What’s the Minimum Recommended Compressor HP/PSI to Spray Paint

If you’re still using the old methods of using brush and roller for painting projects, you’re missing out on the efficiency and thrill of using a paint sprayer. Enjoy a flawless paint job and a higher degree of smoothness with a paint sprayer that’s powered by an air compressor.

And even though using a paint sprayer isn’t rocket science, knowing the little details on how to go about using one can make a lot of difference to your experience. People who are already aware of this fantastic technique are often confused about how to achieve maximum efficiency. There’s usually a debate around the recommended compressor HP/PSI to make spray paint work best. And if that’s what you’ve been wondering too, you’ve landed on the right page.

Let’s get to the answer right away:

If you’re more concerned about the pressure, know that spray paint is not a pressure thing but more of a volume thing. A basic spray gun requires moderate pressure but a much higher volume of air.  What works best for you is often hidden within the spray gun. For instance, if the spray gun is labeled HVLP, it stands for ‘High Volume, Low-Pressure.’ In other words, you can’t depend on a regular compressor to power that spray gun. You need something brawny, like a 2-stage compressor that gives you at least 16-20 cubic feet/minute (CFM). This is the most important thing when it comes to following the basic recommendations for spray painting.

Also, other factors need to be considered to choose the right spray paint compressor and follow the best technique to achieve desirable results.

So without further ado, let’s buckle it down!

Factors to Help You Pick the Right Compressor for Spray Painting

Here are four critical factors you can’t ignore:


With regards to spray paint guns, two main types use compressed air. The first one is the HVLP (high-volume, low-pressure) spray gun, and the other is the LVLP (low-volume, low-pressure) spray gun. In both these types, low-pressure is the common factor. Pressure is measured in PSI. As per expert recommendation, 10 to 15 PSI is ideal for spraying paint and can be increased to up to 29 PSI for a clear coat.  

CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute)

As stated earlier, CFM stands for Cubic Feet per Minute, and it is one of the most crucial factors when determining the right compressor for spray paint. The CFM indicates the volume of air produced by the compressor in a minute. Unlike pressure or force, CFM refers to the actual quantity of air produced by the compressor at a certain pressure, let’s say 20 PSI.

CFM is arguably the most critical thing to consider when shopping for the right air compressor for spray painting. Because you know that the requirement for the volume of air is high, you cannot just pick up any compressor. The CFM should be in accordance with the CFM requirement of your spray gun. After determining this, make sure you pick an air compressor that produces more volume than the CFM of the spray gun.

You can’t achieve the best results if you get a compressor with the same CFM as the spray gun. So make sure you give this point serious attention.


Next up, we have horsepower, which in simple words, refers to the amount of work that an air compressor can do. It is important to remember here that a higher horsepower rating does not indicate a better or more suitable compressor for your spray paint gun. It is more about how much it can deliver. Therefore, if an air compressor with 10 HP delivers similar air pressure to a one with less HP, then the lower HP compressor is doing the job more efficiently.

However, experts recommend getting an air compressor with a higher HP rating since it can also be used for powering other tools.

Tank Size

The size of your compressor’s tank is another major factor to help you make a smart choice. Unlike other pneumatic tools, paint sprayers require a continuous airflow from the compressor. As a result, you need a larger tank to cater to this requirement. For paint sprayers, a large tank that’s 50 gallons and above is preferable. If you have a bigger budget, consider getting an even larger tank. The higher the capacity of the tank will improve the efficiency of the compressor to release more constant airflow, which will cover more area in a single pass.

Here’s an interesting video to help you understand the basics of setting up and using a spray gun:

Air Compressor Options – Which One to Choose

Another factor that could impact your decision of a suitable compressor is the type of technology it runs on. There are two types of paint sprayers. The first one is a reciprocating air compressor, and a rotary screw powers the second one.

The first option includes pistons and operates like a vehicle’s engine to release paint. These are often noisier as compared to the other option. However, it also comes with a much cheaper price tag and requires less maintenance. The reciprocating air compressors are also available in a wide range of variety. You can expect to find the HP between one and thirty and above.

The rotary screw air compressor, on the other hand, is much more energy-efficient and way more silent. But since these models include complex machinery, they are also quite expensive.

In addition to these options, you can also get an electric-powered or a gas-powered air compressor as well. Gas-powered is more common and widely available due to more affordability. The electric option, however, is a more lucrative investment in the long run since it does not require refilling the fuel to operate.  

Out of all these available options, you can choose whatever works best for you.

Choosing Between a Portable Air Compressor and a Stationary Compressor

A stationary model works perfectly well if you will be using your air compressor for spray painting in an auto body shop. Since you will mostly be fulfilling one purpose with your air compressor, it wouldn’t require constant movement. But if you like more flexibility in terms of moving your paint sprayer around, you can get a better bang for your buck with a portable air compressor model. This way, you can also use the paint sprayer for multiple purposes.

It is essential to be mindful of your specific requirements from a paint sprayer to be able to make a smart choice when getting one for yourself.


1. What size of a compressor is suitable if I need to paint a car?

As a rule of thumb, it is best to get an air compressor with a tank capacity of 50 gallons and above. The key is to get a higher CFM rating for the compressor as compared to the CFM rating on the paint gun.

Check out this video for a more detailed understanding:

2. How do I determine the best pressure for spray painting?

You can enjoy a consistent and great flow out by setting the PSI between 15 and 29. Some HVLP spray guns require 10-14 SCFM at 40PSI, which indicates the volume of air pressure requirements per cubic foot.

3. How does a rotary screw air compressor work?

These models operate by trapping air between two distinct meshed rotors and reducing the volume of the air as it travels down those rotors. The effect this process has on the volume of air leads to compressed air, which is then used to power inflated tires, tools, and other applications.

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