If you’re already an air tool user, one of the best ways to get spraying paints and finish coatings is to outfit your air compressor with an HVLP-style compressor gun. You can get comparable finish quality results to complete HVLP systems, and save lots of money by using the same air supply for lots of different tools in your work. These are the setups of choice for working on cars, since most garages are already stocked with air tools.
However, what many people discover when they try to paint from an air compressor is that most aren’t actually built for painting. Paint spraying is a continuous draw on your compressor, while most air tools use air in bursts, so they’re only a draw 25% of the time you’re working with them. That’s why many folks find that they need to upgrade their air compressor when they start getting into painting.
We’ll help you understand the complicated business of finding an air compressor that can handle paint guns as well as all your other air tools! We’ve rounded up 6 of our favorites to review for this guide, and we’ve come up with a handy buying guide as well!
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Best Air Compressors For Painting Reviews:
- Rolair VT25BIG 2.5 HP Wheeled Compressor with Overload Protection and Manual Reset
- North Star 3 HP 230V Single Phase Electric Air Compressor with Vertical Tank, 60-Gallon
- Thomas Compressors T-2820ST 13.5 Amp 2-Horsepower 4-Gallon Oil-Free Twin Hot Dog Compressor
- Powermate Vx PLA4708065 80-Gallon Electric Air Compressor
- Rolair GX200 Honda 9 GAL #6590HK18 Air Compressor
- North Star Portable Gas-Powered Air Compressor
1. Rolair VT25BIG 2.5 HP Wheeled Compressor with Overload Protection and Manual Reset
This Rolair is one of the best values on the market right now. It has a remarkably low CFM rating at first glance, but that doesn’t matter once you realize that it’s rated for 100% duty cycles! So, you don’t need to do the usual multiply-by-four trick to figure out if your guns will run well on this compressor. As long as they’re under 6 CFM, you’re good to go!
The Rolair has a big motor, lots of smart features, and reliability that far outclasses anything else in this under $500. We recommend it to DIYer’s or pros alike, anyone who wants a great value in a compact format.
It’s relatively affordable for DIYer’s. A lot of DIYer’s, especially those who are new to painting, panic when they realize that their $200 pancake compressor won’t be able to keep up with a spray gun. They start wondering whether they can afford to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars just to get painting. Don’t worry, though! This model is well under $500, and it’s all you need to get to work with a single gun.
The Rolair is rated for 6.5 CFM at 90 psi. Most spray guns (at least the HVLP-style compressor guns that we’d recommend) only run at 40 or 50 psi, so you’ll actually get around than 7 CFM for your painting applications!
6.5 CFM is ordinarily around the low end of the threshold we recommend for paint guns. After all, when many guns use around 2-3 CFM, on a 100% duty cycle, you’d normally have to look for a compressor that’s rated at 8-12 CFM on a 25% duty cycle (the typical rating for compressors) to keep up.
The best part of the Rolair is the fact that it’s rated at 100% duty! So, when you see 6.5 CFM, that’s actually what it’ll supply, even with paint guns. If you’re using tools that draw up to 5.5-6 CFM, you can paint continuously without worrying about whether your compressor can keep up.
The 100% duty cycle is good news for folks with other continuous-draw air tools, too! You can use this one for sanders, grinders, and blasters up to 5.5-6 CFM. It tackles 1,000ft/lb impact wrenches with no issues, and can run several framing/nail guns at once.
That’s all thanks to the 2.5 HP, 3400rpm motor. It’s industrial grade but runs on standard household power–the best of both worlds for DIYer’s and pros alike. It has some smart features to keep it running well over years of use, too. There’s automatic overload protection with straightforward manual reset.
The single stage pump has a cast iron cylinder, stainless-steel reed valves, and a splash-lubrication system which ensures a longer motor and pump life with very little maintenance.
On the output side of things, the Rolair has a high-quality regulator which you can use to adjust the outgoing pressure. Unlike a lot of other models in this price range, you shouldn’t need any extra components to get smooth and steady supply to your spray guns.
It’s easy to use with a start/stop switch, and a simple control panel featuring pressure gauges and two quick disconnect ports.
The Rolair is impressively compact for how powerful it is. When the handle is folded down, it measures just 29” x 22” x 44” . It’s mounted on a wheelbase for portability, with foam-filled, all-terrain tires and a handle featuring a comfortable rubber grip.
