became necessary because of the imposition of stricter laws on environment protection set by the government.

Talking about the air compressor size, a spray gun that requires higher CFM values means that the compressor you are using will need a larger tank to maintain continuous flow. In the case of an HVLP spray gun, the compressor used should have a tank of at least 50 gallons in size, while most professionals would recommend a 100 gallon tank.

The advantage of using an LVLP spray gun is that you can receive most of the benefits of a HVLP gun, with the added bonus that air compressor size requirements are reduced. Typically, an air compressor tank size ranging from 20 to 30 gallons is more than enough for most spray paint job requirements.

If you are interested in getting more in depth information  about the different spray gun air requirements for paint jobs, you can have a look at the video below

You can also have a look at our top 3 picks as far as the best air compressor paint sprayer models that are available on the market.

Portable Air Compressors for Painting

If you’re setting up your compressor in a workshop then portability might not be a major concern. If you couple the compressor with a high pressure hose that is long enough, you will be able to paint all around your garage without ever requiring the unit to be portable.

Your portability requirements depend on the painting tasks you will be performing. It’s possible to get a larger compressor that is mounted on wheels, enabling you to move it around your home or take it anywhere that you need to work. If you’re considering painting external surfaces of your home then a portable solution would be more convenient and practical than a non-portable unit.

Also consider that if you’re using too much hose, the quality of the air can degrade, meaning that you lose pressure. 25ft should be the maximum cable length used.

Moisture Traps and Regulators

Most consumer and semi-professional grade compressors on the market come with regulators installed at the pump, however not all of them include moisture traps.

A , or moisture separator, works by removing condensation that builds up in the air coming from the tank.

Moisture can cause bubbles and inconsistent paint jobs, which are especially noticeable when painting a car, or other smooth surfaces. It’s a good idea to purchase a moisture trap to plumb in to your airline.

In addition to your gauge and regulator on the compressor itself, it’s advisable to purchase a MAC valve to attach to the end of the hose where the spray gun will be. This will allow you to monitor and adjust pressure coming from the gun, without going back to the compressor.

Our Recommendations

Before even buying a compressor, you should check the requirements of your existing sprayers, or the ones that you plan to buy.

Check CFM requirements, PSI, and any other recommendations on the product. From here you will get a good idea of the size and power of the compressor you will need.

As a starting point, we’ve rounded up a few of the best compressors for painting cars, furniture, and small craft projects.

The Best Air Compressor for Painting Cars

As mentioned above, what will for the most part determine your choice of the right air compressor you need to paint your car, is the type of spray gun you will use to do your job.

Another fact that you need to consider is that when an air compressor has to work harder to maintain a proper amount of pressure, this will lead to an increase in the temperature of the air supply.

This elevation of temperature will allow moisture to be introduced into the air system through condensation inside the piping.

If the particles of water produced  accumulate and then leave the spray gun nozzle, you will have blemishes on the surface of your paint job like bubbles and uneven surfaces.

So, ideally what you should look for is an air compressor that can build up an ample reserve of compressed air and then shut off for long enough to cool down.

Therefore, the larger the tank size is and the bigger the horsepower the better you will be able to finish your project both fast enough and with the highest possible quality.

When it comes to portability, tank sizes will be limited, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t complete home projects like re-spraying a car, or even particular panels on a car.

Since the amount of room in your garage or workshop can be limited, an air compressor with a vertical tank would be a good option.

Even if your air compressor has wheels, find a permanent location for it and secure it in place.

Make sure it has a long enough hose to reach anywhere in the work area that you may need, minimum of 25 feet to paint a car but 50 feet works best.

After doing some research to find the best air compressors for painting cars to propose, we came up with four options, two that are more suitable for lighter paint jobs using an LVLP spray gun and two that are suitable for more serious home DIY projects to full professional use.

For both cases, Option 1 is the more expensive model while Option 2 is targeting the more budget conscious consumers.

So, let’s get started!

What Is The Best Air Compressor To Paint My Car Using An LVLP Gun?

Option 1: Industrial Air ILA 1883054

This is a vertical standing unit with dimensions 24.8 x 24.8 x 49.8 inches, weighing at 190 pounds (shipping weight 186 pounds), equipped with pneumatic tires for easy movement.

Its motor can work on both 120V and 240V (it takes some adjustment work that is explained in the manual) and requires 15 Amperes of current when working in the 120V mode and 7.5 Amps when working in the 240V mode.

An added advantage is that it is belt driven, meaning that when compared with a direct drive motor it is less noisy and delivers a greater amount of compressed air. Belt driven compressors are also cost-effective, require less maintenance and are less prone to breakdowns.

The capacity of its tank is 30 gallons, and its maximum PSI is 155. Its CFM rating is 5.7 at 90 PSI and 7.0 at 40 PSI, which makes is very suitable to feed a LVLP spray gun.

It has a duty cycle of 100%, meaning that when it is running (until it has to automatically shut off to refill) it doesn’t need to stop due to overheating.

Its running horsepower rating is 1.9  which is good enough and is made in America.

