How Does a Paintball Hopper Work?


While you need quite a lot of gear to play paintball, there are only four essential components: the marker, the tank, the paintballs, and the hopper. 

 So, how does a paintball hopper work?  There are several types of paintball hopper, and the mechanisms differ depending on type:

electronic paintball hopper
There are several types of paintball hoppers and each of them works differently.
  • In a gravity-fed hopper, the paintballs use gravity for cycling into the marker for firing. 
  • In an electronic hopper, the paintballs are cycled into the marker using automated feed trays or paddles. 
  • In a sound-activated hopper, the cycling of paintballs is triggered by a microphone listening for the sound of the paintball gun firing. 
  • In an eye-activated hopper, an electronic “eye” checks to see how many paintballs are in the tube. If there’s room for more, the motor activates and sends paintballs into the marker. 
  • In a cyclone hopper, the paintballs are fed to the marker using a specialized cyclone feed system. 

The rest of this article will cover everything you need to know about paintball hoppers. 

Hopper Styles

There are a variety of paintball hopper styles:

  • Gravity-fed
  • Electronic
  • Sound-activated
  • Eye-activated
  • Cyclone

Each style of hopper has its own individual features that make it unique.

Gravity-fed hopper

Gravity-fed hopper on YouTUbe

The gravity-fed hopper drops paintballs into the breach of the marker by gravity. Thus it is considered the most basic of the hopper styles

Although this hopper is said to perform well, it doesn’t feed paintballs in a fast manner. It actually works only eight paintballs through the gun per second, which is a relatively slow rate. So it’s not surprising that experienced players prefer hoppers that perform faster.

Electronic hopper

electronic hopper
There are many different companies that make electronic hoppers. With normal electronic hopper expect to shoot up to 16 paintballs per second.

In contrast, a gun with a battery-energized electronic hopper shoots about 16 paintballs per second. And different levels of electronic hoppers permit even more paintballs to be fired.

The number of paintballs a gun featuring an electronic hopper can shoot before the battery drains is more than 50,000. If you play paintball often, then you probably will have to replace the battery after about seven months.

Many consider pure gravity fed hoppers to be unreliable, as paintballs can often get stuck. And if you try to force-feed more than 40 paintballs through the marker per second, the gun will malfunction. Beginners to the sport of paintball commonly use gravity-fed hoppers or the lowest level electronic hoppers.

Gravity-fed vs. electronic hopper – YouTUbe

Hopper technology has improved during the last few years. However, for the hopper to work properly, maintenance should be a top priority. It is suggested that you clean it regularly. By keeping it clean as well as paint-free, you will ensure that the paintballs are fed through the gun consistently.

Players who exhibit midrange skills in the game of paintball use the sound-activated, the eye activated, or the cyclone-activated hoppers.

Sound-activated hopper

The sound-activated hoppers feature a microphone that connects to its release mechanism. Every time you shoot a paintball, the noise causes the mechanism to shoot out another paintball. A gun equipped with this kind of hopper can shoot 20 paintballs in a second.

Eye-activated hopper

The eye-activated hopper allows you to see how many paintballs are in the tube. If the tube is full, then the motor turns off. If the tube is empty, the motor goes on, and more paintballs are fed into the tube. A gun featuring this type of hopper can shoot 20 balls a second.

Cyclone-activated hopper

A gun using a cyclone-activated hopper uses gas to feed the gun. There is no battery necessary to energize the hopper, as the gas powers it. The gun that uses this hopper can shoot 15 paintballs a second. Another benefit of this type of hopper is that it limits the chances paintballs will break while being shot.

Automag

Automag example on YouTube

Gas-powered paintball guns feature either a spring-load, a semi-automatic load, or an automag model in which the gas blows forward. The gas blows backward in the spring-loaded gun.

You don’t need to cock a gun that features this type of hopper.

With the automag model, the hopper feeds paintballs constantly into the gun’s chamber as long as you press down the trigger.

Gas guns with automag mechanisms are very reliable and very popular. They use high pressure of about 800 psi and can shoot a large number of paintballs. Electronic mechanisms that are featured in electronic paintball guns allow you to control the rate of fire.

The main disadvantage of gas guns with automag or electronic mechanisms is that they consume a lot of gas. A full tank of gas will not last as long as a mechanical paintball gun that has springload capabilities.

How To Choose A Paintball Hopper

how to choose a paintball hopper
How to choose the right hopper for you, depends on a few factors.

