Should You Play Paintball or Airsoft? Here’s How to Decide


Despite being similar in gameplay and tactical approach, paintball and airsoft have significant differences. Both sports involve a lot of physical activity and require opponents to shoot each other to win. However, the equipment used in both sports tend to differ as airsoft utilizes more realistic guns and smaller ammo than those used in paintball, but which one should you play?

Whether you play paintball or airsoft depends on your personal preferences since each game has its unique features. For instance, paintball uses larger balls compared to airsoft. The paintballs leave visible marks, unlike the BB’s used in airsoft. Generally, airsoft is more affordable than paintball.  

Are you wondering which game to play between paintball and airsoft? Read on as we break down the main differences between the two tactical sports to help you choose one that suits you best.

playing paintball or airsoft
While airsoft might be cheaper, for me the clear favorite is paintball. I love playing it, and can’t imagine playing airsoft seriously after I tried paintball.

Paintball in a Nutshell

Paintball is a physical, equipment-intensive sport that mimics a battleground. The game is about tagging opponents by firing paintballs through a marker. For safety purposes, opponents are required to wear masks and protective gear as the balls are designed to release paint upon impact.

A paintball gun, popularly referred to as a paintball marker, is the primary equipment used to tag opponents in paintball. The gun is powered by an expanding gas (high-pressure air or carbon dioxide), which forces paintballs through the barrel at an average velocity of 300 ft/s (329 km/h).

The velocity allows the paintballs to break upon making an impact, thus releasing the paint that tags the opponent. However, most paintball arenas strictly enforce muzzle velocity rules that limit total velocity due to the risks of injury associated with the high-velocity balls.

Putting on protective gear is compulsory in paintball to minimize the risk of injury resulting from high-velocity impacts.

For instance, protective masks or goggles help protect the face by covering the mouth, eyes, ears, and nostrils, thus minimizing facial injuries. Some masks even have throat guards to provide enhanced protection.

The paintballs used in the sport have a spherical shape and contain polyethylene glycol, dye, and water-soluble substances (non-toxic) as the primary ingredients. Exposure to sun and moisture might affect the physical properties of a paintball, hence the need to use an insulated cooler when combating on the field.

The presence of a gelatin shell allows the paintball to break immediately upon impact. However, the gelatin surface can also lead to bouncing or ricocheting, exactly why proper care must be taken by wearing protective gear.

Paintballing can be given different themes depending on the interests of the opponents. For instance, in woodsball, opponents compete in natural outdoor settings where camouflage clothing often comes in handy.

In speedball, camouflage isn’t necessary due to the artificial obstacles and small playing fields. Opponents instead prefer wearing brightly colored outfits to enhance the ease of identification. In scenario games, opponents prefer dressing in appropriate gear based on the force or character they’re mimicking.

Besides a paintball marker, the game of paintball can also incorporate several other attacking equipment. This can range from paint grenades (both explosive and non-explosive), smoke grenades, paint mines, thunderflashes, paintball bazooka, and slingshots, depending on the nature of the scenario or recreational play.

YouTube: Which scenario of paintball is more suited for you? Speedball or Woodsball

Advantages of Paintball

The Paint Tags Opponents

The paintballs’ ability to break and release paint upon impact ensures players know when they make a hit. In high adrenaline and intense games like paintball, the difference between two teams can be minimal, hence the need for clarity in terms of scores.

The paint marks make identification straightforward, which allows players to know when they hit the target.

The ease of identification ensures fair play prevails, whether in tournaments or recreational games. This consequently makes the game more competitive since contentious scores can be verified by observing the area hit by the balls.

The Balls Are Large Enough

Balls used in paintballs are usually large and heavy enough to be viewed from afar. The weight and size of the balls allow for an accurate trajectory, whereby they can be tracked easily by opponents before they approach the target.

When you are buying paintballs make sure beforehand what caliber you need, as not all paintballs fit all paintball guns.

The ease of identifying paintballs makes the game extra fun, especially since opponents will have enough time to react before being hit. Moreover, the large sizes of the balls make it easier to hit the target due to the increased surface area. This makes paintballing a reasonably straightforward game for newbies to learn, especially if playing with fellow first-timers.

Long Range Capability

As a game of precision and strategy, it’s important to be able to shoot a paintball from far without getting too close to opponents. Luckily, the paintball’s relatively large and heavy size means they’ll have an accurate trajectory without interference from wind or tiny branches. I have a full buyer’s guide on the most accurate paintball guns.

The use of compressed gas to fire the markers also allows opponents to release powerful shots that can span long distances. Long-range attacks would be impossible if paintballs were tiny and light like airsoft BBs.