Since it’s portable, you can bring it in a house to do indoor paint tasks, or in a truck to work on another job site or vacation property.
This one has rugged build quality on the frame, wheelbase, and components. It’s one of the only models under $500 that you can realistically recommend for professional work as well as DIY use. It has a heavy-duty cast iron tank (5.3 gallon capacity) and roll cage construction around all the important components.
This Rolair, like the vast majority of the company’s offerings, has a stellar record for reliability. It’s earned a spot as a favorite among professionals, who rely on it for daily use for years. So, there should be no problems for weekenders, or even professionals who want to use this in a furniture shop or for working on cars.
It starts well even in cold weather, and should last for years of runtime. You also get the first load of oil in the box, so there’s no need to buy anything else to get up and running.
It’s made by an American company with excellent customer service. Even though this is an imported model, it’s still inspected in the USA and covered by a thorough 1-year warranty.
With its 100% duty cycle rating, you can run pretty much any paint gun off of this model, as long as it’s rated under 6 CFM. We wouldn’t recommend it for two paint guns at once, though, unless they’re under 2.5 CFM draws. We always like to leave some leeway between what a compressor
It’s a heavy-duty tool. That’s good news in terms of reliability and ruggedness, but it does mean a heftier weight. This is a 100-pound tool, so don’t plan to lift it alone. The cart comes in handy to move it around, but it’s harder to lift into a truck than cheaper, lighter portables. Having said that, it’s the most portable unit we’ve seen that can actually serve you well with paint tools.
It’s made in Taiwan. While we haven’t found anything to complain about in terms of build quality or reliability, this isn’t made in the USA like so many of Rolair’s more expensive models.
It’s pretty loud, at 86 db. You’ll most definitely need ear protection to use this safely.
2. North Star 3 HP 230V Single Phase Electric Air Compressor with Vertical Tank, 80-Gallon
This North Star unit is only slightly more expensive than the Rolair we’ve just looked at. It’s our recommendation for folks who aren’t concerned with portability, and just want the greatest air supply possible for the least amount of money.
It’s a big, rugged stationary unit that, like the Rolair, is appropriate for both DIY and professional use. You could easily run several paint guns at once from this compressor, or paint while someone else works with a different air tool.
It’s a big, powerful tool. It can be shocking sometimes how much more performance you can get out of a tool once you take portability out of the equation! Even though it’s only $100 or so more than the Rolair, it cranks out twice the CFM! Plus, with such a big tank, you can spray for a fair while before the pump even turns on to recover! The North Star produces up to 12.5 CFM at 40 psi, and 11.3 CFM at 90 psi.
It can be turned up to 135 psi for other air tools, which is a boon to anyone who has a larger air tool cabinet to supply than just paint guns. This won’t limit you much at all in terms of the tools you can use. It can handle nearly anything on the market, aside from the largest grinders and blasters.
It’s rated for a 100% duty cycle like the Rolair model above, which makes it easy to gauge its performance with paint guns. It does just what it says on the tin: 12.5 CFM for any 40psi compressor guns! That gives you room to use at least 2 if not 3 guns easily, or to run one gun without stressing out the system at all. This is a great choice for folks who want to use high-CFM HVLP-style compressor guns that draw as much as 6 CFM each.
It’s power comes from a full 3HP motor (3450 RPM), which is attached to a cast iron, belt-driven, 2-stage pump. It’s got a lot of brute power to offer you, but also some smart design features which make for long running life:
The V-style pump mimics automotive engines to dissipate heat and extend running life. There are copper-finned after- and inter- coolers which dissipate heat and reduce moisture in the whole system. The motor also has ball bearings at each side of the crankshaft, which greatly increases the running life forecast: up to 20,000 hours!
It’s just as industrially-built as it is industrially-powered. As with the Rolair, the North Star has heat-resistant alloy steel reed valves (in this case, supplied from a high-end Swedish manufacturer) and a cast iron crank shaft. It adds a metal belt guard for the drive system, which the direct-drive Rolair doesn’t need. The ASME-certified 60-gallon tank is made from rugged steel as well.
