What Size Air Compressor Do You Need To Paint a Car?

What Size Air Compressor Do You Need To Paint a Car?

What Size Air Compressor Do You Need To Paint a Car, Can I do It With My Small 30 Gallon Air Compressor?

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We got a new question from a few loyal subscribers of learnautobdyandpaint.com

“Hi Tony, I’m new to the auto body/paint world and just want to ask: What is the reason for needing a 50 – 60 gallon compressor? and why cant i use a 25-30 gallon compressor for a complete paint job? if due to pressure variation. Can we paint the whole car by steps? say one side, let the compressor fill up, then the front, let the compressor fill up, then the other side, again, let the compressor fill up then finish with the back of the car. What size air compressor to paint a car? If this is possible, can you teach us how..?”



With a small air compressor tank you simply don’t have the air volume (cfm) to paint an entire car at one shot. Your gun will strain and struggle and so will your ait compressor.

Your smaller tank will most likely run out of air while you’re spraying non stop, going around a full car at once.

You can take a chance and paint the entire car at one shot if you can hear and feel the air pressure drop and adjust accordingly. (I’ve done it) and had no problems because of so many years of experience painting cars.

By doing this (You will also have condensation problems) your smaller tank WILL get hot and create water because of constantly being on and running. See, water usually builds up in tanks anyway, that’s why you have a drain at the bottom of your air compressor tank. Also be sure to drain it once in a while. More often if you have a smaller tank.

When painting with a smaller tank like a 15-25 gallon …you’ll have to keep draining the tank every 2-3 passes around the car just to be safe. OR, leave it cracked a little so as water builds up it will automatically drain out. It’s also wise to have a (in-line) water separator off your tank about 10-15 feet from your tank and one at the neck of your gun. This goes for small compressors or big shop style. It’s just good insurance to have.

Painting a Car – What Size Air Compressor To Paint Your Car?

It’s recommended to pick yourself up a 60 Gal tank with a 5-6 HP compressor that put’s out enough CFM that will supply your spray gun. Look for CFM in the ranges of 14-18 at 90PSI. This is what I have setup at the LABAP shop.

The tricky part… YES, you can paint the car in steps (same day) with a smaller air compressor but you may run into problems with overspray on the clear coat stage. When laying clear on the car you want to spray it on at once because if you wait too long and spray you will make your other glossy clear panels dull from the overspray that you create. You have a certain time frame where overspray will just melt into fresh clear coat, which is what painting flash times are all about. More on this within the VIP club.

When freshly sprayed clear coat becomes tacky and you create more overspray by spraying other adjacent panels because you had to wait for your tank to refill etc…

The overspray from the clear coat will cause your job look dull. Of course if you plan to completely color sand and buff you wouldn’t have a problem. What you can do is, if not painting with candy, flake or pearl… paint the hood, the front bumper and your two front fenders at once.

You know, two coats of base and two coats of clear coat. Let that completely dry, then a day or two later mask all of the painted parts, then paint your roof, and doors that day, and a few days later do your rear quarter panels, trunk and rear bumper to complete the job.


That way you complete the job till the end and you won’t have overspray nor will you need to buff.

It will basically take 3 days painting to paint your car.

I hope you understood my point! Thanks for the great question 🙂

I hope this short article inspired that yes you still can paint your car or project with a smaller compressor.

Don’t let things like this stop you. The successful person figures ways to get things done no matter how ignorant or lack of resources they may have.

They Just Do It!

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40 thoughts on “What Size Air Compressor Do You Need To Paint a Car?”

  1. Great blogTony.I have a 25 gallon craftman compressor that send 8.6cfm at 90psi. I had painted a few cars both its true, you need a larger compressor to paint a car the same day. If you have a gun that requires 11.5 cfm it is very difficult to spray the whole car.

  2. Interesting article, thanks a lot! Id never considered using a smaller tank compressor to paint. My question then would be; if you have a small tank like say 25 gal, and its rated at 7.4 [email protected], and your gun is rated 4-7 cfm will your pressure sustain? Or is that just not enougg headroom for continuous spray?

