What Size Compressor Do I Need to Paint a Car?

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In this post, we are going to look at everything you need to know about what size compressor you need to paint a car. 

There are many tools that you need when painting your car, but one of the most important is an air compressor for your spray gun. This tool takes air and pressurizes it so it can power tools in your shop, including a car paint sprayer.  

what size compressor do i need to paint a car
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How to Pair Up Your Car Spray Gun and Compressor 

Your compressor and car spray gun go hand in hand, and, although we are looking at what size compressor you need to paint your car, you need to also consider your spray guns air requirements.   

In order to do that, you should know what to look for when considering which air compressor to pair with your spray gun. 

The compressor behind the gun is just as important to the end results as the actual gun itself. These considerations are crucial in making the right choice for the compressor and gun that will work the best together. 

By using the criteria, you will be assured to get the pairing that will make your application process easier and produce the best results. 

Air Pressure: Pounds per Square Inch (PSI)

Air pressure is crucial when looking for the right air compressor. Most spray guns are gravity feed HVLP or LVLP, and these tend to have lower PSI requirements. No matter what type of spray gun you get, you will have to find a compressor that meets the CFM requirements. That leads us to the next feature you should consider — the CFM rating.  This is a very important feature to consider especially when buying an LVLP Spray Gun.

CFM - Cubic Feet per Meter

CFM rating is a very important factor — CFM stands for cubic feet per minute. This is the measurement of air that is produced at a given pressure. Spray guns need continuous airflow, and this means you want to look for a model with a high enough CFM rate to meet your guns air requirements. 

How many CFMs do you need to paint a car? Typically, spray guns work best between 80 and 100 CFM. This means you need a compressor that has a CFM rating of 4 to 19 for the best results.   

Tank Size

Tank size is important because of the consistent power. The continuous flow will inevitably eat up a lot of air, and, in order to paint your car, you will need a tank with a large enough capacity so you can paint continuouslyStarting and stopping your painting will lead to disappointing results. 

What is the Best Pressure for Spray Painting? 

The pressure rating of your air compressor is very important when it comes to making sure you are properly set up for your car painting needs. This is measured by the rating called PSI or pounds per square inch.  

This is a measure of how much pressure your air compressor can generate.  Even though PSI is important when it comes to pressure, it’s not the only thing to consider.  

Most spray guns for cars are gravity feed HVLP or LVLP and they don’t need a ton of air to lay down a smooth coat of paint or clear.  In fact, most experts would suggest spraying a base coat at about 15 PSI.  

For clear coat, you want to look for a compressor that produces 25 PSI.   Lower pressure outputs of these guns means the paint goes down soft and smooth on your vehicle. 

What Size Air Compressor Do I Need? 

When thinking about what compressor to buy, you will want to first figure out the types of jobs and tools you will be using the most.  How big of a compressor you need to paint depends on your spray gun.  

Can you paint a car with a 30 gallon compressor? If you get an air compressor with a tank that is too small, you will inevitably end up with uneven paint flow because you will have to start and stop while you wait for your compressor to catch up.  

The most important thing is to make sure your compressor generates enough CFM’s to power your sprayer.   

How many gallons do you need in an air compressor? 

Many experts suggest that you should go no smaller than 50 gallons to ensure the compressor is generating enough CFMs for your spray gun. 

A compressor that can run a car spray gun without issue might not be large enough to let you use other types of air tools continuously.   

For example, brad nailers use a ton of air and a smaller compressor won’t be able to give you more than a few nails at a time before you have to stop and wait for the compressor to catch up. 

If you have the budget, you would be even better to go for a bigger tank so that you can be guaranteed to have continuous air. 

What Size Air Compressor Do I Need for a Spray Gun? 

Size, in this sense, is not about the actual size, but rather the horsepower, CFM and PSI output. This is the amount of work that an air compressor can do. Generally, the more HP your compressor has, the higher the CFM’s it will deliver to your air tools.  

As long as the HP of your compressor can deliver the amount of air your tools need, you don’t have to be too worried about it. Focus on CFM’s and PSI requirements and you’ll be able to perfectly match your spray gun to a compressor. 

Here is a chart of the most popular spray guns for cars and their CFM/PSI requirements.   

Iwata LVLP16
TCP Global Kit3.5-7.1

Now, when it comes to physical size, one factor to consider is whether or not you need a portable compressor. If you are looking to do jobs on the go, you will want to go for a portable option that is lightweight and compact. If you’re building a shop, then you can go with a larger model. 

What Does 10 PSI to the Cap Mean? 

10 PSI to the cap means that your spray gun requires at least 10 PSI to be delivered to the spray tip or nozzle of your paint sprayer to properly spray (atomize) the paint.  Less than 10 PSI and you won’t be able to spray any paint. 

How much Pressure does an HVLP Gun Need? 

Most HVLP spray guns operate around 10 PSI.  Always check with the manufacture to make sure your air compressor and spray gun are a match in terms of CFMs and PSI.   

Some HVLP and LVLP spray guns chew up air pretty good, like the DeVilbiss line of sprayers needs at least 12-13 CFMs to spray.  Same with the Iwata LVLP line of sprayers which requires more CFMs and PSI than you would think for LVLP Guns. 


What size compressor do I need to paint a car? Well, that depends on your spray guns CFM and PSI requirements, and the setup you are looking to be able to use.

Pairing the right compressor to your spray gun will give you the best results. 

What is the Best Air Compressor for Painting Cars?  Click the button below to check out our Best Air Compressor for Paint Sprayers Reviews.

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