This is an American-made machine! While some of the components are sourced abroad, such as the Swedish reed valves, it’s all assembled and tested in Minnesota. As anyone who’s ever bought power tools knows, American quality is worth paying for!
There’s an oil sight gauge to keep track of when you need to top up the supply. Like the Rolair, the North Star comes with the first batch of oil. In this case, it’s actually in the system already!
Given the size of the tank, the North Star can go a long way without needing to recover. With the power of the motor and pump, it recovers quickly, too! As with the Rolair, this has an excellent reputation for keeping up with demanding use for years.
It’s a lot quieter than other models of the same size and specs–in fact, it’s quieter than the Rolair! The North Star puts out about 80 decibels, which is impressive given how much more powerful it is.
One of the small highlights of this model is the vibration pads on the feet. If you do your paintwork on a concrete floor, it really cuts down on the juddering sensation.
It’s covered by a refreshingly long 4-year warranty for consumers! That’s four times the coverage you get on the Rolair. North Star provide great service as well and will overnight replacement parts to you in case you have issues. Commercial users get 2 years of equally impressive coverage.
It requires an industrial power hookup at 230V. That’s not something all DIYer’s have, even though it’s common in professional shops or ambitious DIYer’s workspaces.
If you don’t already have an industrial hookup to use, you may want to consider a different model, or get a quote on how much it would cost to have a 230V hookup installed. That usually costs somewhere between $100 and $500. If you’re a DIYer who doesn’t plan to use any other industrial tools or push this one to its limit, that might be overkill.
You definitely can’t move it around. With a weight of over 300 pounds, this North Star is going to be staying firmly put in a garage or shop. So, you won’t be able to use it around a house or on job sites. It’s solely for furniture or car projects that can come into the shop.
It’s big, as well: 32” x 29” x 63”. Make sure you’ve got space for it in your work area!
Since it’s so big and heavy, you’ll have to think about delivery and installation charges, too. Most couriers won’t provide much beyond curbside delivery, so you need to arrange to get it off the pallet and into your shop. And since the machine doesn’t come pre-wired with electrical hookups, it has to be hardwired by professional electrician. This is definitely not a plug-and-play like the Rolair.
You’ll probably want to use it with a regulator valve.
3. Thomas Compressors T-2820ST 13.5 Amp 2-Horsepower 4-Gallon Oil-Free Twin Hot Dog Compressor
This Thomas Compressor is quite expensive for its size, but as soon as you take a closer look at the duty cycle ratings and reliability record it’s earned, you realize it’s worth every penny to pros. This is frequently dubbed the “Cadillac” of the portable compressor world, and people who buy Thomas compressors don’t generally ever buy another brand.
It has a lot of smart design features and tweaks that make it more efficient for its power class than the competition, and more reliable over the long term than less expensive choices. It’s our top quality recommendation for single tool use.
Like the Rolair and North Star units we’ve looked at so far, this Thomas model is rated for continuous use at a 100% duty cycle. So, it can easily handle any spray gun under 4.5-5 CFM at 40 psi, and air tools up to 4.5 CFM at full 100 psi.
It’s powered by a 2 HP motor, which cranks an oil-free pump. Oil-free pumps are traditionally loud and rattly, which is why we don’t enjoy using them as much as oil-lubricated systems on the whole. In this case, though, it’s quieter than both the oil-lubricated systems we’ve looked at so far.
This one’s rated as the quietest 2 HP contractor-grade compressor on the market right now! It only produces 74 decibels, which is half the volume that the Rolair puts out!
It’s also the most effective 2 HP model out there in terms of CFM, which is the one spec that really matters for paint spraying. A max rating at 5 CFM at 100 psi makes it the highest-output 2 HP model on the market, and fills the 4-gallon hot dog tank up fast! The Thomas might look small or underpowered, but it has no problems keeping up with any tools under 5 CFM.
As you can see from the CFM rating compared to the size and HP of the Thomas, it’s a great piece of engineering. There are lots of other smart features which make it better than the competition as well:
The proprietary 2-cylinder, in-line design is smoother and more balance than the competition, for one thing. It cuts out vibration and noise handily, and also improves your air output. The Thomas gives you such stable air flow at any setting that it doesn’t require an additional regulator valve!
