The 4 Best Air Compressors for Painting Cars & Houses — Review 2023

best air compressor for painting

Photo by Julie Jordan Scott / CC BY

Many years ago there was no task that was more tedious, messy, and time consuming than painting. That all changed in 1892 when Francis Davis Millet used a compressor for the first time to help apply paint when he was under an extremely tight deadline. Now people take painting with air compressors for granted, but the truth is, there are a lot of difference in features between different makes and models.

There are several things that need to be taken into consideration when shopping for the right air compressor for your painting needs. Let’s take a look at some of the best air compressors for painting and determine if their individual features meet your needs or not.

California Air Tools Ultra Quiet Tank Air Compressor

California Air Tools offers a nice model compressor here that is ideal to use when it comes to those medium to small size painting jobs. This compressor itself features a 1 horsepower pump which generates a respectable 4.00cfm at 40psi. The motor also uses oil-less pump technology which contributes to long life and low maintenance costs.

The complete unit is only 54 pounds and that combined with its big sturdy wheels makes it very portable to move across even rough terrain. What is the best feature about this model? Many would say it’s the way this compressor runs so quietly when working. Most compressors are very loud and unpleasant to work around but that is not the case with the California Air. This is one of the best air compressors for painting, especially when you don’t want to spend a lot of green.

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

This is a very unique design in air compressors that Dewalt has come up with here. It possesses a powerful painting combination in that it generates over 200 PSI and for all its power and capabilities it only weighs 83 pounds. With its large rubber tires and sturdy metal tubing carriage it can easily be moved around even the most demanding jobsites. It also generates a very respectable 5.0cfm at 90psi which is enough power to operate most model spray paint guns. With the type of power it generates it can easily handle both large residential and large commercial painting projects.

There are other unique features this compressor has also. It has the unique ability to recover air pressure faster than most other models; this means more time spent working and less time waiting for pressure to build up again. The handle on the unit is collapsible to make it convenient to transport from job to job and the unit also operates with less noise than many compressors in its size range. It is a high end compressor that is more than rugged enough for heavy commercial use.

Dewalt D55146 Air Compressor Review

Makita MAC5200 Big Bore 3.0 HP Air Compressor

Big bore engine technology leads to better performance and increased air pressure recovery times. It is what makes this unit by the respected company Makita a good one. Its 3.0 horsepower motor is one of the highest you will find in the industry for a compressor that is considered portable; it also weighs in at only 104 pounds which is more than acceptable when you consider its engine is made with a cast iron cylinder to promote long life.

This compressor also operates at a very reasonable noise level which is excellent considering its power. Among its other qualities are its constant working pressure of 110 – 140 PSI that enables it to produce 6.5 CFM at 90 PSI and its easy portability thanks to its tubular steel design and large all terrain wheels. It is a versatile machine than can handle most any big painting job or a wide variety of other tasks which require compressed air too.

Makita MAC5200 3HP 5.2 gallon Portable Air Compressor Review 1 of 2

PORTER-CABLE PCFP02003 3.5-Gallon 135 PSI Pancake Compressor

A pancake compressor is one of the more unique designs in the compressor industry. They feature both a light weight for portability and a low cost which makes them affordable by just about anybody. The unit itself weighs only 26 pounds. This compressor is probably not the best for big painting companies that require multiple spray guns to be used at the same time but the 135 PSI it generates is more than enough for home use or small commercial jobs that only require small areas to be done quickly. It generates 2.0cfm at 90psi.

It also features an oil free pump that gives this compressor excellent durability and reliability for a long time. It is backed by a 1 year warranty from the manufacturer and also has a special “frustration free” certification. The Porter Cable PCFP02003 has a very respectable noise rating too for those of you that are sensitive to machine noise. This is one of the best air compressors for painting cars and other small projects.

Porter Cable - Pancake Compressor - 135 PSI - Demonstration


PSI versus CFM

Be careful not to consider PSI and CFM as the same thing because they are vastly different. CFM relates to the power of the force coming out of the compressors hose and PSI refers to the amount of compression of the air in the storage tank. These are useful things to know when it comes to matching such things as the model of paint gun you will attach to the air hose. If the spray gun recommends that it be used at 90psi with a 5.6cfm and your machine does not have that ability, you will need to look at buying a different spray gun in order to do the job properly.

Compressed Air Water Content

Whenever air is being compressed a byproduct of that is water and that is never a good thing where painting is concerned. If you know you are going to use your compressor for painting you need to check out what type of filters are compatible with it to remove the water so your job can be done hassle free and come out looking nice.

There are a wide variety of air compressors out there to choose from. Take your time when selecting a model to make sure you get the one that meets your needs adequately for the type of painting you will be doing and has enough power to run the attachments that you want to use with it. Whatever the case, you wouldn’t go wrong with our recommendations for the best air compressors for painting. Good luck!

  • Founder of Mechanical Caveman, Beau is an unrepentant tool enthusiast and, sporting deadlift-callused hands and an incongruous beer belly, all-around macho guy. When he doesn’t know re tools, he consults with his handyman and car-repairman buds to give you well-reasoned and cutting-edge info.

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