If you think of paintball as LARPing for FPS gamers, then I am sure you can imagine how much fun it is. Shooting your opponent in a virtual world or on a screen is one thing, but getting the chance to take out some frustration in the real world is levels ahead. The fresh air, feeling your muscles strain, the adrenaline, it’s all part of the fun of a paintball war.
The parts of a paintball gun and equipment: Paintball would not be the sport it is without the gun which breaks down into four essential components:
- Compressed air tank
While this breaks down further, there is also safety equipment to be considered as well, such as:
- Barrel Sleeves
- Paintball Mask
- Protective clothing
While this all may seem like a lot, and it may also seem confusing, I will try to explain it in the simplest terms I can. While I want to help you become familiar with different paintball terms and equipment, I am also going to break them down, so you know what everything means. It is my goal, by the end of this article, for you to be able to understand what you need and terminology.
What is a Paintball Gun?
A paintball gun, also called a marker, is the main part and typically the most expensive part of playing paintball. While it is similar in operation to a firearm, it does work a bit differently. Where a gun uses a firing pin to set off a small explosive charge using gunpowder in it, which then fires the bullet, a paintball uses compressed air to fire a paintball or paint.
Designed to explode on contact, indicating a hit, a paintball (frequently called paint) is nothing more than a bit of food-grade ingredients and non-toxic dye in a gelatin ball. While they are technically edible, I wouldn’t eat one. They taste gross, and the ingredients can cause your mouth to dry out rather quickly.
A paintball marker can range in price from around $50 for a cheap little pistol type to close to $2,000 for a professional rifle style. You can also get an entry price marker and slowly work on upgrading it as you can afford it since all of the parts are replaceable without replacing the entire marker. This allows for both upgrades or replacements when needed.
The paintballs run in price from about $15 to $50, depending on the gauge (will get into that later) and the amount that you want to buy. If you are new to paintball or you want to get some practice your aim, you can also purchase practice balls (reusable paintballs) that I would not recommend for play will work well for helping you to develop your skill in aiming your marker correctly.
How Does a Paintball Gun Work?
As I said, a paintball gun or marker does work very similar to a firearm, though there are some distinct differences as well. The main difference is that a marker does not use gunpowder to create a micro explosion but uses compressed air or gas to propel the paintball or paint out of the barrel.
While the particulars are a bit different, depending on the type of marker you have, the basics are very similar. The following happens in less than a second from start to finish, with some variation due to designs:
- Pull or squeeze the trigger.
- A small amount of compressed air is released into what is referred to as the expansion chamber.
- A small burst is then released from the expansion chamber into the upper body of the paintball gun or marker.
- This pushes the Venturi bolt forward.
- In turn, the Venturi bolt, similar to a firing pin, launches the paintball or paint forward down the barrel and out the muzzle.
- Then part of the air helps to recock the Venturi bolt for the next round.
Different Types of Paintball Guns or Markers
There are three basic types of paintball markers. These include:
- Pump or pump action
- Mechanically Operated
While cost is also a significant difference between the different types of markers, the main difference is how they fire the paintballs or paint. This can result in differences in the speed of firing as well as the accuracy of the paint. This can also affect how hard they hit a target, as well.
Pump Paintball Guns
When considering playing with more advanced players or those will more expensive equipment, this may be the one you want to avoid. Similar in function as a pump-action shotgun, a pump marker does not allow for quick firing and will require more skill as far as aiming to ensure a hit. This also means that after each shot, you will have to adjust your aim.
If you are playing with a group in which everyone has a pump style marker, then no one is at a real disadvantage, other than skill or lack thereof. If, however, you are the only one with a pump marker, this will put you at a distinct disadvantage since you would be unable, unlike your group, to employ the spray and pray method.
If you are looking for a cheap marker to get started with a couple of friends in the woods behind your house, this would be a good starter on a low budget. Not sophisticated, the simplicity of it can help you to get comfortable with using a marker before you decide to dive headfirst into a new sport.
- Less expensive
- Evens the playing field when all players are using them
- Require more skill for aiming
- Does not fire very fast, needs to be pumped after every shot
Mechanically Operated Paintball Guns
Mechanically operated markers are semi-automatics, which means they can fire as fast as you can repeatedly pull the trigger. The quicker you can squeeze the trigger, the faster they can fire. This is also the most common type of marker used, especially when it comes to commercial paintball venues.
They hold up to the weather better and are usually better built than a pump marker is. This makes them the best to use if you will be renting them out to customers in a commercial setting. They can handle getting wet, so it would be suitable for use during the winter or when it is damp outside or in the field.
- Better built, most durable of the different types
- Wide variety available
- Good in all kinds of weather
- Middle ground as far as firing rate
- Is not fully automatic
Electropneumatic Paintball Gun
If you think about different types of markers as being upgrades to the others, then the electropneumatic is the luxury edition. Though when it comes to luxury in anything, even something like a marker will have to take some hits in design to achieve this luxury. One of the biggest hits with this type, however, is the price as it can range into the thousands for a new one.
