10 Best Air Compressors For Painting Cars 2018 – The Definitive Guide & Reviews

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Best Air Compressors For Painting

If you paint cars for a living, or you’re interested in painting your personal vehicle without paying a ton of money for it, then you need to understand everything there is to know about best Air compressors for painting cars & sprayers. Because this process requires time, patience, and attention to detail, it’s imperative that you pick the best model for your needs. Otherwise, you can be working with a machine that will cause more problems than solutions.

To help you get started on your next automotive painting project, we want to dive into the world of air compressors to show you the models that will be best suited for this kind of work. Not all compressors are built the same, so it’s essential that you know what to look for and how to operate them effectively.

So, with that in mind, let’s go over the most critical options to pay attention to when picking out the ideal model and see how it can make your next project go that much smoother. 

Best Air Compressors For Painting Cars - Comparison Table

Image

Name

Weight

Capacity

Editor Rating

Price

Industrial Air ILA1883054 30-Gallon Belt Driven Air Compressor

Industrial Air ILA1883054

185 Pounds

30-Gallon

4.6/5

Air Compressor, 80 Gallon Vertical Two Stage 14CFM 5HP 208-230V 1PH (Campbell Hausfeld HS5180)

Campbell Hausfeld HS5180

429 Pounds

80-Gallon

4.4/5

Powermate Vx PLA4708065 80-Gallon Electric Air Compressor

Top Pick

Powermate

Vx PLA4708065

354 Pounds 

80-Gallon

4.9/5

Industrial Air IL1682066.MN 20-Gallon Belt Driven Air Compressor with V-Twin Cylinder

Industrial Air IL1682066

159 pounds

20-Gallon

4.9/5

Rolair VT25BIG 2.5 HP Wheeled Compressor

Rolair VT25BIG 2.5 HP

104 Pounds 

5.3-Gallon

4.5/5

California Air Tools 5510SE Ultra Quiet and Oil-Free 1.0-HP 5.5-Gallon Steel Tank Air Compressor

California Air Tools 5510SE

54 Pounds

5.5-Gallon

4.6/5

Top 10 Best Air Compressors For Painting Cars - In Depth Reviews

1. ​​​​​​​​​Industrial Air ILA1883054 30-Gallon Belt Driven Air Compressor

If you’re looking for a portable air compressor that delivers better results, then this unit from Industrial Air is a fantastic option. Although it’s not going to provide the same kind of performance as one of the big models we’ve looked at, it’s perfect for auto enthusiasts who don’t want to invest a ton of money in their next paint project.

Because of its limited size, you still need to use a low-volume spray gun. Still, it delivers up to seven CFM at 40 psi, which is perfect for most jobs. As long as you’re okay with working more slowly and deliberately, then this is a great air compressor for painting cars.

As with the other model from Industrial Air, this unit comes with two tires that allow you to move around the shop, and it has a remarkable two-year limited warranty. 

Pros

  • Durable cast iron construction
  • Large 30-gallon reserve tank
  • Up to 7.0 CFM at 40 psi
  • Robust one-horsepower motor
  • Pneumatic tires for maneuverability
  • Quick-set regulator and gauges provided
  • Dual voltage motor for versatility
  • Two-year limited warranty


Cons

  • Requires oil filter to clean the air
  • In rare cases, the connectors may start to leak

2. Rolair VT25BIG 2.5 HP Wheeled Compressor with Overload Protection and Manual Reset

It can be said with the utmost of confidence that of the three wheeled air compressors, Rolair’s is the most practical. Along with a pair of wheels it also features a pair of sturdy legs so that it is less likely of falling over and spilling. It is designed similarly to that of a lawnmower, with a handle that you can use to maneuver it. The handle is also capable of collapsing onto the top of the cage of the compressor, so you can occupy less room with it during storage. 

With this considered, it is very small for a compressor with a large handle as if they designed this for women and weaker men in mind. While not as efficient as top end industrial compressors, it performs decently for a large cut in price. It is equally as loud, though, so do not expect to hear a softer or quieter engine.

While it may require you to lean over to connect a hose or turn a dial, the settings are pretty straightforward and easy to use. While it does require oil in order to run, it is very simple to pour in oil and does not require a funnel or other instrument.While it is rather small in size, it feels like an industrial quality machine that could take a beating, weighing in at over 100 pounds.

Pros

  • Can be folded into a compact size
  • Can resist falling over thanks to sturdy legs.
  • Provided decent amounts of power for being small.
  • Can be transported, thanks to its two wheels.
  • this compressor features 2.5 horsepower that can go at 6.5 CFM at 90 PSI.
  • Looks very appealing.

