What Size Air Compressor Do I Need To Paint A Car

Do you have a car that needs a paint job? Are you planning on pulling the job yourself? An air compressor is the most versatile tool that can help you paint your car with professional efficiency. No matter if you’re a hobbyist DIYer or a professional car painter getting an air compressor will help you in a thousand ways. However, not every air compressor can help you get any type of paint job done.

What Size Air Compressor Do I Need To Paint A Car

You’ll need an air compressor that’s designed and well capable of producing adequate force to pull the job. If you’re thinking about what size air compressor do I need to paint a car, I’ll talk about the things that make an air compressor capable of running a car painter. Stick to the article to know what you should look for while choosing your air compressor to paint your car.

What is a good air compressor for painting cars?

Painting a car with a paint gun requires a good amount of pressure from the air compressor. So, finding a suitable air compressor for painting cars is important. The CFM should be at least 14, where the PSI range is 90 to pull enough pressure to paint a car.

If you have a 20-30 gallon tank attached to it, that won’t be enough to give you enough passes. Make sure you have double that amount to about 60 gallons. There are other features and functions to consider, as well. Have a look at this review article on the best air compressor for painting cars to get the best idea with expert recommendations.

Types of air compressor

The internal mechanism of the air compressors works in two different ways, Positive Displacement and Dynamic. Based on that, we can categorize them into four common types, two for each:

  1. Reciprocating Air Compressor
  2. Rotary Screw Compressor
  3. Centrifugal Compressor
  4. Axial Compressor

Reciprocating positive displacement air compressors also have three more subcategories:

  1. Single-Acting
  2. Double-Acting
  3. Diaphragm

Rotary positive displacement air compressors have four subcategories:

  1. Lobe
  2. Liquid ring
  3. Screw
  4. Vane

Air compressors also have another four types that are mostly known to the regular people for apparel reference:

  1. Pancake compressors
  2. Hot dog compressors
  3. Twin stake compressors
  4. Wheelbarrow compressors

What size air compressor do I need to paint a car?

As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of things you must consider in an air compressor before you can choose it for painting a car. Before you think about what size air compressor do I need to paint a car, here are the main features for the air compressor you want to buy for painting car:

What size air compressor do I need to paint a car

Choose the pain gun first

Before you buy an air compressor for painting a car, you must choose the paint gun you’re going to work with. Then you can choose the air compressor depending on the requirement of the paint gun. Some pain guns will require you to get a compressor with only 5 CFM or so, which is a low-end requirement. The professional and high-end paint guns may require you to get an air compressor with 10-15 CFM, or even higher that amount. If you want to have a high-end paint job on cars, make sure you get a decent paint gun.

Decide the tank size

The tank size for your air compressor is important because you need an even layer of paint on the surface. A small tank won’t be able to help you get a full painting from one side to another with a single pass. It will leave you with an uneven paint application, which is both unprofessional, and may ruin the whole job. So, what it the tank size for painting a car should be? I suggest you get an air compressor with at least 50-60 gallons of a tank in size or more. A tank this big will help you get an even paint application in a single pass.

CFM Rating

Cubic Feet Per Minute (CFM) is the single most important thing you must not overlook while picking up your air compressor. CFM refers to the air compressor’s strength of pumping and spraying paint on the surface at the given PSI rate. You can even find air compressors with 4 CFM rating. However, the higher the CFM rating of an air compressor is, the better you can pain your car. So, the ideal standard I’m putting here is, you should go for at least 18-20 CFM rating. It will come a bit expensive, but the investment worth it.

The PSI rating

The standard of the amount of air pressure in a compressor refers to the PSI rating. The PSI rating is very important while choosing an air compressor, as it plays a big role in the quality. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you need a higher PSI rating for the compressor. You’d make a better decision if you go for a high-volume & low-pressure(HVLP) compressor.

HVLP air compressors

These compressors are capable of delivering a smooth coat even with a lower PSI. With an HVLP painter, 10-15 PSI is enough for painting the base coat on the car surface. For the clear coat on the surface, you can go with 20-25 PSI with an HVLP compressor. However, the basic PSI rating for regular car painters is 90 PSI, which you won’t have to use at its max.

The horsepower (HP) you need

The horsepower (HP) rating refers to the power of the engine of the air compressor. Although you cannot say that an air compressor with a higher HP will perform better, it will ensure efficiency. However, you shouldn’t go for a compressor with a low horsepower just because you can do so. When you find 1.5 to 6 HP machines in the market, you should go for at least 4-5 or more in the HP respect for painting car.

Overall recommendation

Altogether, if you’re confused reading all the requirements you should look for, here is my all in one quick guide for you: For painting a car, you should go with a 6 HP, HVLP air compressor that should have a 90 PSI rating. It should have a 60-gallon tank with a 20 CFM rating; that’s what you should make sure to have in the specifications.

How to choose an air compressor?

When you’re buying an air compressor, there are a whole lot of things to consider apart from the technical terms, such as:

  • You must ensure the air compressor has a good duty cycle, preferably 75%, at least. It will get you an efficient paint job and a better life expectancy for the compressor.
  • Consider the power source for the air compressor with the utmost importance. It will depend on the application type you’re going to have, indoor or outdoor.
  • Please have a look at the safety features of the air compressor, its valves, the air hose, and so on for a safe painting experience.

You can have a look at this extensive article on air compressor buying guide for an in-depth knowledge before choosing an air compressor.

Frequently asked questions

Here are the most frequent questions about air compressors that you might have in your mind:

How many CFM does it take to paint a car?

It takes 14-20 CFM to pain a car with high-quality and efficiency.

Can you paint a car with a pancake compressor?

With an adequate size of a tank on top, you can paint a car with a pancake compressor, but it’s not recommended to do so.

How much psi do you need to paint a car?

With an HVLP sprayer, you’ll need up to 40 PSI to paint a car, but you should get 90 PSI at least.

Final thought

Choosing an air compressor for car painting is far more complicated than selecting a compressor for regular tool jobs. It requires an adequate amount of force and pressure to pain a car surface efficiently. I hope now you know the answer to the big question, what size air compressor do I need to paint a car. With this extensive guide, I tried to portray the things you must not overlook when you’re going to buy an air compressor specifically for car painting.

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