It also has an exclusive solid-state start switch, plus a tweaked amperage to be more user-friendly wherever you use it. The 13.5 amp design starts easily on 15 amps, even if you’re using an extension cord. That’s excellent for worksite jobs, especially on generators. It always starts in cold weather, too! Oh, and it can run on standard household current, unlike the North Star!
It’s made in the USA, like the North Star, from solid construction materials. The Thomas is made almost entirely from cast iron, including the tank, drive assembly, and pump. This feels rock-solid to use, and that’s one of the biggest reasons it lasts so long.
For all its solidity, the Thomas is still compact (20” x 15.6” x 16.5”), and is actually lighter than the Rolair at just 71 pounds! It’s well-balanced for carrying, and there’s a handle built into the top of the unit.
It comes with a helpful manual, and is covered by a 5-year warranty on all the electrical components. Thomas is like Rolair and North Star in that they’re an all-American company with excellent customer service.
It’s lighter than the Rolair, but you don’t get a wheelbase to help you out with moving the compressor around.
It’s quite expensive, especially for the air volume it puts out. You’ll pay close to $1000 for one of these machines. We mainly recommend it to professional folks who will really get their money’s worth out of the unit and appreciate the design features. It can pay for itself in reliable daily use over a number of years, but unless you’re a DIYer who’s super concerned about noise, it’s probably overkill for home painting projects.
4. Powermate Vx PLA4708065 80-Gallon Electric Air Compressor
This Powermate stationary unit is one of the most popular on the market, and it’s easy to see why. It’s the largest compressor we’re recommending for paint spraying, and its massive 80-gallon tank gives you very long runtime with even the most demanding guns or other air tools.
This is an excellent choice for shops or garages where multiple people will be working from the compressor at the same time. While it doesn’t have a 100% duty rating, it can still keep up with the biggest paint guns and most other continuous spray tools.
It’s about the same price as the Thomas, and very inexpensive for its output. The Powermate produces 14 CFM at 90 psi, 16.1 CFM at 40 psi. The one caveat is that it’s rated for 50% duty, so make sure you double your gun requirements as you think about whether this one could work for you!
The Powermate’s high output comes from its massive motor: a 240V, 15-amp, 4.7 HP powerhouse. It can crank up to 155 psi max pressure, which is a full 20 psi better than the North Star. The Powermate’s pump is a single-stage, 3-cylinder design. It features Swedish-made stainless steel flex valves, much like the North Star.
While it has only a 50% duty rating compared to the 100% duty rating on most of our other recommendations, it makes up for it in air storage capacity. The Powermate’s 80-gallon tank gives you very long run time on paint spray guns, even if you’re slightly over the halfway mark of its CFM capacity.
It’s perfectly capable of running a big coverage gun and a fine finish gun at the same time, even if it won’t handle two 6 CFM tools simultaneously without breaks.
As with our other recommendations, the Powermate has durable, rugged construction that can stand up to professional shop environments with ease. It’s built with a steel tank, ASME-certified for commercial use. The oil-lubricated pump ships pre-loaded with synthetic oil for long-lasting performance, and the cast-iron crankcase has been engineered in one piece to prevent any splits along the usual seam. There’s a fully cast-iron cylinder body as well, just like on our other recommendations.
One of the standout features is the wire-formed belt guard. It fits over the drive assembly instead of a solid metal casing like you’d get on the North Star. We like the wire caging better than a solid component because it allows for ventilation and cooling as well as protection.
As with our other recommendations, the Powermate has an oil-level sight glass. It also has an easy-access port for the oil chamber, which isn’t always the case with big 80-gallon units like this.
It runs quietly for the motor class, at just 83 decibels. It’s close to on par with the small Rolair at the top of the page, which is pretty good for a machine more than twice as powerful.
That’s thanks to the belt drive, which has a heavy 12” cast-iron flywheel, balanced for smooth performance. It also has an oversized intake filter with silencers, lubricated with synthetic oil. All those features keep the Powermate running relatively quietly for its class.
As with the North Star and Thomas, it’s made in USA, from components that are both domestically and internationally-sourced.
It’s covered by a 2-year warranty for consumers/90 days for commercial users.
The Powermate is even heavier than the North Star: 354 pounds! It’s bulkier too: 31.5” x 34.8” x 77”. You’ll need lots of space to devote to this in your workspace, which is why we recommend it primarily to pros. It’s also going to require special delivery arrangements to get the machine from the truck into your shop.
