Airbrush Compressors Explained

There are two components to airbrushing success – a great airbrush and a reliable airbrush compressor. Many people don’t worry much about the latter, but as you strive for more technical painting, they become essential. A good quality airbrush compressor will do two things – one, it’ll allow you to paint for longer without overheating, and two, it will avoid pulsations in paint flow.

We’ve collected some of the best options on the market for three types of buyers in this review. For those looking to upgrade their existing compressor or replace it, we have a number of great airbrush compressors that will take you to the next level. Some buyers, like makeup artists, need portable options and we have great selections for them too.

Finally, for those looking to get into airbrushing we’ve got some excellent kits including the compressor, hoses, and in some cases an airbrush too to help you get started. These complete kits are a great way to start and see the incredible effects and airbrush can produce.

Best Overall

1. Master Airbrush Cool Runner II G222 Airbrush Set

Key Features

⤍ Powerful Cooling For Long Sessions

⤍ Small Tank Regulates Flow

⤍ Airbrush, Hoses, & 3 Needles Included

 

Noise Rating: 47db

Power: 1/5hp

Pressure: 1-60psi

Our Rating

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Our Take

When it comes to a cost effective, high performance, all round airbrushing package you can’t do much better than the Master Airbrush Cool Runner II G222 Airbrush Set. This airbrush compressor ticks all the boxes, and comes complete with a high-quality airbrush too.

Taking a look at the compressor itself, the Cool Runner II is exceptionally quiet at just 47db. Like all airbrush compressors this is an oil-free machine – and incorporates a small air tank to regulate pressure and deliver a pulsation-free stream of air. Other demand-feed compressors will run air directly from the piston, which can result in an uneven flow.

Master Airbrush have also added a great deal of cooling capacity to this compressor to enable you to run it for long periods without overheating. This is especially useful for painting large objects.

Finally, this machine ships with a Master Airbrush G-222 airbrush included, along with three tip sizes – 0.2/0.3/0.5mm needles). Included is everything you need to get started with your project, so you avoid compatibility issues. This can be a huge help for the novice – as some systems require adapters to work together.

All in all, this is an excellent turn-key package. Even if you’re only in the market for the compressor, the Cool Runner II is a very dependable performer for most airbrushing needs. We give it a firm thumbs up!

Best Performance

2. Iwata-Medea Studio Series Smart Jet Pro

Key Features

⤍ High-Quality Self-Contained Unit

⤍ Moisture & Air Intake Filters

⤍ Well Established Brand

 

Noise Rating: 55db

Power: 1/8hp

Pressure: 1-35psi

Our Rating

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Out Take

When it comes to the professional’s choice – you need to look to the Iwata Medea. With a history reaching back to 1982, they produce high quality, dependable airbrush compressors, and accessories for every application.

The Studio Series Smart Jet Pro is their mid-range compressor – aimed at occasional use with general-purpose spraying. Aimed at accommodating all but the most demanding airbrushing activities, this clean and simple machine produces the goods.

This machine is fitted with an auto-shutoff feature to reduce the workload on the motor, as well as moisture and air intake filters. The regulator adjustment knob is neatly secured to the side of the frame, right alongside the gauge.

This machine is a great option for mobile users – as the whole machine is contained into a smart black frame with a handle. This should help prevent damage during transport for makeup artists and other folks who travel with their unit.

If you’re looking for the BMW of air compressors, then the Iwata Medea is a great bet. The Smart Jet Pro is their mid-range option, which should be ideal for general airbrushing – but if you’re looking for more demanding applications check out the rest of their range.

Best Value

3. PointZero 1/5 HP Airbrush Compressor

Key Features

⤍ Affordable Option With Solid Performance

⤍ Good Pressure Range

⤍ Compressor Only

 

Noise Rating: 55db

Power: 1/5hp

Pressure: 1-65psi

Our Rating

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Our Take

If you’re looking for an affordably priced compressor, then the PointZero 1/5 HP Airbrush Compressor is an excellent option. This great little machine ticks all the boxes for general airbrushing work without breaking the bank.