There are several things to consider when choosing a paintball hopper. They include:

  • The level of competition you intend to play.
  • Making sure that the hopper fits your gun.
  • How many paintballs it holds
  • The weight of the hopper
  • Hopper Size
  • Appearance
  • Comfortable to use
  • Matching the rate of fire you want
  • Durability
  • A good warranty
  • An affordable price

Level of Competition

The level of paintball game competition you intend to play is an important priority when choosing the proper hopper. Obviously, it will affect the cost of the hopper, and it will help determine how many paintballs you want to shoot in a minute.

The Hopper Needs To Fit Your Gun

Most hoppers will fit most paintball guns. However, some guns on the market may not be compatible with your hopper. Many paintball players suggest that you confer with the company that manufactured the gun you use and ask them if the hopper you are considering will fit your gun.

How Many Paintballs It Will Hold

If you are looking for a hopper that’s designed to hold a lot of paintballs, then select one that can accommodate no less than 100 paintballs. This will ensure that you don’t have to stop to reload your gun with more paintballs.

It’s recommended that a high-end hopper should hold up to 200 paintballs

The Weight Of The Hopper

You don’t want a hopper that is too heavy, as that will affect how comfortable it is for you to use the gun. You should want a hopper that is lightweight and durable to assure that you won’t get too tired lugging the gun around. Many suggest that the hopper should not weigh more than two or so pounds.

The Hopper Size

A beginner in paintball should want a hopper that holds a minimum of 50 paintballs. Players with more experience who play at a higher skill level than beginners will want a hopper that holds at least 100 paintballs. This assures that you can continue to shoot while your opponents have to reload.

Appearance

The appearance of your gun is more important to some and not to others. If it’s important to you, then select a hopper that matches the color and design of the gun you’re using.

Comfortable To Use

The gun with the hopper integrated within it should be comfortable for you to use and carry. Remember that you’re in a competition that will require you to do a lot of running, squatting down behind shrubs, trees, or other obstacles or even hitting the dirt. And most important of all, the gun must fit your style of shooting.

Rate Of Fire

Depending on the skill level of competition, you want a gun with a hopper that will provide the rate of fire that beats your opponent. A hopper that falls into the midrange or high-end range is probably your best choice.

Durability

If you are a serious paintball player, then you may play the game in just about any weather condition. You need a durable hopper that is able to withstand the rays of the sun so the color won’t fade and is made of tough material to assure it will last for a long time.

A Good Warranty

If you plan on using the hopper frequently, it’s smart to get it covered by a good warranty. Don’t select a hopper that doesn’t offer at least a 30-day or better warranty.

An Affordable Price

The amount of money you are willing to spend on a hopper depends on how enthusiastic you are about the game. 

Obviously, if you have no interest, then any price is too much. However, if you are a paintball game fanatic, then you’ll probably be more willing to spend more money on a better hopper.

While some brands might mark up their products unreasonably, the general rule of thumb with paintball hoppers is that the more money you are willing to spend, the better the hopper.

So before you even get to the point where you’re ready to select a hopper, consider how much you can spend. Your budget needs to be a major consideration.

Basic Considerations

Before actually buying a hopper, you need to consider the capabilities of your gun or marker. That’s because the new hopper is being matched with your gun.

Matching the hopper with your gun involves synchronizing the speed in which the hopper feeds the paintballs to the speed in which the gun can shoot.

If your hopper isn’t fast enough for your gun, a lot of paintballs will be chopped, and your gun will become a mess.

Most markers that are designed to be used in tournaments shoot so fast; you have to use super-fast electronic hoppers to keep up with them.

If you decide to go with an electronic hopper, then there are things you need to consider to determine the correct one for you.

For example, maintenance and the ability to clean the hopper and the gun should be a major consideration. You should want a hopper that is easy to take apart without tools, so cleaning and maintenance can be performed quickly and easily.

You should also consider a hopper that features a wide mouth. That’s because it’s easier to feed the balls through quicker.

The best electronic hoppers feature adjustable speeds so you can customize them to your gun and the event in which you plan to compete.

You are also going to want an electronic hopper that includes windows that allow you to view ammo levels.

If you’re serious about playing paintball, then your hopper should also include a super quiet motor, so your opponents can’t hear you fire your gun. You will also want a hopper with modes and status updates. There are hoppers available with LCD or lit displays that inform you of the operation mode the hopper is in as well as its status.

It doesn’t really matter what type of marker you use, but an electronic hopper will definitely speed up your game considerably.

What Separates Expensive Hoppers From Cheap Hoppers?

gravity-fed paintball hopper
Gravity fed hoppers are the cheapest.

Gravity fed hoppers are the least expensive of the reservoir of hoppers available. What separates the cheap gravity hoppers from the rest of the pack is that it relies on gravity to move the paintball into the gun’s chamber. They typically jam when paintballs become sticky due to high humidity levels.