Cons

  • Is heavy for being fairly small.
  • Could have rather been a compressor that you are able to carry around.

3. Air Compressor, 80 Gallon Vertical Two Stage 14CFM 5HP 208-230V 1PH (Campbell Hausfeld HS5180)

Getting back to professional-grade air compressors, this model from Campbell Hausfeld is probably at good as you’re going to get (at least with ordering online). It’s massive tank, and high CFM output ensures that you can use it without any downtime. If you’re trying to make your next auto painting project run smoothly, this is the machine to buy.

First of all, the air output on this compressor is more than enough for most spray guns. Although it’s still a little on the low side for some HVLP models, you get up to 14 CFM at 90 psi, which is enough to power through your next paint project with ease.

Secondly, the 80-gallon tank enables you to work uninterrupted for much longer. Also, since it doesn’t have to recycle as often, you won’t need to empty your moisture trap as often, either. Overall, this is our top recommendation for professional auto painting. 

Pros

  • Massive 80-gallon reserve tank
  • Powerful five-horsepower motor
  • Two-stage engine for better reliability
  • 14 CFM at 90 psi
  • Vertical design for easier installation
  • Durable steel construction
  • Rated for up to 12,000 hours
  • Less recycle time
  • Commercial-grade air compression

Cons

  • Can be noisy
  • Requires oil filter to clean the air

4. Powermate Vx PLA4708065 80-Gallon Electric Air Compressor

Powermate is well known for quality tools and machines with high levels of productivity and efficiency, and the Powermate Vx PLA4708065 is no different. This steel compressor is sure to be well worth the hefty investment. While it weighs in at over 350 pounds, it’s a reliable compressor for any industrial workshop. Bolting to the ground is highly recommended to make sure that the compressor is always stable and secure.

With that said, you will need to move all your equipment to the compressor, rather than move the compressor to each piece of equipment.This compressor is over 6 feet tall, so while it is very heavy to move and carry, it is very convenient when it comes to examining it.

All of the valves and adjustables are right in front of you, so no need to crouch down or hunch over in order to check or adjust something. This electric compressor has three cylinders, 4.7 horsepower, and can provide 14 CFM at 90 PSI for extended periods of time, and will cool significantly. Even the most demanding of gas or air-powered equipment do not compare to this compressor from Powermate. Its pump is lubricated by oil, but thankfully, oiling the pump is easy and does not need to be done very often. The oil level is easy to locate and identify, so you can easily tell when you have to lubricate the pump once more.

Pros

  • Very powerful compressor.
  • Vertical shape makes it easy to use without crouching down.
  • Can fill air for long periods of time.
  • Made of steel for maximum durability.

Cons

  • Very heavy, and not ideal for transportation.
  • Extremely loud while in use.

5. NorthStar Portable Gas-Powered Air Compressor

If heavy, immobile air compressors are just not your cup of tea, you will be satisfied to know about these other three compressors with wheels; the first one being from NorthStar Portable. Northstar’s air compressor features a Honda GX160 engine. While it’s a powerful engine, it is designed to provide adequate combustion for greater output, which means that the engine won’t shake violently and will last longer than other engines on the market.

This compressor is small overall, so it is easy for you to store or cart out of the way of moving vehicles. Smaller may not always be better, however, as its horizontal tank requires you to turn it on and adjust its settings as you kneel down.

When compared to the Powergate compressor, Northstar’s compresor has slightly better horsepower, but it will take slightly longer to inflate equipment. It is also equally as loud to operate. Having the engine and motor on top of the tank will make it easy for you to find the main cause of a problem if something were to go wrong. However, it will take some time to learn about all the parts included in an air compressor to know about how to fix a serious problem on your own.

Pros

  • Can be transported, thanks to its two wheels.
  • Provides a powerful engine that is also designed to vibrate less.
  • It has 4.8 horsepower.
  • Northstar’s compressor delivers 13.7 CFM at 90 PSI
  • Can fill air for long periods of time.
  • Problems can be easily fixed manually.

Cons

  • Tinkering with any settings requires you to have to bend or kneel down.

6. California Air Tools 5510SE Ultra Quiet and Oil-Free 1.0-HP 5.5-Gallon Steel Tank Air Compressor

For a compressor that is designed a little bit neater and is somewhat easier on the eyes and wallet, there is this air compressor from California Air Tools. Judging by the name alone, you can expect no oil necessary and quieter operation.

While “Ultra Quiet” is a bit of a stretch, it offers noise that is over 25 percent quieter than industrial powered air compressors. This means that you can be able to have better conversations with employees as the compressor does its job. The compressor is also very light in weight; almost eight times lighter than Powermate’s compressor.