The electropneumatic, one of the flaws are that they are weaker, in a sense. They are more sophisticated, sure, but they also require more care and maintenance than any of the other types. While they can fire like an automatic weapon, leading to the spray and pray advantage, they can also break more easily. They are also more susceptible to the elements during play.
What they gain in firepower, they lose in durability. The mechanical parts in the firing mechanism are replaced by electronic ones, which leads to being more susceptible to water (or the weather in general), roughhousing, or getting thrown around and just general jarring movements. While this does allow for a faster firing rate, it also leads to more delicate parts used.
- Faster firing rate
- More speed also means more distance when shooting
- Not as durable
- Can’t use in wet conditions
- Higher in price
Parts of a Paintball Gun
There are four main parts to any paintball gun or marker. These would be:
- Compressed Air or CO2 tank
No matter what kind of marker you have, they all have these different parts. While there may be variations on the different parts, depending on the type of marker you get, these are the basics. One of the great things about markers, however, is that all of the parts are replaceable or upgradeable.
Just because you can start with a $250 marker does not mean it has to stay that way. You can purchase different bodies or barrels as you can afford it and if you find that you want to invest more time and money into a new sport. Most shops and playing fields can show you how to replace parts or break your marker down.
The hopper is the holding and loading mechanism for your marker. What type you have is very important to the firing rate of the marker. There are four main types, though some are better for the kind of marker you have than others. This again falls under the upgrade category as some are just better than others.
As you are upgrading your marker, however, you can upgrade any of these components to a better or different one. This way, you can customize your marker to be able to fit your needs rather than the manufacturers.
- Stick Feeds: These are slow and inefficient and can be homemade. This would be the cheapest you can get and should not be used on any type of marker other than a pump marker. This is due to the slow way that it loads. A typical stick feed can hold between 10 and 20 paints. This is a basic level and is something that you would want to upgrade as soon as you can.
- Gravity Feed: While it is considered an upgrade to the stick feed, it is not much of one. It can hold more paint, but since it is not much more than a holder with a tube that goes into the marker, fed by gravity, it can easily jam, or the paintballs can stick. This should be used only with the mechanical version due to the design.
- Agitating: These are an upgraded version of the gravity feed. They are battery-powered, with an agitator at the top of the tube to help prevent sticking or jamming. This is a better version of the gravity feed and best for the mechanical marker. The agitator does not operate all of the time, just when the marker is being fired, to help save on battery power.
- Force Feed: This is the hopper for an electropneumatic. This will force paints into the marker, and the electropneumatic is the only one that can keep up with the pace that it forces them through. Some of the more expensive ones can feed up to 50 paints per second into the marker, which is why this is the hopper used by any serious player.
The body contains the mechanics of a marker, and this is what will make it a pump, mechanical, or electropneumatic. This includes five different parts. While the different parts of a body cannot be individually upgraded, you can get a new body for your marker with upgrade components in it.
- Cocking knob: This gets the marker ready for a paintball, gets pulled back to get the marker ready for firing.
- Safety: Similar to a firearm, this prevents accidental discharge when in place.
- Trigger: This is what causes the ball to be released, and it is the start of the firing mechanism.
- Firing Chamber: This is what holds the paints before firing and where the paints will come from once fired. This is also connected to the hopper, which contains the paints.
- Venturi Bolt: This is what actually fires the paint from the firing chamber. This only needs to be cocked once during play.
Compressed Air Tank
There are actually two different kinds of compressed air tanks, though one seems to be slowly getting phased out. This is due to the nature of the gas, although some players do tend to rely on these, so it really is dealer’s choice. This may depend on the type of marker you have and the area that you live in.
CO2: the CO2 tanks or carbon dioxide, tanks are what was the standard for many years, but are being phased out as they are lower quality than the HPA ones, plus they have the potential to damage your marker. CO2, in liquid form, is cold, and as it turns to gas, it can supercool your marker, which has the potential of damaging it.
Some markers won’t even work with CO2 as they are designed for HAP tanks. There are some upsides to the Co2 tanks. They are cheaper, lighter, and easier to fill, but a player does need to weigh the pros vs. the cons when considering if a CO2 tank is a viable option for them. Most fire departments can help with filling CO2 canisters.
HPA: The HPA tanks are becoming the industry standard as they are more efficient than the old CO2 tanks are. HPA or High-Pressure Air tanks use compressed air (used to be nitrogen, but that was changed to regular air) instead of a CO2 tank. While an HPA tank is bulkier and harder to fill, depending on your location, it has the advantage of not risking damage to your marker.
Since it is just air pressure, not a liquid becoming a gas, as with CO2, it doesn’t super cool your marker, which allows for greater accuracy and less risk of your marker freezing up on you. Nothing like trying to fire a paintball and your marker is practically frozen. With HPA there is less risk of damage to your marker as well.