As with the stationary North Star above, the Powermate also requires a 240V hookup and professional installation by a certified electrician.
It’s somewhat top-heavy, so it really needs to be bolted down.
It’s quieter than some other 80-gallon stationary systems, but makes quite a racket. The loud noise is another key reason why this is better for professional shops than residential workspaces. You wouldn’t want to run this next to neighbors, for sure!
It’s not quite as good over the long term as our other recommendations. It does have some reliability issues, though they’ll be covered by the warranty.
5. Rolair GX200 Honda 9 GAL #6590HK18 Air Compressor
So far, we’ve looked just at electric air compressors. However, gasoline-powered air compressors can provide a massive amount of airpower compared to electric counterparts, and they’ll run anywhere. While you can’t safely use a gasoline system indoors, they’re great portable solutions for contractors doing worksite paint projects, or car workers who can safely ventilate the exhaust in an open garage.
This Rolair unit is one of our favorite gas models at the moment. Like other Rolair compressors, it’s rated for continuous duty, so you can use it with paint guns without having to multiply your CFM ratings to be sure you’ll have enough supply! This isn’t something DIYer’s will find practical or affordable, but it’s great for contractors and pros who need lots of power on the go!
It’s got a great power supply: a 6.5 HP, 4-cycle, 200cc Honda engine! That’s the most powerful motor on any compressor we’ve looked at so far in this guide, and it drives a very similar (but sized up) system to the other Rolair. There’s a splash-lubricated pump with cast iron twin cylinders, a ball bearing crankshaft, and Swedish steel reed valves. It’s all put together with aluminum alloy connecting rods, auto-style.
Since gas engines fluctuate more than electric, Rolair have added a belt-drive system to this model. It has a finned 11” flywheel to cool the system as it runs, and a totally-enclosed steel belt guard for protection on a busy jobsite.
With its brawny motor and the twin tanks giving you a 9 gallon capacity, the gas-powered Rolair offers 13.1 CFM at 100 psi, for your standard air tools, and 16 CFM at 40 psi, for your paint guns. It’s rated to full duty like the electric portable unit we looked at from the same company.
This thing runs up to 9 roofing guns at once, so you know you’ll have absolutely no trouble painting or spraying texture materials from this! It’s great for stucco materials in particular, and others can work alongside you with no dips in supply.
As with most of our electric recommendations, this gas-powered system comes with oil installed, so you’re ready to go off the crate.
It also has a number of smart features that you don’t always get on a gas system like this. The Rolair automatically shuts off if oil gets too low, and it has an automatic idle control saves you fuel and extends the life of the engine. There’s also an air-cooled after-cooler, which keeps the engine running at safe temps.
Of course, the important thing with any portable system of this power is that it’s wheeled! It’s got foam-filled tires like the first Rolair we included, and handles to roll it wheelbarrow-style.
As you’d expect at this price and from this company, it has rugged construction quality that can easily handle daily job site use and lots of travel.
It’s made in USA, and backed by a 1-year warranty with excellent customer support. This one also has an excellent reliability record for both the compressor assembly and the engine.
The Rolair is relatively cheap for the power class–it’s only slightly more than the Powermate, for a machine that gives you just as much output and in a more portable package. It’s a great deal lighter than the Powermate, too–185 pounds all told.
It’s gas-powered, so you’ll have to use it outside unless you have a special ventilation system in your garage. With that in mind, you’ll also need a tent or other covering to use it in the rain if necessary.
It’s a wheelbarrow design, which makes it quite maneuverable, but you can’t lift it without helpers.
6. North Star Portable Gas-Powered Air Compressor: Honda GX390 OHV Engine, 30-Gallon Horizontal Tank, 24.4 CFM @ 90 PSI
Our final recommendation is a massive beast of a gas-powered air compressor. It’s what we recommend to full-time pros who use a range of air tools on the go, and need to be able to paint as part of their work. This is wildly overkill for most buyers, but to those few who have super high air demands and want the best solution for job site use, this is something to consider!
The North Star is by far the most powerful air compressor here, and it’s built like a tank. A worthy investment for any painting/spraying contractors who operate out of a truck or van.
