I must admit that when I started airbrushing for the first time a lot of components of the airbrush were a mystery to me.
This included the compressor tank… did I need one, are they mandatory, or will a compressor be able to work without one?
After a lot of research into different compressor options this is what I found out about whether an airbrush compressor needs a tank or not…
An airbrush compressor does not need a tank provided it can deliver a constant pressure airflow to your airbrush without significant pressure fluctuation. However having a compressor with a tank included is generally preferable in most cases as it ensures much better pressure stability and often quieter and longer lasting operation.
But then comes the question of which airbrush compressor is best for any particular person or airbrushing task…
What are all the benefits of having a tank and will it really improve the airbrushing that you do?
To help decide what’s best for you let’s first get a very quick understanding of why a compressor has a tank in the first place…
Why Do Some Airbrush Compressors Have A Tank
There are five main reasons an airbrush compressor has an air tank:
- To stop the airflow pulsating through your airbrush;
- For much quieter operation;
- To reduce overheating and significantly improve motor life;
- For convenience;
How A Compressor Tank Improves Airflow
The tank on an airbrush compressor provides a perfectly steady constant air pressure to your airbrush, allowing for consistent painting results. Without a tank the air pressure is delivered straight from the compressor motor sometimes resulting in pulsating pressure and therefor pulsating paintflow.
With every cycle of the piston in an airbrush compressor motor the pressurised air is pulsed through the entire airbrush-compressor system.
When this gets to the airbrush it will sometimes result in pulsating paint flow which is not at all ideal for getting consistent high quality results from your airbrushing efforts.
However the design and engineering of many tankless air compressors these days alleviates this problem to quite a large degree, especially when coupled with a long coiled air hose to the airbrush which dampens the pulsations coming from the compressor motor.
If you’re looking to totally eliminate the problem of pulsating air pressure in your system however, you should always go with a compressor that has a tank.
How A Compressor Tank Allows For Quieter Operation
A compressor with an air tank only operates the motor when the tank needs to repressurise so that it can provide a perfectly constant air pressure to your airbrush. This means that the compressor is silent a lot of the time as the tank provides ongoing pressure without the need for the motor to always be running.
It’s surprising just how valuable this benefit is, as many compressor motors are quite loud and even with the smaller airbrush compressors this level of noise can be disruptive.
See below for the approximate decibel ratings of things you might hear on a day to day basis and how they compare to a typical airbrush motor:
|Type Of Noise
|Decibel (dBA) Level
|Petrol Lawn Mower
|Industrial/Workshop Air Compressor
|90 (approx. max.)
|Average Vacuum Cleaner
The following table now shows the decibel levels of airbrush compressors for comparison:
Compressor Brand & Type
Noise Level (dBA)
For reviews and current prices on the Paasche D500SR see the Amazon listing here
Iawta Smart Jet Pro
For reviews and current prices on the Iwata Smart Jet Pro see the Amazon listing here
For reviews and current prices on the Sparmax TC-501N see the Amazon listing here
If you live in close proximity to other people this noise can be problematic and may lead to complaints, not to mention that it’s simply much better for your own ears to have less noise.
How A Compressor Tank Allows For Longer Motor Life
An air tank on an airbrush compressor allows the motor to pressurise the tank and then switch of until the tank pressure drops below a certain point. Given the compressor motor is only running a fraction of the time that you’re airbrushing, it’s service life is often considerably extended.
The compressor motor will essentially over pressurise the tank, but the tank has a valve that only lets a certain amount of air pressure through to your airbrush, and typically you can adjust the valve to whatever pressure you need for perfect airbrushing results.
When the tank air pressure reduces to a certain amount the motor will kick in and over pressurise the tank before turning off again, giving you a reasonable amount of time in silence to do your work.
This also means that the motor is running for a very small amount of time when compared to a tankless airbrush compressor which is permanently on.
The end result, besides a quieter airbrush experience, is that the motor on the compressor with a tank heats up less and has less wear and tear over time, and provides a much longer service life.
How A Compressor Tank Allows For Better Airbrushing Convenience
A compressor with an air tank will automatically shut off the motor when the tank has the correct air pressure in it, meaning you won’t have to constantly be turning the compressor on and off all the time.
It’s not uncommon for me to airbrush a little and then rack the airbrush in its holder while I assess my work, and with a compressor that has a tank this means that the tank pressure stays constant and therefore the compressor stays off.
However with a tankless compressor when you rack your airbrush the motor just keeps on going, leaving you to manually turn it off and back on again when you need it.
Sure it’s not a massive hassle but it can become tedious over time, and when you upgrade to a compressor with a tank on, which negates the need to be constantly switching it off and on, you’ll likely wonder why you took so long to upgrade.
The Benefits Vs Drawbacks Of Having A Tank On Your Airbrush Compressor
If you’re looking for a new airbrush compressor or to upgrade, check out this detailed list of advantages and disadvantages of each to help you assess what kind of compressor you should choose…
Tank Vs Tankless Airbrush Compressors:
Better Start/Stop Convenience
Better Motor Life
Less Weight On Average
Reduced Pulsating Airflow
Easier To Transport
As you can see, the tankless compressors shine when budget travel and space considerations are the most important.
However a compressor with a tank is preferable when factors such as motor longevity, quiet operation and the best airbrushing results possible take highest importance.
Should YOU Buy An Airbrush Compressor With A Tank
An airbrush compressor with a tank will be the right choice for you if you value quieter and more convenient operation, a longer lasting compressor motor, and more consistent airbrushing results, and are prepared to spend a little more money.
If you’re just getting into airbrushing and want an entry level unit then a tankless compressor is the way to go when you’re on a budget.
However if you’re prepared to pay a little more then there’s no doubt that the convenience and general useability of an airbrush compressor with a tank is what you want.
Let’s check out some excellent examples of each type of compressor…
What Are The Best Airbrush Compressors WITH A Tank
See below for some of the best airbrush compressors available on the market today which include a pressure-adjustable air tank:
Compressor Brand & Type
Max Air Pressure (psi)
Iwata Power Jet Pro
For reviews and current prices on the Iwata Power Jet Pro see the Amazon listing here
Badger Aspire Pro TC910
For reviews and current prices on the Badger Aspire Pro TC910 see the Amazon listing here
Master Airbrush TC-326T
For reviews and current prices on the Master Airbrush TC-326T see the Amazon listing here
For reviews and current prices on the Sparmax TC-620X see the Amazon listing here
What Are The Best Airbrush Compressors WITHOUT A Tank
See below for some of the best airbrush compressors available on the market which give excellent results without a compressed air tank:
Compressor Brand & Type
Max Air Pressure (psi)
Iwata Silver Jet
For reviews and current prices on the Iwata Power Silver Jet see the Amazon listing here
Iwata Ninja Jet
For reviews and current prices on the Iwata Ninja Jet see the Amazon listing here
Sparmax AC27 Airstream
For reviews and current prices on the Sparmax AC27 Airstream see the Amazon listing here
Whichever way you go, today’s compressor manufacturers have got their engineering down to a fine art and you can’t really go wrong with either option. It’s up to you now to figure out if you really need to spend a little more money for the benefit of convenience and unit lifespan.
Just remember that the lifespan of a tankless air compressor motor may mean that you need to buy three or four in the time you’d have only used one airbrush compressor that came with a tank…