Compared to the cheap gravity fed hoppers, the electronic paintball hoppers do cost more, but their performance is so much better. Unlike the gravity-fed variety, the electronic hoppers include a battery-powered motor that works a built-in high-speed paddle. This keeps the paintballs moving. Moreover, it assures that there is always a ball in the chamber ready to go.

Electronic hoppers push the paintballs into the marker with force and at a rapid pace. This speeds up the gun significantly. The added speed attracts the true paintball player who wants power from his gun.

The Best Paintball Hoppers

Here are some of the best paintball hoppers that money can buy:

  • Proto Primo
  • Dye LT-R Electronic
  • Virtue Spire Electronic
  • Empire Halo Too
  • Dry Precision Rotor
  • Virtue Spire III Electronic
  • G.I. Sportz LVL Level
  • Tippmann SSL-200 Electronic
  • Empire Paintball Prophecy Z2 Gun
  • Tippmann Cyclone Feeder System
  • HK TFX

Proto Primo

A top choice partially because of its affordable price, the Proto Primo Paintball Hopper (available on Amazon) is a gravity feeder hopper that features a function that sorts and funnels paintballs down while you’re shooting. This helps to assure a more consistent vertical feed.

It can hold as many as 200 paintballs and can relieve pressure on the paint in the balls, reducing the probability of jams. It loads easily with the use of a spring lid and includes a large opening to assure compatibility with Proto alpha pods. It shoots more than eight paintballs a second.

Proto Primo

The one caveat is that it is heavier than most hoppers on the market today. This can throw off your aim, especially if you’re a beginner or someone who is used to a lighter hopper. 

Dye lT-R Electronic

The Dye IT-R Electronic Loader (available on Amazon) features a new-patented technology loader that permits it to shoot more than 30 paintballs a second and is capable of shooting a total of 80,000 paintballs. It works on three AA batteries, which assures better energy efficiency.

Dye lT-R Electronic

Maintenance can be performed easily without tools and just one push of a button that slides the device’s locking tab. It sports a highly intuitive and fast assembly and disassembly. The board is coated to assure water-resistance, and the torque settings can be easily adjusted manually.

Another cool feature is that you can turn off the indicator light when participating in low light or nighttime paintball games.

However, this hopper does tend to jam, but the manufacturer included a feature that quickly fixes it. Just turn the gun upside down and pull the unjam mechanism.

Virtue Spire Electronic

The Virtue Spire Electronic Loader is a very reliable hopper that has gathered a lot of positive reviews. This hopper is sleek and available in an assortment of colors. It is ideal for beginners and intermediate players because it is compact and sleek and can hold about 200 paintballs.

Virtue Spire Electronic

It includes a built-in slide-to-unlock feature that makes it very easy to disassemble. And it doesn’t jam because it also includes a spring anti-jam drive. The device also includes a cycling flex paddle to limit the probability that the hopper could break down. It’s durable, has a comfortable profile to assure that you won’t get weighed down while competing with it.

The one caveat is that it’s pricey.

Empire Halo Too

The Empire Halo Too Loader (available on Amazon) is an ideal hopper for beginners as it is easy to use and is affordably priced. It features very reliable force-feeding that can set up 20 paintballs for firing in just a second

Empire Halo Too

It also includes an ultra-quiet belt that assures that each shot is accurate and the shooting process in continuous. Its built-in anti-jam feature guards against jams and assures a consistent supply of paintballs.

The one caveat here is that it is somewhat difficult to disassemble.

Dye Precision Rotor

Lightweight and capable of carrying 200 paintballs, the Dye Precision Rotor Loader (available on Amazon) sports a low profile silhouette that helps to assure that paintballs ride straight down the barrel. It features tuff molding that will survive drops from a three-story building. A waterresistant coated board assures that it can be used underwater.

Dye Precision Rotor

The hopper can feed 50 paintballs per second, and each feed is consistent, reliable, rapid, and smooth due to opposing center rotor arms and a constant feed rotor carousel. Windows in the hopper allow you to check when paintball quantity is low.

The caveat here is that it too is a little pricey.

Virtue Spire III Electronic

The Virtue Spire III Electronic Hopper (available on Amazon) features a new-hinged shell that makes it easy to disassemble and reassemble as well as replace batteries and speed feed and clean in just a few seconds. The bottom, back, and top of the hopper are one hinge-mounted. It can carry as many as 280 paintballs. A speed feed can replace its lid in less than five seconds.

Virtue Spire III Electronic

The one caveat is that it’s difficult to install its color kit.