This compressor is surprisingly affordable. But, this also means that it is not capable of delivering the same high-powered performance as industrial powered air compressors. Additionally, do not expect this compressor to last as long.

Pros

  • There is one for 3.1 CFM at 40 PSI and one for 2.2 CFM at 90 PSI.
  • fast enough results at just one horsepower
  • This compressor comes with two PSI settings
  • Does not require oil to run.
  • Is significantly quieter than many compressors.
  • Can be transported, thanks to its two wheels.
  • Is very light in weight.

Cons

  • It will take a lot longer to inflate objects.
  • Lower price means lower quality of materials.

7. Master Airbrush KIT-SP19-20 Art Airbrushing System Paint Kit with Standard Compressor

When it comes to painting your car, you can use a large air compressor to get the base coat, but what if you want to add some designs and flourishes to the body? If that’s the case, then this airbrushing kit is the perfect accessory to have in your garage.

What we like about this set is that it comes with three different airbrushes, as well as a full set of colors and pigments to get started. This kit enables you to plug and play without having to buy any additional equipment. It has a manual so that you can master it quickly, even if you’ve never airbrushed before.

Overall, this set is meant for arts and crafts, but you can easily use it to add some cool designs to your car. Whether it’s flames on the side or some small artwork elements, this set will open up your creative side. Also, it even comes with a one-year limited warranty. 

Pros

  • Compact design
  • Ideal for painting designs on your car
  • Additional nozzles and cups provided
  • Quick-start guide included
  • Durable construction
  • Carrying case for easier transportation
  • Long hose for better maneuvering
  • Cleaning kit for easier maintenance
  • One-year limited warranty

Cons

  • Small paint cups have to be refilled often
  • Motor may overheat if you work for too long

8. Industrial Air IL1682066.MN 20-Gallon Belt Driven Air Compressor with V-Twin Cylinder

If you are prohibited from buying a full-size air compressor for painting cars, then this model is going to provide you with decent options at a lower price. Also, it is more compact and maneuverable, which allows you to move it from one side of the car to the other.

Performance-wise, this compressor delivers up to 6.2 CFM at 40 psi. This means that you have to use a low-volume spray gun. Also, the tank is only 20 gallons, so you’ll have to work a little slower to get the job done in one pass. However, for those on a budget or with limited work space, this is an ideal option.

The other thing that we like about this air compressor is that it has heat sink by the motor. This helps reduce the overall wear and tear so that you can work longer without ruining the delicate components. Also, it comes with a two-year limited warranty. 

Pros

  • Durable steel construction
  • Large 20-gallon reserve tank
  • Max 6.2 CFM at 40 PSI
  • Pneumatic tires for easier maneuvering
  • Belt-driven motor for better reliability
  • Quick-set regulator and gauges included
  • Fast heat dissipation for less wear and tear
  • Easier to use for smaller jobs
  • Two-year limited warranty

Cons

  • Only meant for low-volume spray guns
  • Requires an oil filter to clean the air

9. DEWALT D55146 4-1/2-Gallon 200-PSI Hand Carry Compressor with Wheels

Our next air compressor comes from DeWalt, and it’s the perfect tool to have on hand if you want to keep your car in pristine condition. Although this machine is not large enough to paint your auto from scratch, it’s ideal for spot painting or waxing. As a car enthusiast, you don’t need to have a massive compressor to keep your car looking its best.

Comparing the stats of this machine, it’s easy to see why it’s ideal for small touch-ups. It delivers up to 5.0 CFM at 90 psi, and its compact design allows you to move it wherever it needs to go. Not only that, but the 4.5-gallon tank ensures that you can do spot painting quickly and easily.  

Another reason to get this compressor is that it’s super quiet. Working in the garage doesn’t have to be deafening, and at 79 decibels, this is a whisper compared to some other compressors out there. Finally, it comes with a one-year limited warranty.

Pros

  • Sizeable 4.5-gallon tank
  • Durable steel construction
  • Wheels for easier movement
  • Compact and lightweight design
  • Quiet operation
  • Delivers 5.0 CFM at 90 psi
  • Quick connect valves and gauges
  • Stands vertically or lays flat
  • Ideal for smaller projects or patch work
  • One-year limited warranty

Cons

  • Not meant for full-size jobs
  • Wheels are not as durable as air-filled models

10. Ingersoll Rand SS3L3 3-Horsepower 230-Volt 60-Gallon Vertical Compressor

As we mentioned below, having a large air compressor ensures that your painting job can go smoothly. Although you could try to paint your vehicle in sections, this will lead to an uneven finish, which will make it take even longer than normal. Not only that, but you will put more strain on your machine doing it that way.