Quiet and powerful, the PointZero is capable of producing 1-65psi, which is plenty of air for most airbrushing applications. It features a smart shut off feature to save energy usage, and increase the lifetime of the machine. Producing just 55db when running, you’ll be able to happily run this in the house without annoying the rest of your family.

This compressor is sold as a compressor only – so if you are looking for a replacement airbrush compressor for your existing system, then this is a good option. If you are looking for a complete package however, you might want to consider some of the other options in this review, which include everything you need.

All in all, this is a good quality, very affordable compressor-only option. For those shopping at a lower price point, we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. However, it’s worth pointing out that you can get other options for $30-$60 more.

4. California Air Tools CAT-1P1060S

Key Features

⤍ Very Powerful (Up To 120psi)

⤍ Good Continuous Flow

⤍ Highly Respected Brand

 

Noise Rating: 56db

Power: 1.2hp

Pressure: 1-120psi

Our Rating

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Our Take

California Air Tools are a great little company based out of San Diego, founded in 2002 by a group of industry experts. They have grown from strength to strength since, primarily supplying large industrial compressors and compressors for home garages. We’ve been a huge fan of their tools across the board.

The CAT-1P1060S is their small and quiet option, and is designed with airbrushing in mind. This little unit is capable of producing pressures up to 120psi, and is one of the most powerful in this review. The machine also includes a generous storage tank, helping to regulate flow and avoid pulsation.

It is also very quiet at 56db, and lightweight at just 29lbs. The extra power on tap with this machine makes it useful as a general compressor for inflating tires and balls as well – so this is by no means an airbrushing only unit.

California Air Tools have a great reputation for reliability due to their commercial background. They have tested their products extensively in a wide variety of environments, and we found almost no unhappy customers online (which is unusual!).

For a very high-quality airbrush compressor that can also take care of other light demand needs, then the CAT-1P1060S is a great choice.

5. Iwata-Medea Studio Series Sprint Jet

Key Features

⤍ Very Simple Machine

⤍ Preset Airflow 20-25psi

⤍ Continuous Running

 

Noise Rating: <55db

Power: 1/8hp

Pressure: 20-25psi (fixed)

Our Rating

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Our Take

The Sprint Jet is Iwata Medea’s most stripped-down airbrush compressor – and is a very simple unit manufactured to a high quality. As mentioned previously, Iwata has a wealth of experience in the airbrushing industry specifically and produce very high-quality equipment.

The Sprint Jet is a fixed pressure compressor – producing air at a preset working range of 20-25psi. It does not have any of the fancy auto-shutoff features you’ll find on their more expensive compressors, and it doesn’t have a storage tank either. This machine is about as simple as it gets.

Best suited to less demanding airbrushing work – such as model painting, makeup, and cake decoration, this unit nonetheless has enough power to get the job done. At just 7lbs, it is extremely small and compact and is well suited to buyers who need to transport their compressor.

Although this unit is sold as a compressor only, it does include a number of hose adapters for Badger, Aztek, and Paasche brand equipment. For those looking to replace an existing compressor, or perhaps looking to upgrade their compressor, then this is a great option.

6. Master Airbrush Model TC-40T

Key Features

⤍ Affordable Upgrade from Basic Compressor

⤍ Good Continuous Flow

⤍ Runs Quiet

 

Noise Rating: 47db

Power: 1/6hp

Pressure: 1-57psi

Our Rating

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Our Take

The Master Airbrush TC-40T is Master Airbrush’s next step up from the Cool Runner II model also featured in this review. It incorporates several enhancements aimed at the more advanced airbrush user.

First up, the TC-40T is fitted with a more powerful 1/6hp motor, offering higher pressure options than the Cool Runner II. Like the Cool Runner, this airbrush compressor features dual cooling fans, only the have also been upgraded to accommodate longer painting sessions. These developments are aimed at better performance for applications that involve painting large objects, where you might run the risk of overheating a smaller compressor.