It’s insanely powerful. The North Star has a 12 HP gasoline engine. It’s built by Honda, like the engine on the Rolair above.
The engine connects to a belt-drive system to crank a 2-stage, all-cast-iron cylinder pump. It’s set up in the distinctive North Star V-format, like an automotive engine assembly. This assembly also has a low-vibration feature that helps it run even smoother than the Rolair, even though it’s a larger system by a long shot. The pump assembly also features floating-style, Swedish steel valves, in an upgraded version of the format all our recommendations follow.
As with most of the other recommendations we’ve included in this guide, the crankshaft has ball bearings at both ends for smooth operation over the long haul. There’s an after-cooler as well, air-powered like the one on the Rolair.
We also love that there’s a pressure gauge that’s liquid filled, which helps to even out the spikes in output that can often come from using gasoline power for air compression even over a belt system. It also gives you better accuracy on gauge readings. There’s an automatic low-oil protection feature for longevity as well!
The engine is equipped with an electric start feature, so getting the system going is as simple as checking your fluids and pressing a button. It charges on 3 amps, so you’re always ready to go. You’ll just need to buy a battery. In case you run out of juice, you can always use the recoil as a backup.
Even though it’s designed for mobile use, it still has a massive air tank: 30 gallons! Combined with the size of the motor and pump, you’re looking at a total rating of 24.4 CFM at 90 psi, and 26.8 CFM at 40 psi!
That’s an insane amount of air power to have on hand, but if you paint as part of a work crew or contracting team, that’s the kind of supply you need to paint while other team members work steadily around you. This is a single compressor that can supply an entire team handily!
It comes with North Star’s generous warranty: 4 years for residential use (though we can’t see any residential user justifying this thing) and 2 years for commercial users.
The North Star has an impeccable track record for reliability and quality control, and it’s built like a tank. It’s nearly all cast iron, including the pump components, air tank, engine assembly, and frame. This is as close as indestructible as air compressors come!
It’s only portable in the sense that you can drive it around. However, you can’t wheel it like the Rolair, and you wouldn’t want to try and lift this thing even with several helpers. It’s super heavy (379 pounds), and big: 41” x 19” x 40”. The idea is to bolt it to the bed of a truck or van to get it to different work sites.
It’s very, very expensive. This is close to a $2000 compressor, so it’s not for casual users or even moderate professional users. It’s for someone who works with air tools full-time, and needs to be able to paint while others work with air tools from the same supply.
Which of these compressors should you buy?
The Rolair portable electric air compressor is the clear choice for DIYer’s who want a portable solution for paint spraying. It’s the most affordable model here, but it still provides enough power for even the most demanding spray gun. You can wheel it around by yourself, and it’ll last for years of use. It’s a good option for pros, too. This one’s built well enough to use just about anywhere, as long as you don’t push it past its limits. Don’t try to run two large-draw guns off it, though. Anyone who’s looking to do more than one thing at once, or to use big, continuous use tools like grinders or blasters should look at a more powerful system as well.
The North Star stationary model is our recommendation to DIYer’s or pros who want the most air power for their dollar. It gives you about twice the CFM output of the Rolair, for only $100 or so more. This one’s as reliable as you could want for even professional use, and unless you want the bigger tank capacity that you get with the Powermate, we think it’s all you need for stationary paint spraying. The big downside is the fact that you can’t move it around.
The Thomas is our recommendation for folks who paint solo, and want the absolute best portable air compressor to do it. It’s much more expensive than the comparable Rolair, but it’s more smartly-designed and has lots of features that professional painters and finishers can appreciate. If you do finish work for your income, you could definitely justify the additional cost for this one. We don’t think DIYer’s need to spend this much to run a single gun, though.
The Powermate is our recommendation for people who want maximum air capacity in a stationary setting. It’s not more powerful in CFM terms than the North Star stationary choice, but it’s got a lot more in each tank to help you spray. The difference is mainly a matter of personal preference, and even though the North Star is something of an unknown commodity (the company has an exclusive dealer network) we think it’s the better buy. If your preference is for a bigger tank, though, this is your tool of choice.
The Rolair gasoline model is the best for pro painters and contractors who need a more powerful portable compressor than electricity can provide. It’s powerful enough to run paint guns and other air tools simultaneously, without being too big or bulky for one person to manage around the jobsite. It’s rugged, reliable, and as long as you have someone to help you lift it, very portable.