Fortunately, with a 60-gallon capacity, you can work non-stop without interruption. This machine is also rated for continuous operation, so you don’t have to worry about running out of air and waiting for it to recycle. 

Overall, we highly recommend this compressor for low-volume spray guns, as the CFM level is 10-11 (depending on psi rating). As such, it won’t allow you to work with an HVLP gun. Nonetheless, you can get some spectacular results with this machine. 

Pros

  • Massive 60-gallon air tank
  • Three horsepower single-phase motor
  • Durable cast iron construction
  • Less recycle time
  • Manual drain system
  • 11.3 CFM at 90 psi
  • 100% continuous cycle for efficiency
  • Thermal overload protection for safety
  • Relatively quiet for its size
  • One-year limited warranty

Cons

  • ​​Requires a better moisture trap for auto painting
  • In rare cases, some components may short out relatively fast

How To Choose The Right Air Compressor For Cars Painting

CFM(cubic feet / minute)

When picking out an air compressor, it’s imperative that you know what you need it to do first. For example, a unit that’s designed for operating with pneumatic tools is not going to provide the same kind of power and performance necessary to paint cars.

As such, the most vital feature to look at is the CFM rating. This stands for cubic feet per minute, and it refers to how much air is pushed through the hose at any given time. Since the purpose of a paint sprayer is to turn the paint into tiny droplets, it’s necessary for the CFM rating to be high.

Most compressors that aren’t built for this purpose won’t have the right capabilities, which means that you will experience a lot of problems when trying to apply an even coat. Overall, you want to have a model that produces anywhere from 10-20 CFM to get the best results. On the higher end, they are what’s known as high-volume, low pressure (HVLP) compressors. 

Power: Single vs. Two-Stage

Another primary issue with air compressors is that many of the ones built for other applications are not powerful enough to cause the kind of atomization that you need for paint. The reason for this lies in how the motor is set up. Many models are single stage, which means that they produce less CFM per horsepower. On average, they have one CFM per HP. Since you can’t find compressors with more than 5-6 horsepower (without getting massive), you have to go with a two-stage model instead.

The benefit of dual-stage air compressors is that they increase the output without requiring a lot of energy to do so. Rather than delivering CFM on a one-to-one ratio, they can do about 4:1. This means that a three-horsepower motor can provide 12 CFM, which is more than enough for standard spray guns.

When picking out your power needs, it’s also essential to pay attention to the noise level. More horses means that the machine will be a lot louder, so see if the unit has any elements that can reduce the sound level. Check the overall decibels for comparison. 

Size

If you’re a professional painter looking for an air compressor that can handle your work day in and day out, then you probably can get a giant machine that will be stationary in your workshop. A 20-40 gallon compressor will provide more than enough reliability and performance to ensure that you don’t have any issues while working.

However, for at-home paint jobs, you don’t want something that massive. First of all, it will be much more expensive than is reasonable, and you probably won’t have that much space. Thus, you will have to spring for a smaller 10-15 gallon compressor that comes on wheels.

When looking at different compressor models, however, you’ll notice that many of them are a lot smaller than that. So why do you need so many gallons? Well, when it comes to painting, the volume is critical. To get even coverage, you have to be moving a lot of air through the system at all times.

So, if you used a compact air compressor (i.e., four or five gallons), it would be recycling every few minutes, which will slow your work down to a crawl. Having a larger system ensures that you can keep painting without having to wait for the compressor all of the time.

Other Considerations

Here are a few additional features that will make your next painting project a breeze. 

  • Moisture Trap: compressed air is cold air, which means that water droplets are going to form. However, you don’t want water mixing with your paint as it can cause it to bleed or come out unevenly. Some professional-grade models will come with a moisture trap, but you should buy one separately if it doesn’t.
  • Oil-Free: like water, you can’t have oil messing up your paint finish. Rotary screw or some reciprocating air compressors don’t use oil to lubricate the system, which ensures that your air is clean.

Usage Tips: How To Setup Your Air Compressor Kit With a Spray Gun

Although buying the right air compressor for painting cars is an essential step in getting started, other components have to be considered as well. When setting up your paint station, you will want to have the following parts (in order). We’ll go into further detail about each one and the kind of features they should have.

Compressor - Filter/Regulator - Air Hose - Regulator - Spray Gun

We’ve already discussed the compressor in detail, but what about the other components? Here is an overview of what to look for with each. 