Like it’s smaller cousin, the TC-40T features a storage tank to regulate airflow, paired with an adjustable pressure regulator to deliver the desired output pressure. Unlike its smaller cousin, this machine can accommodate higher pressures – up to 57psi of working pressure.

As we’ve come to expect of Master Airbrush compressors, the TC-40T is very quiet at just 47db while running. In addition, maintenance is kept to a minimum, and we’ve found very few buyers mentioning problems online.

If you’re looking for a step up from your first compressor, then this is another good option. While it might not have the power of the California Air Tools, or the brand recognition of the Iwata-Medea, it’s a great entry into the world of high-performance airbrush compressors.

7. Grex AC1810-A

Key Features

⤍ High Performance Airbrush Compressor

⤍ Adjustable Regulator

⤍ Smooth Airflow Without Tank

 

Noise Rating: 55db

Power: 1/8hp

Pressure: 1-60psi

Our Rating

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Our Take

Like the Iwata-Medea Sprint Jet, the Grex AC1810-A is designed to be a very simple compressor built to a high standard. Like Iwata, Grex also have a wealth of experience in the airbrush industry, and specialize in producing high quality airbrush compressors and accessories.

This is a single piston compressor with no air storage tank – so it runs while you are painting. For cheap compressors this approach can result in a pulsating flow, but buyers haven’t reported any problems with a higher quality compressor like this.

Grex have pitched this machine at buyers looking for a mobile compressor solution – and given it’s small and lightweight form it fulfils that duty well. Unlike the Sprint Jet though, this machine does feature an adjustable regulator so can accommodate different painting pressures.

As you would expect with a higher quality compressor like the Grex, this machine features a moisture trap and air filter to keep the unit running smoothly. If you are looking for a step up from your basic compressor, then the Grex is a great option. We peg it right in line with other options from Iwata.

8. ZENY Pro 1/5 HP Airbrush Air Compressor

Key Features

⤍ Storage Tank Airbrush Compressor

⤍ Adjustable Regulator

⤍ Slightly Louder Than Others

 

Noise Rating: 59db

Power: 1/5hp

Pressure: 1-60psi

Our Rating

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Our Take

The ZENY Pro 1/5 HP compressor is firmly targeted as a general purpose airbrushing compressor. It fulfils this role well, and is best thought of as an alternative to the California Air Tools or the Paasche units discussed earlier in this review.

This is a storage tank air compressor, which helps to regulate the flow of air compared to a piston only-type compressor. Equipped with a relatively powerful 1/5hp motor, this compressor is capable to producing pressures up to 60psi – which is towards the top end. It’s worth noting however that it can’t touch the 120psi offered by California Air Tools unit.

Like other airbrush compressors in this category, this machine features an auto shut off feature designed to extend the life of the compressor. As you would also expect, it features an adjustable regulator and water and air intake filter too.

All things considered this is a decent upgrade from a low-level compressor, and should accommodate most airbrushing activities very effectively. Sure, it might not be outstanding in any one area, but it’s a decent performer.

9. PointZero 1/5 HP Airbrush Compressor With Tank

Key Features

⤍ Storage Tank Airbrush Compressor

⤍ Adjustable Regulator

⤍ Quiet Operation

 

Noise Rating: 55db

Power: 1/5hp

Our Rating

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Our Take

Another alternative option from PointZero, this compressor is their storage tank model aimed at airbrush buyers. Although slightly bulkier than their piston-only unit, this machine aims to deliver a more constant airflow by using the tank to regulate pressure.

Equipped with a 1/5hp motor, this compressor is capable of delivering pressures suitable for most airbrushing applications. The machine uses an auto shut off feature to prevent it running continually when not it use – similar to all other models in this category.

