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Painting a car becomes easier and simpler when you have all the necessary equipment. It’s a perfect way to save your precious time with increased efficiency. It is also observed that the painting projects get delayed due to a lack of the right tools, such as an air compressor for painting cars.

Painting cars involves an air compressor responsible for providing the air while painting. It is the most important tools to get a professional car painting job. If you are a beginner at car painting and don’t know much about air compressor, this guide is for you. Here you will learn everything you need to know about air compressors for painting car.

Minimum size air compressor for painting a car

What Is An Air Compressor?

As the name suggests, an air compressor is used to compress the air used for different purposes such as painting a car, kiddie pools, cleaning, unclogging the kitchen sink, and more. Scientifically, minimum size air compressor for auto painting converts the electrical energy into the mechanical energy stored in pressurized air.

Typically, a budget air compressor for painting cars is an essential tool for car painting or any other home painting project. You can power a nail gun, paint sprayer, or drive many tools to get the painting job done. They make the overall work easier, quicker, and give the desired paint finish on the cars.

What Size Air Compressor Do I Need To Paint A Car?

It is a common query: what size air compressor for painting cars? Suppose you are planning to work on a car painting project, but you need to know the air compressor size for it. A reliable and good air compressor is necessary to get a better job done. Painting a car with an air compressor is quite similar to paint a wood. It is important to consider a number of factors to get a shiny and clear finish.

Air compressors for painting cars what is needed are available in different sizes, but we recommend you to go for a 60-gallon tank having a 5-6 Horsepower. Also, check the CFM requirement of the paint sprayer you have chosen.

Usually, the minimum size air compressor for painting a car should be in the ranges of 14-20 CFM for 90-100 PSI pressure.

It is important here to mention that you can paint the car with a small budget air compressor for painting cars, but you might have to face a lot of problems such as overspray coatings, etc. You can’t wait long because it will create a difference after drying. Likewise, if you perform the painting job fast, you will not get a clear and smooth finish.

Furthermore, make a list of your requirements and choose the air compressor size accordingly. Usually, a good car painting job requires two coatings of the paint done at a suitable speed to get a smooth finish.

Smallest air compressor for painting cars

What Factors To Consider in an Air Compressor For Painting Cars?

There are many factors to observe in an air compressor for paint shop, but not all of them are necessary. Here we are sharing the most important factor to consider in an air sprayer painting tool for cars in the following:

CFM for paint gun

CFM is the short form of “Cubic Feet Per Meter“, and it shows the necessary air delivered with a certain pressure. Usually, the latest paint sprayers use a high CFM rating to get a better paint finish. Usually, you should go for spray guns having a 90-100 CFMs rating. It’s very important to choose this factor before painting a car.

Applying multiple coats require more paint and it becomes harder to get a smooth finish. It’s best to go for a spray painting air compressor having high CFM rating. It might be costly for you but not more than a clean paint finish on your car. For body shops, 20 CFM per unit rating is used to get base or clean coats.

Air Pressure

The unit of measuring air pressure in PSI. The trendy LVLP spray guns require low PSI pressure to get a smooth paint finish. Typically, 15 PSI pressure is best for base coats on a car. However, always read the instructional manual to choose the accurate range.

Moreover, you can increase the PSI level as you want. If you want 100% clear coats, the suggested PSI range is 20-25. Please refer to the setting of air pressure for automotive paint guns for more information.

Tank Size

When paint a car without air compressor, you need consistent and continuous spraying, especially for cars. Therefore, it’s necessary to choose the right size paint compressor to get the job done in a row. We recommend you to go for a compressor having at least 50-60 gallons of capacity.


Horsepower (HP) measures how much work your air compressor can do. If you have a 5HP motor compressor, you cannot do anything remotely close to what you can achieve with a 10HP motor compressor.

In general, we use 1.5HP to 6.5HP air compressors for spray painting. An air compressor that operates from a standard electrical outlet should have a motor with no more than 2HP.

How Does an Air Compressor Work?

The working of an auto paint air compressor is not much complex as most people think. The working of a 60 gallon air compressor for painting car is pretty simple and easy to understand. The whole work is divided into four stages known as screws turn, vacuum creation, compression, and forced air.

The primary purpose of how to paint a car with a small air compressor is to pressurize the air present in it. In the first stage, the screws turn at a specified speed creating a motion. The open-air is captured from an inlet and mingled with the screws in stage two. When the air passes over the turning the screws, it gets trapped, and the screws send it down. This is the last stage where the air gets pressurized and stopped. In the end, the gas is forced to pass through a small outlet as an output.

They differ according to the application, and various types of compressors are available in the online or physical markets. So, these are the basics of an air compressor that you should know before choosing it for car painting.

What Kind of Air Compressor Is Best For Painting Cars?

There are commonly two types of portable air compressor for painting cars used for painting cars, i.e., electric and gas-powered. Both have individual benefits and drawbacks. As the name suggests, gas-powered air compressors use a certain gas for working. It’s a good option when utilizing electricity is difficult or costly.

Besides, they don’t have other options such as Automatic ON/OFF function etc. However, the manufacturer attached a pilot load over valve to give you an indication at different levels. Not to mention, they are best when you need continuous air with constant pressure. They make noise and also emit harmful fumes, so they are only used where you don’t have electrical power.

On the other hand, electric air compressors are good for car painting. The reason is that they consist of indicators, and are easy to use. They are intelligent and handle the whole procedure automatically. In our recommendation, go for an electric air compressor for painting a car without any issue with the investment.