    • It depends on the size of your project. I think you won’t have a problem for smaller projects but for a full car at continuous spray it may be hard, just like what I mention in the article…

  3. Hey great tip just convinced me to up grade in the near future to a 60 plus gallon compressor . Though I painted my mazda truck with a 33 gal craftman and used a voylet gun plus filters and regulators on both gun and compressor the paint job came out pretty good , ” my one mistake was to clear coat on a very hot sunny day ,” this caused a nightmare of Orange peel but I fixed it with alot of wet sanding 1500 grit & 2000 grit than buffed it down like a mad dog Final result MAGIC . Thank you Tony for looking out and your tip’s . Aloha from Puerto Rico .

    • It will be hard. I don’t think that little thing can push out enough CFM. You’ll probably be ok doing small parts and panels. Please read the article, I spoke about this…


  5. Tony, Just read this article and I also had the same question about volume (CFM). If volume is the limiting factor and you don’t have the coin to shell out for a large compressor, can you modify your system and add a larger pressure tank to get the job done or is there other factors to consider?

  6. I’m considering restoring my ’65 Mustang. I plan on doing my own body and paint job. Can you tell me if a 60 gallon air compressor will be sufficient having the needed CFM to paint the entire car?

  7. Tony, What about mobile paint work, what would be the ideal compressor to use? Especially, if the job itself would be relatively small (bamper paint, touch up, some blending). The paint gun would be SATA jet 5000 B. Would 30 gal one will make it ( there is 15.2 cfm requirement for that particular gun). Or that one too should be at least 60 gal? And if so, do you really need to permanently install in on a truck/van or you can just have it there and take it out when needed?

  8. Hello I am working on small parts only and perhaps a moped in the future what would be the best air compressor and spray gun for this? I mean specific brand and everything as well.

  9. I bough the new snap on 5 hp 30 gal compressor, will that be good enough to do light body work and smaller paint jobs for example Hood and fender and blend into the door, then by the time I mix the clear could I clear all of that?

  10. Hey Tony, just recently checked out some of your videos. Great stuff!

    I have done a quick paint job in a day using spray cans on an old beat up truck, but I am thinking about taking on the project of painting a vehicle that I would like to come out a little nicer. I don’t plan on painting too much in the future, so I am curious if you think I could get the job done with some less expensive equipment.

    I am working with a 26 gal 1.8 hp compressor, which is rated for 6cfm at 40psi, and was thinking of trying a $70 gun which operates at 4.3 cfm at 40 psi. I realize this is a lower cfm than the hvlp guns most people use, but would it be ok to paint the car with this setup? If I use a single stage paint instead of bc/cc would that help?

    Would you have any suggestions as far as equipment that would keep my total cost low? Maaco quoted me at $1100, so I’m looking to stay in the $500 range total cost with paint if I take the time to do it myself.

    Thank you in advance! Your videos have been very helpful.

  11. I have a 10.5 gallon 5.5 horsepower air compressor. If I take the car apart and paint the parts separately within a week will I be fine? I will be painting a 1983 Cutlass supreme

  12. Thanks for the advice about the gallons required for spraying. I just want to paint my 1987 Chevy Silverado v10 a flat black primer with a flat red primer punisher skull on the hood. So thanks to you i finally have a starting point 🙇‍♂️🙇‍♂️🙇‍♂️

  13. Great reply, many thanks as a friend has asked me would I spry his car have some experience painting parts and smaller items but not a full car. Cheers

  14. Looking to paint a 66 passenger school bus white so that it doesn’t look like a cheese wagon. I know its a big project, but any advice you can give me would be extremely helpful. Any thoughts on what kind of air compressor I should purchase?

  15. Hi Tony, the compressor I was planning on is 60 gallons, and 13.4 cfm @ 40 psi. But it only is 3.7 hp. I was planning on single stage for final coat and painting in pieces, doors, hood, fenders etc. Is the 5hp critical? Thanks!


  17. How about I just buy a 60 gallon compressor, be great for the sanding and painting :). Do harbor freight compressors suck?

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