What size air compressor for painting a car – Step to step guide

Having the proper materials could ensure a good and simpler job, thereby increasing the performance of the paint job. Working with a low-functioning compressor that is not accurately matched to the paint gun may damage the paint job of a car.

image 13

Air compressors are used for different tasks around the workshop. As a buyer, before choosing your best air compressor, you may need to list out the tools that run off compressed air to be sure the air compressor you buy meets all your needs.

There are things to consider when purchasing the right size air compressor for painting a car, which includes the tank size, the compressor CFM rating, the PSI, and the horsepower. Buying a 60-gallon compressor or a higher capacity may be preferred to get the desired result for your car painting jobs.

Is it best to purchase the rotary or reciprocating screw air compressor? The air compressors come in small models and large models. In this article, we will help you determine the appropriate size air compressor for painting cars. Let’s get started!

The components to consider


The horsepower of an air compressor includes other components such as tank size, type of compressor, air pressure, voltage, etc.

image 6

An air compressor that carries around 3 horsepower for single-tool operations, may be used by an individual shop where a single tool is used at a time. An air compressor that carries about 5 horsepower is majorly used for multiple shops, and 10 horsepower or more can be used for large shops, depending on the level of production daily.

Air pressure

The air pressure rating is necessary to be high for large operations when utilizing spray guns to give a satisfying result. Spray painting has guidelines on the volume per minute, PSI, etc. Using the right air pressure only ensures that the entire car painting is effectively done, and the result is of high quality.

But it is vital to note that, if another pneumatic tool is going to be used with the same air compressor, the total air pressure needs to be put in mind when choosing the best air compressor because this can stop the pressure from dropping when a new air hose is linked to the compressor.

Tank size

A question may come to mind. What size of the tank is large enough for auto-painting? The answer to this is not definitive. First, you may need to know how many paint guns will be needed, and if other pneumatic tools will be running.

After this is determined, users can be able to tell the maximum air demand and also include a buffer, in case a new paint gun is purchased with higher demand. At this point, to calculate the size of the storage tank can be determined.

Taking into account the duty cycle of the air compressor can also aid stored air in the tank, to create enough pressure for the shop when the air compressor is at rest.


When working with many pneumatic tool types, users may not recognize the significance of CFM in choosing the right air compressor. In automotive painting, a specific amount of pressurized air may be needed.

For instance, a small-size air compressor may provide enough compressed air for operations, but may not be enough for paint spraying as this could require a high capacity of non-stop airflow to give the desired result.

On the off chance, the spray guns were for occasional use, the small air compressor might be sufficient. Nevertheless, paint spraying always requires a large flow of paint during the painting period to make sure it spreads evenly across the vehicle.

Do air compressors require a particular measure of horsepower?

Yes, if a low-horsepower machine gives adequate CFM and PSI, the horsepower is adequate. The horsepower always determines the level of work achieved.

Considering most DIY mechanics, the air compressor is utilized for different types of assignments within the shop. Although a small HP compressor might meet the requirements to paint your car, a more effective machine can run other power tools required.

image 7

It’s best to think long-term for your air compressor. Besides just selecting an air compressor, for longer use, choosing a bigger horsepower machine is the finest choice as long as the cost of it doesn’t bite you or shake your budget.

What load of pressure (PSI) does the air compressor require?

To have the right match of PSI ratings on the paint gun is very crucial. In essence, a high volume low-pressure (HVLP spray gun) can run on 10-15 PSI, and a high amount of air compressor can effectively control this level of PSI. The right amount of PSI is critical when painting the car. 

There are other components though, but to attain the desired coat of paint, it’s very crucial to have the right air compressor PSI match the spray gun and the paint being used. On the off chance that you need to add a clear coat to your paint job, professionals recommend that the PSI could go from 15 PSI to 20/25 PSI range to give a clean finish.

image 15

To be safe, it’s recommended that the instructions on the spray gun pack should be followed. If the air pressure is low during spray painting, while using the spray gun, the outcome may be less satisfying.

Is the tank size important when painting a car?

The size of the tank when painting a car is very crucial. If it is a small tank, this could result in an unbalanced level of paint on the car and bring about an unsatisfactory job. This may lead to re-sanding and repainting.

image 8

Professionals recommend that the 50-gallon air compressor tank may be adequate. But, the best-preferred tanks are the 60-gallon air compressors or higher. Buying a big air tank seems about right if your budget permits. 

What does the CFM rating mean?

CFM is the cubic feet per minute the air compressor can provide to the paint gun. The CFM rating of the air compressor is required to match the paint gun and still have adequate capacity to produce a quality paint job.

Compressors with a 14 to 18 CFM rating are usually utilized in many body shops. However, when using an air compressor with low CFM, this is likely to produce the desired result if only doing some touch-ups. But, for the main jobs, a higher compressor is recommended. 

How many CFM is needed to paint a car?