This is another decent upgrade from a basic compressor, and offered at a very accessible price. Buyers seem largely happy with their purchase, but generally we advocate spending $10-$20 more to pick up a machine like the unit from California Air Tools.

10. Paasche D3000R

Key Features

⤍ Storage Tank Airbrush Compressor

⤍ Adjustable Regulator

⤍ Relatively Lightweight

 

Noise Rating: 47db

Power: 1/5hp

Pressure: 1-40psi

Our Rating

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Our Take

Paasche are easily this oldest manufacturer in this review, having been founded by Norwegian Jens Paasche in 1904. He had emigrated from Norway to the US, arriving in New York in 1900. A family business specializing in airbrushing, the company is now run by Jens’ grandson and his wife, and operates out of Wisconsin.

Moving on to the D3000R, this compressor is aimed at the hobbyist and artist market. It features a powerful 1/5hp motor, giving it the ability to produce pressures up to 40psi. Flow is regulated via a storage tank and an adjustable regulator.

Like other quality airbrush compressors, this unit features an automatic cut-off to prevent the compressor from overheating and to prolong its lifecycle. This model is also quite quiet, coming in at just 47db which makes it among the quietest in this review. Buyers who transport their compressors will enjoy the fact this is also a fairly lightweight machine at just 13lbs.

So, how does this stack up to the other options? Well, it’s slightly more affordable, but for a storage tank compressor, it lacks the performance of California Air Tools offering. In addition, some buyers have reported problems with the quality of the regulator threads, which seem prone to stripping. While we think it’s a decent option, it’s hard to stack it up to California Air Tool’s offering.

What To Consider When Buying An Airbrush Compressor

Compressors are perhaps one of the more complex pieces of equipment you can purchase – only because the pressure ratings and flow information can be confusing. In this section, we’ll help you simplify your requirements so you can choose the perfect compressor to meet your needs.

Air Capacity & Pressure Range

Airbrush compressors are relatively low-pressure compressors, but that doesn’t mean that air capacity isn’t important. Different airbrushes, paints, and airbrush needles require different pressures, but broadly all the compressors in this review will accommodate those differences.

One important point to consider is how large to objects you are looking to paint are. If you are painting miniatures, all the compressors in this review will be absolutely fine. For covering larger objects, however (eg: body art), we recommend compressors that can reach higher CFMs and air pressures.

When unsure, you can always check the pressure requirements and working range for your airbrush. This will help you find a compressor that does the job effectively.

Pressure Adjustability

Some airbrush compressors have an adjustable regulator so you can set the output air pressure to your needs. That obviously adds extra cost and complication and isn’t suitable for everyone. In fact, many beginners won’t need to worry about it initially.

For more advanced buyers though, being able to select the desired air pressure is an important part of achieving effects using different needles and paints, for example, chalk paint. Some of the compressors in this test do have this capability, and if you’re purchasing your second compressor we definitely recommend looking at one with an adjustable regulator.

Storage Tank

Storage tanks are fitted on some compressors, but not all models. The storage tank is designed to hold pressurized air and distribute it in an even flow when required. Without a storage tank, you can get pulsations on your airflow which are noticeable in the flow out of your airbrush.

Storage tanks add extra bulk and complexity to your compressor, and the effects of air pulsation differ depending on what you are working on. For things like cake decoration or makeup, they aren’t all that important. But if you are working on highly detailed miniatures, then they can be a real issue.

Our recommendation is to purchase a storage tank compressor if you are upgrading your compressor or you know that you are looking for a unit to help you with detailed work. A large tank is also great if you also use your air compressor for cleaning, but a portable blower might be more useful.

Size & Weight

The idea of transporting your air compressor around might sounds ridiculous to some hobbyists, but its important to a number of professionals. From makeup artists to visual artists, there are lots of people who will be doing airbrush work on a job site.

If you are looking for a machine to transport – we have several recommendations. First off, invest in a good quality machine. There’s nothing worse than getting to a job and having a compressor let you down. Secondly, compact enclosed units work very well. These typically have a carrying handle and enclose the machine within a protective case. This helps prevents damage in transport.