Online reviews are overall very good with consumers praising it for its sturdiness and notable low noise output, especially when comparing it with other similar models.

One consumer mentioned that he measured the time to refill to be about 6 minutes (which is very good for a compressor this size) while some other complained about the hard to reach drain valve at the bottom.

One other also mentioned that he can leave it in his basement idle for weeks and he noticed no air leakage; that’s great as this means the tool is ready for operation whenever you need it!

You can check out the latest price on Amazon by clicking the link below .

Option 2: Industrial Air 1L 1682066.MN

The second option we want to recommend comes from the same American company Industrial Air and it is a vertical standing unit as well, with dimensions 25 x 24.5 x 48.8 inches, weighing at 159 pounds (shipping weight 186 pounds), equipped with pneumatic tires for easy movement.

It is electric powered requiring 120v, takes a full 15 Amps household outlet to run.

This is also belt driven, making it less quiet that its counterparts as well.

The capacity of its tank is 20 gallons, and its maximum PSI is 135. Its CFM rating is 5.3 at 90 PSI and 6.2 at 40 PSI, again making this very suitable to feed a LVLP spray gun as well.

Its running horsepower is 1.6 which again is a very decent motor to power up the type of gun you want to use.

Judging from the online reviews of consumers who bought it, it seems that it has earned a very good reputation for its reliability and quality of construction, meeting expectations for its value for money worth.

Consumers are particularly amazed with its low noise, saying that this is way better in that respect from other similar models they had experience with.

Click the link below to get the latest price on Amazon.

What Is The Best Air Compressor To Paint My Car Using An HVLP Gun?

Option 1: Ingersoll Rand SS3L3

This is also a vertical standing unit with 20 x 23 x 66 inches dimensions,  so it shouldn’t take too much space in your workshop, especially if it’s too crowded to begin with.

Now, for its weight, the product page on Amazon specifies this to be 178 pounds (item weight, not shipping weight) but going through the reviews, one consumer mentions that it is 300 pounds, so I should expect that the Amazon got it wrong!

And from what people say, it is heavy and hard to move, so make sure you make room for it and let it stay there!

It’s electrically powered needing a 240 volts outlet and requires 20 Amperes in current.

It has a large tank of 60 gallons, so it has ample capacity to meet the requirements of driving your HVLP paint spray gun.

It also industrial grade with a 100% duty cycle, meaning that it can run continuously without need for a cool down period.

It has a maximum PSI of 135 and is capable of giving CFM of 11.3 at 90 PSI, which is just the right pressure required for this type of gun.

Its running horsepower is rated at 3 HP.

As for its place of origin, one reviewer mentions that although the compressor is advertised to be “Made in USA”, when he received it he saw “Made in China” on the plate and the motor “Made in Mexico”.

Online reviews are mixed with some people mostly complaining about the quality of shipping and the customer support. But some others are giving it thumbs up, saying that it is ideal for the type of work they needed it (they do mention automotive work as well), citing that it takes only 6 minutes flat to go from empty to full, which is great for an air compressor this size.

Here’s a quick video I dug up on youtube that will help you get an overall idea of the look and feel of this unit.

Go check the latest price on Amazon below.

Option 2: Puma Industries PK – 6060V

This is also a 60 gallon unit, standing tall in a vertical position, 71 inches in height and 29 in width. And it is heavy, weighing 305 pounds!

It is also belt driven like the Industrial Air units described above, so expect it to be surprisingly quiet for such a big unit. As a matter of fact, this is mentioned more than enough times in the reviews from satisfied users.

It is capable of delivering 135 PSI , 3 HP running horsepower, 12 CFM at 90 PSI and 13.5 at 40 PSI, which is quite remarkable.

As for its place of origin, it is made in America.

What you should also know, is that this particular Puma Industries ar compressors is featured in our best commercial air compressor models list.

Online reviews are very good, people are raving about its good construction quality and its efficiency in running various demanding air tools. There were also some people complaining about the documentation being poor and not very detailed.

Here’s a quick video on youtube to check it out for yourself.

Click the link below to get the latest price on Amazon.

The Best Air Compressor for Painting Furniture, Arts and Crafts

While not as intensive as automotive painting, some larger furniture may require longer, sweeping strokes that require relatively high performance from a compressor.

The California Air Tools 2010A Ultra Quiet Air Compressor produces 3.1 CFM @40 PSI, 2.2 CFM@90 PSI and at even lower PSI will be able to support a LVLP gun for professional looking spray coats. This unit is very lightweight and easy to transport (35 lbs) and includes a built in moisture separator. Check out our full review here.

And for your easy reference, you can check the latest price and offers on Amazon by clicking the link below.

An Air Compressor Will Allow You to Spray Professional Coats

In addition to the speed that an air compressor allows you to pain at, you will also receive the benefit of professional looking coats. When it comes to car body re-spraying, this could save you hundreds or even thousands. Using a spray gun for art, craft pieces, and small projects around the home will have you turning out professional looking products and handiwork.

Always check the requirements of the spray gun that you plan to use, and choose your compressor based on PSI, tank size, and CFM to ensure that you have the right machine for the job.

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