Compressors with 14 to 18 CFM are widely used by professionals, and paint guns with the same ratings. These compressors give uniformity of paint around the entire car. In addition, clear coats and base coats always need higher CFM ratings to give that uniformity you’re looking for. There are situations where an air compressor with low CFM ratings is utilized.

image 9

Typically, they are for retouching and finishing. It could be touching up a bumper that was scratched. Though it may break your bank account, it’s recommended to purchase an air compressor with higher CFM ratings and tank size because you never know what future paintings, you may need to do.

The suitable air compressor sizes based on the types of spray gunsMatching the spray gun with the specific compressor recommendations is very crucial. But, you may note that matching a low-capacity air compressor to a spray gun can also work. 

Matching the spray gun with the specific compressor recommendations is very crucial. But, you may note that matching a low-capacity air compressor to a spray gun can also work. 

However, you may not run the spray gun all the time because the spray gun would need a break while air pressure rebuilds from the small air compressor tank.

Air compressors for LVLP spray guns

Campbell Hausfeld HS5180 Air Compressor for cars paint

  • Provides 175 PSI and 14 CFM
  • Best used for automotive latex paint
  • Functions with various automotive tools

The low-volume, low-pressure work greatly with nearly all compressors. The cheap-priced compressors are not left out, they can perform using this type of spray gun. But, before purchasing this cheap-priced compressor, ensure you do not have too many tasks you may need it for. The LVLP spray gun can function with a low-capacity compressor.

Air compressors for HVLP spray guns

Porter Cable 80 Gallon Single Pass Air Compressor

  • Recommended for painting cars
  • Uses synthetic oil for long-term work
  • Tank pressure valve

The high volume, low pressure can function with low pressure but requires a high volume of air to transform the paint to aerosol while being sprayed on the car. The HVLP spray gun needs a high CFM air compressor to function.

image 12

Can a car be painted with a portable air compressor?

Yes, a car can be painted with a portable air compressor, if it has enough CFM, air pressure, and a higher size of tank. When utilizing a small HP wheeled compressor to paint, this can create convenience and flexibility when painting.

Painting cars regularly, and engaging in other repair jobs with the use of an air compressor, may allow you to have more experience with these tools.

What type of air compressor for painting a car is best?

Single vs. two-stage

For users with a very small shop, they may work well with the single-stage air compressor, if suitable for their paint sprayer guns. However, these users are likely to go with a large storage tank and high horsepower to match up with the air pressure.

image 10

If working on a complete body work just by yourself, or you have someone else along with you in the shop, you may be able to keep up using the single-stage compressor. Though the air compressor has 115V power, this could be great for starters beginning an auto-painting job. The two-stage compressor allows for reaching pressures as high as 175 PSI.

Here, the two-stage compressor requires a higher voltage power of 230V, provided that electric service is installed. But with this compressor, users can work longer and have the job easier. If electrical service isn’t installed, a switch to 20-amp service in 115V power may be required, alongside a new plug and wiring.

Reciprocating air compressors vs. rotary screw air compressors

The reciprocating air compressor is a positive displacement machine where the air is absorbed and compressed with a crankshaft-driven piston and cylinder. A rotary screw compressor is an air compressor with two rotating screws to produce compressed air. Rotary screw air compressors are much more reliable compared to others.

If an increased demand for air compressors, there might be a need for a change. The single and two-stage compressor utilizes cylinders that produce compressed air. Therefore, creating an avenue for compressed air to be transferred to the storage tank.

image 11

A rotary screw compressor may be a great tool for high demands if constant air pressure is required for your spray guns. This compressor is known to provide an effective powerhouse for any operation. It stands as the most reliable for pneumatic tools. This compressor is highly recommended.


High-capacity tanks, with large horsepower and CFM, provide users with more options to choose to spray guns around the shop. Professional paint shops would usually go for large-capacity air compressors. However, irregular car paint users opt for portable air compressors that are easily transferred from one unit to another.

Sometimes the amount of your budget may choose the type of air compressor you can acquire. However, put into place the level of use for your air compressor and spray guns before purchasing one.

image 14

Check the CFM, air pressure, and size of the tank and match them to the instruments you may use for the completion of the paint job. Remember, when buying an air compressor, thorough research is needed. Read also: Where to find and how install old Speedaire compressor parts?

Question & Answer

Can you paint a car with a 20-gallon air compressor?

Yes, you may paint your car with the 20-gallon air compressors. These air compressors work well for small performance but require you to follow the guide on how to use the spray gun.
The 20-gallon air compressors can be adequate to run a device with an airflow of 5.0 CFM at 40 PSI or less. This comprises staplers, bolters, etc. that are calculated as light- to medium-duty tools.

Can you paint a car with 6-gallon air compressors?

Yes, the 6-gallon air compressors could paint a car. You may need to ensure that the output has a 25 PSI because this is the required PSI for paint guns.

What size compressor do I need for spraying paint?

The size compressor required is the 10 HP compressor. This is best required for auto-painting while using spray guns.

James Cole

Considering that most people continue to pay the masters in the service for a consultation, I decided to create my blog.

Leave a Comment