When considering a marker, the barrel may be one of the most important things to consider. If you don’t have the right barrel, your paintballs will not fire right, if at all. There are two essential things to consider when it comes to barrels. Barrels are also one of the easiest things to replace on a marker.
Length: While the length of a barrel can vary greatly, from 3 inches to 21 inches, most are around 14-16 inches. This allows for the advantage of a shorter barrel, which is speed and accuracy, to combine with the benefits of a longer barrel, which is sound suppression.
Bore: Now the bore on a barrel can vary, but since any marker you buy does have a barrel already attached, this is not as big of a deal. If you think about bore like the caliber of a firearm, it won’t shoot the wrong size. So you do need to make sure you get the right size gauge ball. It will either get stuck if the paint is too big or will fall out if the paint is too small.
Some players do decide to upgrade their barrels, once they start getting more serious in different paint wars, so there is the option to detach and replace your barrel. Usually, it is just a case of unscrewing the barrel and replacing it. The biggest thing to remember is to make sure you get the right diameter paints for the size barrel you have.
Safety is one of the biggest concerns when it comes to paintball wars. While the most serious injuries in paintball are usually sprained or twisted ankles, without safety measures in place, more dangerous, life long injuries are possible. There are risks of blindness or a serious eye injury if safety rules are not followed.
Although I will cover some of the safety measures in regard to equipment in that section, there are a few rules that need to be followed, no matter where you play. Rules are put in place for the safety of everyone involved. This does not just mean the players, but also the staff as well.
- Always obey the rules of the field. Make sure you are entirely familiar with and understand the rules of the area you are playing. Breaking a rule could mean the end of your time there or someone getting hurt. Don’t just sign the agreement to the rules without reading them first. They are there to keep everyone safe and so everyone can have a good time.
- Treat your marker like it is a loaded firearm at all times. Do not point it at someone unless you are on the field. Always use the barrel sleeve (explained below) if you do not intend to fire your marker. Unless you are planning to fire your marker, keep your finger off the trigger, and the barrel either pointed straight up or towards the ground.
- Call a referee if needed. If there is a dispute, someone is hurt, or you or someone you are playing with has removed their face protection. No matter whose team you are on if everyone looks out for the safety of everyone, no one gets seriously hurt. Staff members or a ref is the best person to call if there are issues rather than you trying to deal with them yourself.
- Do not remove safety gear on the field. While this may go without saying, I feel it should be said anyways. Do not remove your goggles EVER in the field. Removing clothing can also put you at risk, so if you need to fix something, call a staff member or referee to help you get off the field. They are experienced with the area and can help faster than you can help yourself if needed.
- Chronograph your marker. This is required in most places. Even places that it is not needed, it is best to know exactly how fast your marker fires. This can help to reduce the risk of injury as measures can be taken to reduce the speed if need be.
By taking the time to obey the rules and look out for everyone’s safety, you can ensure you are doing your part to keep everyone safe. It is in this way that everyone can have a good time.
Safety equipment is just as necessary when playing paintball as making sure there are safety measures in place. Most often, you cannot get onto the grounds without the proper safety equipment in place. Now certain things are required, such as masks and barrel sleeves, but some things are also optional as well.
If you take the time to make sure that you are using the right gear, you are increasing your chances of being able just to go out and have fun rather than having to worry about risking an injury. Make sure that if you are on the field, whether a commercial place or your backyard, that you do not remove safety equipment while others are shooting.
Paintball Masks: Masks or goggles are required equipment to ensure that you do not take paint to the eyes. While the risk of bruising or scratching your eye is a significant risk without one, there is also a risk of blindness or permanent injury as well. Although the paint is non-toxic, that does not by any means mean that it is safe for your eyes.
This means that once you go on the field, you need to keep your mask on at all times. If they slip or need to be cleaned or fixed, you need to call a staff member or a referee. Most places there is no leeway in this rule, and even if you cannot see, removing them in the play area can get you booted from the game entirely.
It can be really annoying if your mask is fogging up. I have gone in deep and made research on which masks are currently the best to use and why.
Barrel Sleeve: A barrel sleeve is used to prevent accidental discharge of your marker. This is not the same as a safety on the body of your marker, a barrel sleeve is just an added safety measure, and most places require this as well, even if you have a safety. You should always use a sleeve if you are not on the range engaged in play.
Protective Clothing: Protective clothing, though rarely required, is a safety measure you can take to help prevent injury on your part. This does not mean you have to try to play in a dog bit suit, but wearing long pants and long sleeves will help to reduce the risk of severe injury or bad bruising. The paints may not be incredibly painful, but they can sting on bare skin.
Shoes: More than just shoes in general, obviously, you are going to want shoes that have some traction on them and allow you to be able to grip the ground where you are playing. While sneakers will work in most situations, if you are playing in winter, you may want to consider winter boots that have a decent grip on the bottom to reduce the risk of ankle injuries if you fall.