  • Filter/Regulator: as we mentioned, the air coming from the compressor has to be both clean and dry. Also, you don’t want the pressure to drop while you’re working, so it’s imperative that your connections are tight and work well for the kind of sprayer you’re using. The filter should remove moisture and oil (if necessary), as well as enable you to adjust the pressure coming out. 
  • Air Hose: for HVLP spray guns, you need a hose that is at least 5/16 inches thick. For lower volume options, at least ¼ inch is okay. Also, make sure that it’s not too long, as length will cause a drop in pressure. Try to get a hose that is no longer than what you need to get the job done. 
  • Regulator: this can either be wall-mounted (for pros) or gun-mounted (for personal projects). The former will ensure proper pressure and CFM at all times, whereas the latter may not be as reliable, depending on the gun you’re using. 
  • Spray Gun: this is the component that will dictate everything else. For example, an HVLP gun requires more CFM, less pressure, and a wider hose. Before picking anything else, choose your gun first. 

What Size Air Compressor Should You Use With Your Spray Gun?

There are a few different kinds of guns that you can use for painting cars, so let’s discuss the requirements of each type. This will help you get a better idea of the model you should choose to get the job done the right way.

  • HVLP: since these don’t require a lot of pressure, you can get away with a compressor that delivers anywhere from 40 PSI or less. However, since they do need a ton of air to get the results you want, you have to make sure that your machine is adequately sized. For most HVLP sprayers, you’ll need at least 30-40 gallons, unless you want to put more strain on both yourself and the compressor. 
  • LVLP: low volume, low-pressure spray guns are the better option if you’re not a pro looking to do this for a living. These guns cost a bit more, but they don’t require as much CFM, which allows you to go smaller. On average, you’ll need a 15-20 gallon compressor to ensure that you get even coverage, although bigger is still better so that you can work uninterrupted. 
  • Standard Spray Gun: for those who don’t care about having a floor-model finish, you can save a lot of money by getting a gun that doesn’t have extra bells and whistles. You will have to look at the CFM rating on the gun itself, but most of these can work with about 15-20 gallon compressors as well. 

Overall, you don’t want to go lower than 10 gallons, unless you are doing airbrushing artwork on your vehicle. These guns require a lot less pressure and air, so you can go with a compact unit instead.

How To Fix Common Issues with Air Compressors and Spray Gun

In the end, this process is somewhat complicated, which means that there can be a wide range of issues that you encounter on the job. Although we can’t discuss every problem that comes with painting cars, here How to Fix are some situations that you will likely find yourself in from time to time.

  • Low Pressure: if you’re working with a large enough compressor (i.e., 50-60 gallons), then the culprit is likely a connector leaking air or the regulator not working properly. If you’re using a smaller machine, then you should check the length of your hose, or wait for the pressure to build back up. 
  • Tailing: this happens when the air coming out doesn’t match the work you’re doing. In this case, slow down and allow the compressor time to produce the amount of air and pressure you need. 
  • Dripping: most likely there is water in the line. Your moisture trap may need to be emptied, or you might have to use a dryer instead. Also, the heat and humidity of your work environment may be adding more water to the line. 
  • Bubbling From the Spray Gun: your air compressor is not producing the CFM necessary. Check your connectors and the regulator to ensure that there’s not a leak. 
  • Splattering: the paint is not being sprayed evenly. Usually, this happens when you’re running low. 
  • Uneven Finish (Orange Peel): either you’re not painting with proper technique, or the surface of the car was not cleaned thoroughly before you started. In that case, you’ll likely have to remove the paint and start over. 

Who Needs an Air Compressor For Painting Cars?

As you can imagine, this kind of project is not for the faint of heart. Painting is the last step, after sanding, cleaning, and priming, so it shouldn’t be attempted unless you a) know what you’re doing, or b) have the time, patience, and budget for it.

As such, the ideal candidate for these air compressors are either hardcore car enthusiasts who love rebuilding and renovating cars from scratch or professional painters who want to make a living at painting.

In either case, you want to make sure that you have the right air compressor for painting cars, as having something too small or too ineffective will make your work seem endless.

Final Verdict

When it comes to professional-grade air compressors, nothing compares to the 80-gallon model from Campbell Hausfeld HS5180. & Powermate Vx PLA4708065 .This machine will enable you to work longer and with a greater range of spray guns, which makes it the premier choice of any auto painters out there.

However, if you’re more of a hobbyist and you don’t need all of that power, then the Industrial Air ILA1883054 is your best bet. With a 30-gallon tank and 7.0 CFM rating, it’s more than enough for either spot painting or doing the whole thing. Just make sure that you get a high-quality filter and moisture trap to keep your paint in prime condition. 

About the Author Paul Hawkins

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