Airbrush Compressor Psi: Getting the Perfect Pressure

An airbrush, jar of red paint, and a compressor against a white background.

Getting the perfect pressure is an essential part of creating gorgeous airbrush art. Adjusting the psi for various factors can help you to create professional results on all kinds of materials.

What psi should I set my airbrush compressor to? For most airbrushing projects, 15 – 45 psi is a good place to start. Keep your psi under 20 for airbrushing on people, and may need to increase psi to 100 for airbrushing on T-shirts. The type and quality of airbrush, nozzle size, paint viscosity, and desired effect will dictate the ideal psi.

In the following, we will cover the various factors that affect psi and explore how you can adjust your air pressure for best results.

Understanding Psi for Airbrushing

Psi stands for pounds per square inch and refers to how much pressure is being exerted in pounds of force per square inch of area. It is a way of measuring air pressure.

General Recommended Psi

15 – 45 psi is a good air pressure range to start with.

When You Might Want Lower Psi

You want a lower psi when airbrushing on skin or for things like fingernail art.

When airbrushing really thin paint, you generally want a slightly lower pressure than when you are using thicker paints.

When You Might Want Higher Psi

You want a higher psi when airbrushing on fabric. Also, when using slightly thicker paint than normal, you’ll need a higher psi.

How To Adjust Airbrush Pressure

Keep the factory settings of your compressor, and set the pressure regulator to the psi you want. Run the airbrush for a few seconds, note any drop in pressure, and adjust as needed.

Airbrush Pressure Regulator: Do You Need One?

A pressure regulator helps you to set your desired psi; a precision regulator is especially helpful for jobs requiring high levels of accuracy.

Regulators can come with or without a gauge. Having a gauge allows you to set your exact desired level of pressure, so for jobs requiring a good bit of detail, this type of regulator is ideal.

Airbrush Compressor Psi: Affecting Factors

An airbrush and compressor with storage tank, paint, and several accessories.

Figuring out the correct psi depends on several different factors, including the kind of airbrush you are using, the viscosity of your paint, and the surface you are painting on, among others.

Type of Airbrush

A siphon-feed airbrush requires more psi than a gravity-feed airbrush to function properly as the siphon-feed airbrush needs help sucking paint up and into the atomization chamber, while the gravity feed airbrush relies on gravity to do the work of moving the paint to where it needs to be.

The side-feed airbrush has a paint cup located on the side of the airbrush and is a middle-of-the-road option between the siphon feed and the gravity feed when it comes to the needed amount of air pressure. 

Siphon Feed Gravity Feed Side Feed
25 – 80 psi 12 – 45 psi 12 – 45 psi

Size of Needle and Nozzle

Larger needle and nozzle sizes tend to require less air pressure than smaller needle and nozzle sizes. However, paint viscosity also plays a role.

If you thin your paint properly, you could use the same psi for a smaller needle and nozzle that you would use for a larger needle and nozzle.

Quality of Airbrush

If your airbrush is in poor condition or very cheaply made, it won’t matter what psi you’re using – you may still get bad results.

Be sure to clean your airbrush between colors and to deep clean it after each use to keep it in optimal condition. 

Viscosity of Paint

The thicker your paint is, the more air pressure you will need. The thinner the paint, the less air pressure you will need.

Different paints have different viscosities. In general, the more opaque the paint is, the thicker it will be, and the more transparent it is, the thinner it will be. 

Desired Results

If you are airbrushing skin, you will want to make sure to keep your air pressure under 20 psi to avoid causing injury.

If you are spraying on fabric, you can increase air pressure all the way to 100 psi to create a longer-lasting design.

For airbrushing on paper, 20 -40 psi should be sufficient for creating attractive results.

Painting Surface

Nonporous surfaces tend to require greater psi than porous surfaces. The harder the surface and the closer to the surface you are spraying, the less psi you will want to use.

When painting on a soft or absorbent surface, you can crank up the psi, especially if you are trying to embed the paint in the object you are painting on, such as in the case of spraying on certain fabrics.

Distance From Which You Are Painting

Best Airbrush and Compressor for Painting Miniatures

Spidering is caused by spraying at too high of a pressure and too close to the object you are painting and results in paint running across the material.

Spidering tends to occur on harder surfaces and can really do a number on your project. To avoid spidering, it’s best to use lower pressure when spraying from a closer distance.

When working from a further distance you can increase the psi. 

Tips for Determining Optimal Psi for Airbrushing

When adjusting psi for paint viscosity, you can either change the psi to work with the paint, change the viscosity of paint to work with the psi, or do both.

To do both, first thin the paint, then regulate the air pressure until you achieve your desired result.

Related Questions:

How Do I Get More Paint Out of My Airbrush?

To get more paint out of your double-action airbrush, simply pull the trigger farther back. To get more paint out of a single action airbrush, twist the control knob clockwise. 

How Do You Adjust Airbrush Paint Flow?

When using a double-action airbrush, you will press down on the trigger to turn the air on, pull back on the trigger to turn the paint on, push forward on the trigger to turn the paint off, and release the trigger to turn the air off. 

When using a single-action airbrush, press down on the trigger to turn on both the air and the paint, and release the trigger to turn both the air and the paint off.

Turn the control knob clockwise to increase the amount of paint coming out or counterclockwise to decrease the amount of paint.


For best results when adjusting your psi, you should take into consideration the paint viscosity, material being painted on, distance being sprayed from, and size of your needle and nozzle, as well as the type and quality of your airbrush.

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I am a writer and an artist taking opportunities every day to transform my dreams into reality. I love learning new things and am always creating and innovating. I worked as an Art Instructor, teaching painting and art techniques to artists of all levels and ages. I have hosted countless paint parties and taught children’s art classes both in my home as well as an art teacher at a Montessori school.