Disadvantages of Paintball

It Can Get Messy

Due to the release of paint upon impact, it’s practically impossible to keep paintball gear neat during a game. Although the paint is meant to enhance visibility and eliminate confusion, it can hinder players looking to participate in several paintball contests in a day. 

This is because most clothes and gear will need a thorough cleaning to remove the paint before reuse, meaning participating in another contest on the same day might prove difficult unless you carried extra gear.  

For the paintball gun to keep working properly, you will need to clean it regularly. Once you do it a few times, cleaning your paintball gun will be a breeze. You can read more about cleaning your paintball gun here.

Paintballs Are Costly

The cost of purchasing additional ammo in paintball is usually high, making regular paintball unsustainable, especially for people low on cash. This explains why more people are leaning towards playing airsoft since the cost of purchasing additional ammo is usually lower.

The Markers Could Be More Realistic

Paintball is seldom used for tactical training due to its highly unrealistic markers. Although the guns resemble actual guns from a distance, the internal components and performance differ from how actual guns work.

Since paintball markers’ operating mechanisms aren’t similar to conventional guns, learning how to aim, draw the guns, and position them in a holster is difficult. As a result, airsoft is more preferred to paintball in terms of military or security personnel training.

Paintballs Can Lead to Injury

The velocity of paintballs, coupled with their overall weight, means players can easily sustain injuries, especially if they don’t wear protective gear. Whether for recreational play or tournaments, paintball equipment like markers are usually regulated to limit the balls’ overall velocities during release.

It isn’t uncommon for paintball players to sustain light injuries and scratches during play regardless of how well they gear up. This is because the ball can hit the uncovered parts with great impact, thus leading to bruises. Either way, it’s mandatory to gear up accordingly when playing paintball to stay safe.

Which hurts more – paintball or airsoft?

Airsoft in a Nutshell

Airsoft is a team shooting sport with a lot of similarities to paintball. The whole aim of the game is to eliminate opponents by tagging them with spherical projectiles launched via airsoft guns. While airsoft is similar to paintball in gameplay and concept, the pellets used in airsoft don’t leave visible markings on opponents, thus making it hard to spot a hit.

The game of airsoft relies heavily on an honor system, whereby opponents are expected to call themselves out and admit to being hit. This system requires a lot of honesty and can lead to serious conflicts if opponents fail to be ethically responsible and come clean when hit.

Airsoft guns make the game stand out due to their realistic appearance as they’re usually magazine-fed, with some being battery-powered or compress-gas powered. Some guns also have mounting platforms that are compatible with real firearm accessories. The similarity of airsoft guns to real guns allows for their usage in historical reenactments and military simulation.

Moreover, weapon manipulation and gun safety training are at times conducted by airsoft due to increased safety and low overall costs. For instance, the United States Coast Guard officially adopted airsoft as part of their training in 2018.  

Airsoft gameplay tends to vary in both composition and style. However, the main types of competitions involve organized scenarios, short-term skirmishes, field, historical reenactments, military simulations, and close-quarters battles. Airsoft can either be played indoors or outdoors, depending on the participants’ preferences.

To enhance safety during play, the muzzle velocities of airsoft guns are usually checked through the use of a chronograph (shooting speed tester). The projectile velocity regulations vary from location to location. However, there is usually a restriction that governs the acceptable velocity during a game. 

Due to the similarities between airsoft guns and real guns, most manufacturers and retailers insist on treating airsoft guns like real ones.

Taking adequate precaution ensures that issues such as a negligent discharge or confusion between real and fake guns are avoided. 

You’ll mostly find airsoft guns with an orange tip for safety purposes, more specifically to avoid mistaking airsoft guns for real ones and vice versa. On the other hand, because they don’t look like real guns, paintball guns have no orange tips.

As the game continues to become popular across the world, more safety precautions are being introduced. For instance, players are usually advised to place barrel bags on the gun’s muzzle when not in active use. Airsoft players are also advised to remove magazines and fire the guns to clear the chambers, thus neutralizing the risk of accidental discharge.

Advantages of Airsoft

Airsoft Games Don’t Leave Marks

Unlike paintballs, airsoft pellets don’t break and release paint once they hit the targets. While this makes it extra hard to determine hits, it also leaves the battlefield and airsoft gear looking neat. As a result, airsoft players can play multiple times without the need to clean up or remove the paint stains.

Airsoft is preferred for tactical training since opponents can clearly view the battleground and make strategic moves. The bright paint colors associated with a paintball can make it hard to make accurate shots due to distorted views.

Airsoft Guns Resemble Real Firearms

Airsoft uses guns that resemble real firearms, thus allowing for the simulation of an actual battlefield scenario. Most of the guns have magazines and can be easily confused for actual guns. The similarity to actual guns allows for the usage of airsoft guns in safety training, especially when teaching licensed gun holders how to handle and draw guns.