Our recommendation would be to go with a machine like the Iwata Smart Jet Pro. This airbrush compressor is very popular with professionals who rely on it every day.

Noise

Unlike compressors used in other applications, airbrush compressors are almost always used inside, and often near to other people. This means noise is definitely an issue. Thankfully, all the compressors in this review are pretty quiet, coming in at around 55db or less while running.

If you work in a particularly noise-sensitive area, then you could take a look at some of the quieter compressors that go down to 46db. However, this is often a trade-off in power, so remember that first and foremost the compressor needs to work and then be as quiet as possible!

Moisture Traps & Filters

The air around us contains water, and as it is compressed by any type of compressor that water condenses. When using an airbrush compressor, you don’t want that water to get into the paint or whatever you are airbrushing with. To avoid this issue, all decent compressors will have a water trap, and you should make sure anyone you buy has it fitted.

When looking for a higher-quality compressor, an easily accessible air filter is also another important thing to think about. These will help to prevent dirt and particles damaging the piston and should make the compressor last longer.

Airbrush Compressor Buyers Guide FAQs

We know airbrush compressors can be particularly confusing, so we’ve collected some of the most common questions we see asked. Let’s take a look at some of the top FAQs below.

Can you use any air compressor for airbrushing?

In short, yes you can. However, a large industrial compressor will probably be loud and you’ll find it hard to fine-tune the pressure to your needs. That said, a compressor for home garages will work, with a few tweaks to the setup.

Firstly most of these compressors do not have a moisture trap, which is essential for airbrushing. You can’t have moisture or dirt from the compressor getting into your airbrush. To combat this, you need to attach a moisture trap to your compressor upstream of your airbrush.

The second thing we’d recommend is attaching a second airbrush regulator to the setup, downstream of your compressor. This will help you fine-tune the pressure to your requirements because the regulators on general use compressors are coarsely calibrated.

Thankfully you can easily pick up an airbrushing moisture trap and regulator in one combined unit. Grab one of these things online, and you should be good to go. One final thing to bear in mind though, home pancake compressors can get noisy – and are much louder than the airbrush compressors in this review.

What is the quietest airbrush compressor?

Most of the airbrush compressors in this review come in at around 55db, which is already pretty quiet. The quietest is the Master Airbrush Cool Runner II, which is 47db. This machine comes either in a set or as a standalone compressor unit.

What is the best airbrush brand?

There are a number of highly respected specialist airbrush brands out there. The main players are Iwata-Medea, Badger, and Paasche. All three of these companies have been producing airbrush compressors for many years. Generally, we see Iwata as the most popular among professionals.

Two other companies are worth a mention however, California Air Tools and Grex. California Air Tools have a rich history in compressor manufacture and make all sorts of commercial units. The smallest compressors in their range are very well suited to airbrushing, are affordable, and well respected in the community.

What PSI should I use for airbrushing?

Generally, around 30 psi is a good go-to for airbrushing work. As you gain more experience, you might look to tweak this depending on the needle you are using or the paint. Different effects also require different pressures, as do different materials.

Generally, we recommend higher pressures for painting larger objects, as it atomizes the paint better and covers more area. The more pressure you use, the more overspray you get, however.

Can I use airbrush without compressor?

To use an airbrush you do need some sort of air pressure source. Air compressors are a popular choice, as they compress the air around them giving you unlimited quantities. Other options exist, however, and you can use tanks of compressed air or any other inert gas. Air tanks are obviously bulky though and require refilling.

In a pinch, you can also use inflated car tires or disposable cans of compressed air. With any alternative air source like this, a good airbrush moisture trap and particulate filter are essential. Without them, you can collect contamination in your paint.

While all these options do work, many hobbyists do believe the airbrush compressor is the best option. These little machines are inexpensive and offer great results.

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