The North Star gasoline model isn’t something we’d recommend to many buyers. However, it’s perfect for that small percentage of pros who work mainly out of a truck, and need a huge air supply to power a team of workers. If that’s you, go for it. It’s great for painting, and it can do the most challenging grinding or blasting tasks as well.
-decide on your budget:
Air compressors cost between $100 and $2000 for most models. That’s a super wide price range, but you’ll find that the models that can handle paint spraying start around $400. The more you pay, the higher a CFM output (air volume) you can expect. You’ll also find that portable models are proportionally more expensive than stationary models with the same CFM ratings.
DIY painters will want to aim for about $400-$750 for their compressor, depending on the format and capacity you choose. Professionals might need to spend as much as $2000, depending on how many tools you can see yourself needing to use at once. However, all of the models we’ve recommended in this guide are professional-grade, so your main task is to narrow down the format and air capacity you need, rather than assessing build quality.
-consider portable vs. stationary formats:
Before you shop, you should think about whether you want a portable air compressor or a stationary model. As we’ve mentioned, it’s cheaper to get a big output capacity in a stationary package. However, the benefits of being able to move your air compressor around are fairly obvious.
Think about what kinds of paint and finish jobs you want to do, and then figure out whether you need portability, or could make do with a stationary model.
If you know you’re going to be doing all your spraying in a garage or workshop, great! You can skip right to the stationary models and save yourself some money. Just bear in mind that stationary models take a great deal of space, and may require professional delivery/installation to get up and running.
-know your air requirements:
The key thing here is to understand specs. There are a lot that you’ll see listed when you look at an air compressor, but when it comes to paint spraying, HP/volume aren’t super relevant.
Sure, a higher-power motor will help the machine recover faster, and a larger tank means more air to use before it needs to recover, but the one key spec that really tells you how a compressor will perform is the CFM.
CFM stands for cubic feet per minute, and it’s a measure of the volume of air a compressor will put out each minute at a given pressure. Most compressors are rated for CFM at both 40 and 90 psi, or at 50 and 100 psi. You’ll want to look at the lower psi for your CFM rating, assuming you’re using an HVLP-style spray gun (you should, if you’re not already!).
Compare the compressor’s listed CFM rating to the CFM draw on your spray gun (usually about 1-6 CFM), and then you’ll be able to get a sense of whether the compressor can power your gun, and whether you’ll be able to use multiple air tools at once.
There’s one tricky thing watch out for here. Most compressors are rated for CFM using a 25% duty cycle, because most standard air tools use air sporadically. They only draw about a quarter of the time you’re using them. Paint spraying is different–it’s a 100% draw. If you’re going to be using a 1 CFM gun on a compressor that’s rated at 25% duty cycle, that compressor actually needs to be rated for 4+ CFM to serve you well.
It’s pretty confusing, and can trip you up if you’re not careful to check specs.
We’ve included all but one recommendation that are rated at 100% duty cycle, so you don’t have to do any complicated calculations to tell if your guns will work, and how many will run off our recommendations!
Remember: be generous with the CFM threshold you look for from your compressor, since you don’t want to be pushing compressors to the limit. Give yourself at least a full CFM of leeway if you can afford it.
Tip for pros: will people be working with other tools while someone is spraying? If so, figure that into your CFM calculations!
Some other considerations:
- many stationary air compressors require industrial electric hookups, so be sure you know whether you have one, and if not, how much it’d cost to install one.
- air compressors are very loud machines, so think about noise as you shop. We’ve cited decibel ratings where listed. Decibels are rated on an exponential scale, remember, so a little numerical difference can be a big difference in practice!
We hope this comprehensive guide has answered all your questions about air compressors and paint spraying! If you’ve seen a compressor that looks suitable for your spray guns and painting goals, go ahead and click on the links in its review to find out more!
Or, if you’re not so sure you want to go the air compressor route for painting, head to our homepage! We’ve got you covered with lots of other options, from airless systems to HVLP turbine setups!
If you’re sure you need an air compressor, but haven’t seen one here that fits your exact needs, feel free to check out the best-selling models on Amazon! You can get a sense of how our recommendations compare to the competition and find tweaked versions of these models that might fit you better!