The similarity of airsoft guns to actual guns allow for its widespread usage in different types of training. This is because the guns have similar dimensions and allow for safe practice without spending too much on training-related costs.

Some of the Airsoft replica guns. Often it is really hard to tell if the gun is real or not.

Less Likely to Lead to Injuries

Airsoft pellets are generally smaller than paintballs and aren’t designed to break on impact. The light nature of airsoft’s pellets (BB’s) means they’re less likely to lead to injury, explaining why airsoft players don’t wear heavy gear like paintball players.

In airsoft, safety glasses are usually the basic minimum.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Paintball and Airsoft

Choosing between paintball and airsoft can prove daunting to many, especially first-timers who know little about how both sports work. However, to determine which sport suits you best, it’s crucial to consider the following factors.

The Type of Balls

The first consideration you should make when choosing between airsoft and paintball is the size of the balls. Airsoft BB’s are significantly smaller and lighter than paintballs. On the other hand, you should be prepared to deal with large-sized balls when paintballing.

Therefore, airsoft is ideal if you fancy playing with small spherical projectiles, but if you don’t mind loading large sized balls, then paintballing is your cup of tea.

Cost

Cost is a massive factor to consider when looking to decide between the two sports. Generally, paintball is costlier than airsoft. While paying for the marker and first set of ammo will set you back a couple of dollars, you should expect to pay more for additional ammo in paintball.

Compared to paintball, airsoft is way affordable, making it a popular option for people on a budget. Therefore, if you want an affordable team combat sport, you should consider airsoft. But if you want to play paintball, then it’s best to have some spare cash for purchasing several rounds of ammunition. If you are interested in how much exactly will paintballs cost you per game, then read this detailed article.

Risk of Injuries

While both sports are generally considered as safe, the risks of sustaining minor injuries and bruises are usually high when paintballing. The risk of injury is high in paintball due to the balls’ fairly large and heavy size.

Airsoft uses smaller and lighter balls compared to paintballing, which significantly reduces the chances of injury. However, adequate care is still required to prevent injuries in case the BB’s hit the face and exposed areas.

To minimize injuries, both sports are usually regulated, more so in terms of release velocity, approved distance, and acceptable equipment. Participants are normally encouraged to adhere to all safety guidelines to avoid injuries.

Gear

If you love dressing light during team combat, then airsoft is your cup of tea. Since the risk of injury is usually low when playing airsoft, participants don’t need to put on heavy protective gear. However, with paintball, all participants must gear up appropriately to minimize the impact of the balls once they make contact.

In airsoft, the most important gear is usually safety glasses that help to shield the eyes from the BB’s. However, it is still advisable to wear additional protective gear to minimize the extent of injury in case the tiny balls make contact.

Paint

Do you mind having your gear splashed with different colored paints? If your answer is yes, then paintball is your best bet. Paintball is known to leave splatter marks that help to determine when opponents are tagged.

On the other hand, airsoft BB’s don’t leave marks, meaning opponents must be on the lookout for hits. While the lack of splattered paints makes airsoft a neater sport, it also increases the chances of conflict, especially when opponents fail to agree about a tag.  

If you want a more straightforward game, it is advisable to try out paintball since the paint will act as proof of contact, thus reducing in-game conflicts.

But if you’re planning to play with some honorable friends who are ethical enough to admit when they’re hit, then airsoft might also be ideal.

Firearm Practice

The use of realistic guns in airsoft makes the sport practical in gun handling and safety training. The guns used in airsoft resemble real-life guns as they have magazines capable of holding large numbers of pellets. This means they can be used in different types of training effectively without the need for using actual guns.

In terms of battlefield simulation, paintball can’t compare to airsoft. The guns used in paintball are larger and have few margins for modification. This makes it difficult to learn actual gun techniques since the variations between paintball markers and real guns are quite significant.

Therefore, if you want a sport that improves your gun handling, shooting, safety, and drawing techniques, airsoft is the best option. Paintball is a better option for hardcore team action, especially if you don’t mind playing around with colors.

Wrapping Up

Both paintball and airsoft are amazing team shooting sports since they give you the chance to bond with teammates while developing potentially effective strategies against opponents.

The best option between paintball and airsoft, however, should come down to your personal preferences. 

Each sport has its unique pros and cons, but considering factors such as cost, risk of injury, and ability to train should help you choose one that works best for you.

Despite some clear advantages of playing airsoft, my favorite remains paintball. There is nothing that can compare with the adrenaline rush, where you simply don’t want to get hit. Some of it due to pain you feel, some because of the paint splattering on your clothes, and some because of the play styles that it enables.

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