How to Paint a Car with a Small Air Compressor?

how to paint a car with a small air compressor

Painting your car with an air compressor seems fun and easy until you face difficulties while doing it for the first time.

If you are painting your car at home, it is essential to know how to paint a car with a small air compressor. Otherwise, things can get messy if you don’t follow proper guidelines.

In this article, you will find a bunch of tricks to choose the perfect air compressor along with a complete guideline of using it. Besides, some pre-painting tips are also mentioned here to make things easier for you.


Types of Air Compressors According to Your Need

You will find different air compressors in the market that vary according to their models, size and capacity. Among a bunch of variations, the most common types are mentioned below so that choosing the perfect one becomes easier.

Rotary Screw Compressor

If you are using air compressors for painting large vehicles or for continuous usage on several vehicles, this one could be a perfect choice.

It has large capacity, higher efficiency and low maintenance features; all that you need for a perfect car painting session.

Reciprocating Air Compressor

The most useful feature of the reciprocating air compressor is that they have two variations for controlling pressure. You can use any variation according to your pressure requirements.

For smaller tasks, the single stage variation is enough. While for larger projects, you can have the multi-stage variation.

Axial Compressor

These are highly efficient and powerful air compressors used in larger projects. Generally, they are not used for painting small vehicles because they are more expensive compared to the other types of air compressors.

Centrifugal Compressor

Like the rotary screw air compressors, these also have low maintenance requirements even if they are powerful and highly efficient.

The centrifugal air compressors can produce large quantities of energy and are generally used in large construction-based work.

Can You Paint a Car with a Small Compressor?

The short answer is yes, but it’s not as easy as it seems. A small compressor is the key to a successful painting job, as it can create high pressure air to help paint flow smoothly and evenly. It’s also important to note that using a compressor doesn’t mean you’ll end up with damaged paintwork. In fact, using a compressor can actually help prevent paint damage by reducing the amount of air pressure required to spray the paint.

Requirements of Air Compressors for Painting a Car

Even if you have found the perfect type of air compressor, there are still some requirements which you need to consider.

Otherwise, wrong selection of air compressor might get you in trouble. The basic requirements are briefly described here.

Pressure Rating

The pressure rating of an air compressor represents the pressure of the paint coming through the nozzle of the gun. Minimum 15 psi is needed for painting a car. But you can choose air compressors with 20 psi or 25 psi for better results.

Tank Capacity

You need to choose air compressors with an optimum capacity. Otherwise, you might need to refill them several times, which can create uneven layers of paint.

Generally, 50 gallons is an efficient tank size for painting and touch-ups. For painting the entire car body, air compressors of 60 gallons tank size work better.


Horsepower represents the efficiency of air compressors. The higher horsepower your air compressor has, you can operate it more efficiently in small to large projects.

Generally, 10 horsepower is efficient enough for painting your car.

CFM Rating

The CFM (cubic feet per minute) rating of an air compressor represents the quantity of air delivered by the air compressor in a specific pressure rating.

Choose such an air compressor that has a higher CFM rating than the spray gun for ensuring even distribution of paint particles.

For painting cars, two stage air compressors with minimum 20 CFM are efficient.

Painting a Car with a Small Air Compressor – Step by Step

Now that you have chosen a perfect air compressor that fulfills all the necessary requirements, it is time to start the painting process. Here are step-by-step procedures of painting your car with a small air compressor.

Step 1 – Mixing the Paint

You need to be extra cautious about mixing the paint because the technique varies for different types of paint. If you fail to mix the paint in a proper way, you might experience uneven paint particles on the vehicle body. So, in case you are unfamiliar with this, a professional might help.

Step 2 – Removing Rust and Previous Paint

It is essential to remove the rust and previous paint before you start painting the car. Check properly if any rusty area is left in the car body or not. Otherwise, paint layers will be visible as they remain uneven because of the rust and old paint.

Step 3 – Turning ON the Air Compressor

After removing all the affected areas, you can turn ON the air compressor. Notice if the gun is applying the paint layers evenly or not.

Refill the tank if you feel the paint is almost at the end level of the paint tank.

Do not keep the vehicle under the sun. Dry it in cool air after finishing the painting process.

Essential Tips

While you are painting your car with a small air compressor, it is essential to know some tips and tricks that can make your work a bit easier and better. These will get you the best results and avoid any unwanted situation.

1. Covering the Glasses, Lights and Mirrors

It is necessary to cover all the windows, glasses, headlights, sidelights and mirrors completely before you start spraying the paint. Otherwise, these can get stained by paint which will be difficult to remove.

You can use paper or plastic sheets for covering them.

2. Cleaning with Scrubber

While you are removing rust and previous paint from the car body, using a scrubber can help you to remove them. Because, you might find it difficult to remove those affected areas.

With the scrubber, you can also use vinegar because it works as a rust dissolving liquid.

3. Maintaining a Safe Distance

Maintain a safe distance from the car surface while you are painting it with an air compressor.

Minimum 15-centimetre distance is required for ensuring an even distribution of the paint particles.


1. What is the standard tank size of an air compressor for painting a car?

For painting a car, tank size of 60 gallons is standard for air compressors. But you can also use 30 gallons to 50 gallons air compressor tanks for painting as they can handle car painting well enough.

2. How to mix oil-based and water-based paint while painting a car?

You need to add more portions of oil-based paint and less portions of water-based paint while mixing them. The oil-based paint gives the car a smooth finish while the water-based paint keeps a higher sheen level for a longer time.

3. Single stage or multi stage- which air compressor is better for painting a car?

You can use both single stage and multi stage air compressors for painting your car. But the multi stage air compressor is more efficient and has a higher CFM rating than the single stage air compressor.

Final Words

Car painting with air compressors is always easy if you follow the proper instructions and procedures. Hopefully, this article has helped you out to know how to paint a car with a small air compressor.

Still, if you are having difficulties while painting your car, do not hesitate to take help from a professional.

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