G.I. Sportz LVL Level

Sporting an ultra-lightweight and low profile, the G.I. Sportz LVL Loader (available on Amazon) features a rubber ring feeding system that assures a soft feed that prevents brittle paintballs from breaking. 

G.I. Sportz LVL Level

It is easy to clean, and it includes a jam-proof drive system that limits the probability that the hopper will jam. It is capable of carrying 200 paintballs. As it’s made of high-impact nylon, the hopper is very durable and also includes adjustable programming. It can also be disassembled without tools.

The caveat here is that paintball feed can be inconsistent when a specific button is not continuously pressed.

Tippmann SSL-200 Electronic

The Tippmann SSL-200 Electronic Loader (available on Amazon) includes a bend sensor that activates the loader only when you fire the marker. This prevents chopping and jams. The sensor also helps in prolonging the life of the battery. 

There is also an adjustable O-ring neck that’s a part of the loader that assures that most paintballs fit. A wide-mouth also helps to ensure that the paintballs fit.

Tippmann SSL-200 Electronic

The hopper is quiet during operation and includes an LED low battery indicator. One caveat is that the hopper is somewhat bulky.

Empire Paintball Prophecy Z2

Although inexpensive, the Empire Paintball Prophecy Z2 hopper (available on Amazon) is durable because it’s made of high-quality materials. It is available in an assortment of colors, making it easier to match with the color of the marker in which it is used.

Empire Paintball Prophecy Z2

This hopper can hold as many as 200 paintballs. Lightweight and with a low profile, the hopper is very easy to handle in the field. It includes a sound-activated microphone that helps it shoot more paintballs faster.

The caveat is that some say that the battery housing is poorly constructed.

Tippmann Cyclone Feeder

Designed to be used with Project Salvo, Alpha Black Elite, and Custom 98 paintball markers, the Tippmann Cyclone Feeder is considered a user-friendly unit because batteries are not required.

This air-assisted loader feeds paintballs into the gun at a maximum of 15 balls per second (bps). A feeder sprocket connected to the hopper’s air system assures a more synchronized ball feed and also reduces the possibility of paintballs breaking or jamming. It can hold as many as 200 paintballs. A quick-release elbow makes the unit easy to install.

The gun that uses this hopper can shoot at a fast feed rate, and a jam clearing mechanism assures that jamming does not occur.

The caveat is that it depends on air to work and so when the tank is low, it may operate poorly.

HK TFX

A professional-grade hopper, the HK TFX loader (available on Amazon) loads quickly and can load as many as 22 paintballs in a second. Similar hoppers will jam if they have to accommodate that many paintballs in just one second.

HK TFX

The hopper comes in a variety of colors. It weighs only a couple of ounces, so it won’t add any significant weight to the marker.

Removal and replacement of the hopper into the gun after cleaning or maintenance is very easy and quick.

How To Clean A Paintball Hopper

The paintball firing apparatus needs to be cleaned regularly to ensure that it works when you use it. Everything, including the gun, its components, and the hopper are cleaned at the same time.

In this section, we’ll be describing how to clean a spring-loaded hopper. Once you get to the hopper, follow these easy steps:

  1. Disassemble the hopper. Most hoppers are commonly assembled using standard flat-head screws. Using a flat-head screwdriver, remove all the screws and set them aside.
  2. Gently split the hopper apart. Be careful when performing this step. The hopper is spring-loaded and could pop out.
  3. Check the spring to ensure that it has not tangled.
  4. Check the spooler to ensure that the string is winding down properly and isn’t worn or tangled.
  5. Clean the grooves on both sides of the hopper with a microfiber cloth. Work your way to the feeding neck and check to see that the bearings are properly intact.
  6. Reassemble the hopper. Make sure you fir the spring into its original position. This is achieved by putting the ball end into the neck feed. Once the spring and all the bearings are correctly lined up, the hopper should snap back together without applying too much force.
  7. Use the screws to secure the hopper. Once the screws are in place, cover them with their covers if you had them.

Summary

Here are some of the key points you should take away from this article: 

  • Hoppers feed paintballs into the barrel of the gun or marker. Compressed air powers a piston in the gun. When the trigger is pulled, gas activates the piston and fires the paintball.
  • There are several hopper styles. They include gravity-fed, electronic, sound-activated, eye activated, cyclone activated, and high-end.
  • Many considerations go into choosing a hopper. They include the level of competition to affordability.
  • Regularly clean the hopper along with the gun. Carefully disassemble the hopper and clean its inside with a microfiber cloth. Check its components as you clean. Once cleaning is complete, reassemble the hopper and return to the gun.

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