Difference Between Single-Stage & Two-Stage Air Compressors

When deciding between a single-stage and a two-stage air compressor for car painting, it’s important to consider your specific requirements and budget.

Single-Stage Air Compressor:

  • Simplicity: These compressors have a single piston for air compression in one stroke.
  • Suitability: They are ideal for light to medium-duty tasks like tire inflation and small paint jobs.
  • Affordability: Single-stage compressors are cost-effective, making them a good choice for hobbyists and budget-conscious individuals.

Two-Stage Air Compressor:

  • Efficiency: Two-stage compressors use two pistons for higher pressure and increased efficiency.
  • High-Volume Jobs: They are well-suited for heavy-duty tasks such as large-scale car painting and industrial applications.
  • Cost: While they are more expensive upfront, two-stage compressors offer long-term efficiency and durability.

Rotary Screw Compressor vs Piston Air Compressor

Rotary screw compressors and reciprocating air compressors are two distinct types of air compression systems, each with its own set of advantages.

Rotary screw compressors use helical screws to consistently deliver high-pressure air, making them essential in industries like automotive. They operate quietly and offer a longer lifespan, but require regular maintenance by skilled professionals.

Reciprocating air compressors, often referred to as piston compressors, are favored for their minimal maintenance requirements and energy-efficient operation. They work intermittently, making them cost-effective for automotive applications, but they can be noisy.

What I learnt is that choose rotary screw compressors for high-demand applications requiring consistent air pressure, and reciprocating compressors for cost-effective, energy-efficient solutions with occasional noise concerns in automotive and industrial settings.

How To Use an Air Compressor To Paint A Car with a Spray Gun?

If you understand the working of a smallest air compressor for painting car, it’s also important to use it for painting a car. Remember that a single setting can affect the whole car paint and results in poor quality. Here is the step by step procedure to get started with a compressor and suitable settings in the following:

1. Check The Components

Instructions guides are always important, and you need to understand each component before painting. Check out the working of each component and remember it. Therefore, we always recommend you read the included manual.

2. Accurate Measurement of Air Hose

Hose plays an important role in setting up the right pressure. It should not be too narrow or bigger. If the air hose settings are lower, you will experience low air pressure and vice versa. Always balance the air hose, tubing length, and internal diameter to get a smooth airflow without any restriction.

3. Reduce Quick Disconnects Fittings

Quick Disconnects Fittings are also known as QDs, and you need to set them according to the volume and design of your application. Here we recommend you choose the QD with a small number having a large diameter. It helps you get accurate pressure with minimal loss. Consider the large diameter of QDs for best results and least restriction.

4. Air Regulators

For further settings and checking, air regulators play a crucial role. You can choose between the gun-mounted or wall-mounted regulars according to your needs and requirements.

That’s all for setting up the small air compressor for painting a car. Some people don’t use air pressure regulators, but we always suggest going for air regulators to get a good paint finish.

How to paint a car without an air compressor?

A handheld Graco airless paint sprayer can be used to paint a car without an air compressor. As portable paint sprayers, these units can spray a variety of materials, from very thin materials to thick materials. You can also use an airless paint sprayer to apply paint without a compressor because they are gas or electric powered. When it comes to gas airless sprayers, you can spray materials of almost any thickness.

Final Words On Air Compressor For Painting Cars

In conclusion, having an air compressor and setting it up is necessary for a car painting job. We have answered all the queries asked by the people above to assist you thoroughly. It is important to remember the crucial points while choosing the right air compressor for yourself. It is our hope that this guide about air compressors for painting cars will be helpful to you.

FAQs On Air Compressor For Painting Cars

How many CFM does it take to paint a car?

CFM is an important factor to consider while performing a painting job. According to our experience, about 4-5 CFM is required for an automotive paint shop. Likewise, almost 12-15 CFM is necessary for painting the car body.

Can You paint a car with a 30 gallon air compressor?

Yes, you can paint a car with 30 gallons of air compressor. It is applicable if you have set the CFM settings according to the given instructions. Therefore, choosing the right size of air compressor is compulsory.

Can I paint a car with a 20 gallon compressor?

Usually, 30 gallons of air compressor is necessary to paint a car. The 20 gallon compressor failed the car because of the small air compressor. You can’t paint a whole car with this pressure, but it is suitable for bumper covers, car cases, and other vehicle parts.

Can You use 6 gallon air compressor to paint a car?

According to my experience, a compressor can work for about 29 hours with a capacity of 7-29 gallons. A 6 gallon air compressor is not recommended because you can’t complete the car painting job with it.

What is the smallest compressor you can use to paint a car?

An air compressor with a capacity of 30 gallons or more is the minimum size for painting a car quickly and easily. Compressor tanks with smaller capacities can also cause more variability in paint flow and pressure. Ideally, a tank of 60 gallons or more should be enough to cover a classic or full-size car in a single application.

Is an oil-free air compressor better than an oiled air compressor?

An oil-free air compressor is lighter, less expensive and requires minimal maintenance. In contrast, oil-based air compressors have a longer lifespan. An oiled compressor may be the most suitable choice for commercial businesses that need to power high PSI/CFM pneumatic tools. On the other hand, if you have concerns about noise, air purity, filter changes, and maintenance, an oil-free stationary compressor might be ideal for you.

Jennifer Marie-Holapaints writer

Jennifer Marie

Jennifer Marie is a general contractor with over the years of experience in home remodeling, DIY projects, and commercial painting projects. Her experience includes working with paint sprayers, painting tools, and other painting supplies. You can follow her on Facebook.

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