Air Sources for Airbrushing

Air source’s for airbrushing tutorial covers overview of the different types of airbrush source’s you can use in airbrushing. ┬áPaint is propelled through and out the airbrush tip in a controlled manner by compressed air, your air source. The higher the viscosity of the paint (the thicker in simple terms) the higher PSI will be required to get the job done. An illustration type airbrush paint like Doc PH Martins or Golden Airbrush Colors, Createx Illustration paint all of which we would call low viscosity paints would require 10 to 30 PSI with a 0.18 to 0.35 nozzle / needle to give you good results. Where as Createx (a textile paint) being a higher viscosity paint would require 40 to 60 PSI to give you good results.

Any compressor or CO2 tank will work for airbrushing. Pictures below is the typical set up for compressor and airbrush. (pictured provided by KB Kustoms, thanks Kevin).


airbrush compressor
airbrush compressor set up


CANNED AIR (Propellants) — Most expensive type of air source and not very effective. I do not recommend buying this as it will not give you a good feel for what airbrushing is all about.

ELECTRIC COMPRESSORS –Come in all shapes and sizes. Please research what will be required as far as PSI for the type of airbrushing you will be doing. Will you be using a high viscosity paint for airbrushing t-shirts or will you be doing illustrations with a low viscosity paint? These are some of the things you should consider before buying a compressor.

Electric compressors can be piston driven or diaphragm , oil lubricated or non- oil lubricated, have a air storage tank or none. I suggest staying away from diaphragm type compressors for anything other than using very low viscosity type airbrush paints.

Diaphragm Compressors – Very inexpensive type compressor. For about the same amount of money these days you can buy an oil less mini piston compressor like the Phantom 100, much better deal for the money. Diaphragm compressors use a reciprocating diaphragm to pump air to your airbrush. One of the big draw backs to this type of compressor is pulsing effect created by these types of compressors. One airbrush at a time can be used.

Piston Driven Compressors – Pretty simple an electric motor turns a piston that pumps air usually into a storage tank than to the airbrush. With a large enough storage tank several airbrushes can generally be used at one time with this type compressor. Well suited in most cases for spraying high viscosity type paints. These compressors are often pretty loud so try and hear it while it runs before you buy one. There are silent compressors made for airbrushing but are general much more expensive than a compressor like you can buy at Home Depot, hard ware stores.

Air pressure regulators, moisture traps / filters should be used on any type compressor used for airbrushing. An air pressure regulator controls the air pressure at which the paint is sprayed. Moisture trap / filter captures the moisture created by the flow of the hot air cooling in the air storage tank or airbrush hose.** For oil lubricated compressors a oil filter should be used to capture any oil from the compressor before it gets into your airbrush.

COMPRESSED CO2 TANKS – Perfect for airbrushing in many cases if the size of your projects are not huge. No need for a moisture trap or oil filter are needed for CO2, just a regulator. For a regulator you should use a welding type regulator which screws on top of the tank.

Air Lines / Hoses– The best kind is rubber covered by braided nylon which generally comes in 10 ft. lengths. The compressor end of the hose will screw right on to the out let side connection of your regulator.

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