The 3 Types of Paintball Guns and How to Choose the Right One


There are so many types of paintball guns, how do you choose the right one? It can be a hard decision and a costly one.

Are all paintball guns the same thing? No, there are three kinds of paintball guns, pump, mechanically operated, and electro-pneumatic, and each kind has a different firing rate and price.

Paintball is a fun activity that you can take as seriously as you like. You could just occasionally borrow from a local place and go shooting with your friends on the occasional weekend, or be like my friend and his family and build a massive set up in your backyard.

Are All Paintball Guns the Same?

There are three kinds of paintball guns, or markers, as they’re called.

  • Pump
  • Mechanically operated
  • Electropneumatic

Each one influences your firing rate and budget differently. While the pump is the cheapest, it also has the slowest firing rate, which will put you at an intense disadvantage against other players with more expensive markers.

Mechanically operated markers are the middle budget-wise and with the firing rate. This is the best place for beginners to start.

Electropneumatic has a very quick firing rate, but a very high price tag. They’re best for speedball and tend to require a lot of care and tending.

How Do You Pick the Right Paintball Gun?

There’s a lot of steps to deciding which paintball gun you want to get. Here are some things to consider before buying one:

  1. What kind of paintball are you doing?
  2. What’s your budget?
  3. How do you play (more strategy or more spraying paintballs everywhere)?
  4. Who are you going to be playing with?
  5. What kinds do you already have?

First, we’re going to explore the three kinds of markers in depth.

The Three Different Paintball Guns

Paintball games are typically called markers. They look remarkably like regular firearms, and the system is very similar. The only difference is paintball markers usually use compressed air to fire the round, whereas real firearms use a small explosive.

Each type of gun has its benefits and cons. While some are better for speedball, some are better for woodsball.

The Pump Paintball Gun

This is the first paintball gun created and still a trusty choice. Much like a shotgun, it requires you to pump it every time before you can shoot. If you’re interested in stock class paintball, you must use a pump marker.

Pump markers aren’t as popular right now as mechanical or electrical markers. They’re slower, which requires more strategy and aim than the newer models. If you prefer a more old-school style and strategy-focused games, this is the type for you.

Pump markers have the advantage of being very sturdy. When you’re in the woods during woodsball, your pump marker isn’t going to get hurt if you accidentally hit it against things or drop it. It will still function just fine 99% of the time.

Cost of the Pump Paintball Gun

Pump markers can be expensive, or they can be cheaper. On average, a quality pump marker will be less expensive than an electric marker. There isn’t a lot of difference between pump and mechanical markers, though any difference would be slightly less for the pump.

Firing Rate of the Pump Paintball Gun

The pump marker has the slowest firing rate of any marker, as it requires you to manually pump it every time. How fast you can pump is how fast the gun will fire.

Pump paintball gun
Common Types of Play Using a Pump Paintball Gun

Pump markers are never used for speedball. Typically, you won’t use a pump marker unless it’s in a game specifically using pump markers or as a sidearm. Some people choose to use their pump markers regardless of what they’re playing, but that’s a minority of players.

Pump markers are most commonly used for a scenario or stock class games. In scenario games, the pump-action can make the story feel more real if your storyline is a historical one.

The Mechanically Operated Paintball Gun

This is the most common marker you’ll encounter on the field or find during your search for a marker.

These are nice because they’re sturdy, like pump markers, but have a higher firing rate. If you use pump markers as one bookend and electro-pneumatic markers as the other bookend, mechanical markers are happily nestled right in the middle.

Because they’re essentially the middle ground on markers, these can be used for a variety of things.

Most common mechanical paintball gun.
Cost of the Mechanically Operated Paintball Gun

These aren’t much costlier than a quality pump marker. If your budget is tight and you can only afford one type of paintball marker to start out with, get a mechanical one. The cost of maintaining one is usually less than that of an electropneumatic marker, which is another factor to remember when purchasing a marker.

Firing Rate of Mechanically Operated Paintball Gun

The firing rate of a mechanical marker is higher than a pump, lower than an electropneumatic. Unlike with an electric marker, you have to make sure and pull the trigger all the way back, like on a real firearm. This can cause your firing rate to be lower, depending on the length of the trigger pull.

On average, you’ll be able to fire a mechanical marker about 5-6 times a second. The speed of fire also depends on what hopper you have. You can’t shoot faster than the paintballs get loaded into your paintball gun.

Common Types of Play with Mechanically Operated Paintball Gun

Except for games with rules about which markers you’re allowed to use, mechanical markers are a good tool for any kind of play.

Mechanical markers are ideal for woodsball. In speedball, your trigger draw can be too slow and cause you to lose, but for the less intense speedball games, a mechanical marker can work just fine.

The Electropneumatic Paintball Gun

This is the newest type of marker. It’s specifically designed for speedball, so while you can use it for other gameplay, it isn’t going to be as effective as it would be at higher speed games.

Electropneumatic guns work by replacing the mechanical link between the trigger and the action with an electronic switch that communicates with a circuit board. This means instead of having to manually drag the trigger back, you simply hit a small switch, and it immediately tells the circuit board to fire the marker.

The lack of a mechanical trigger means it has a much faster firing rate, ideal for paintball. But what else should you know about these markers?

Electropneumatic gun
Cost of Electropnuematic Paintball Guns

Because these are the newest in paintball technology, they’re the most expensive. They’re also the most sensitive and breakable of the markers. That means down the line you’ll have to put more money into an electronic gun to maintain it than you would a mechanical or pump marker.

Firing Rate of an Electropnuematic Paintball Gun

The electric marker has the best firing rate of any marker. While a pump’s firing rate relies completely on the person pumping and a mechanical marker still only gets to about 5-6 rounds a second, electropnuematic markers can fire 30 rounds a second.

Common Types of Play with Electropnuematic Paintball Guns

Speedball is the only paintball variant that lends itself to using electronic markers. Every other kind of play tends to be too rough on the sensitive guns, and they have a harder time lasting through a long session without needing repairs than mechanical or pump markers.

Different Kinds of Paintball

This may be the most important part. If you’re excited to try speedball, a pump marker won’t make you happy when you go out to play. You need to know what kind of paintball you want to do before you even start looking at a certain kind of marker.

Woodsball/Recreational Paintball

Woodsball is most suited for beginners.

This is the paintball most fields offer. You can play elimination or capture the flag on these fields easily. Bunkers, woods, and varying terrain give you the challenge of only being able to see a limited amount of the field.

Usually, these are large games with many players. Because of the number of players and limited field vision, these games tend to last a while.

Woods Ball/Recreational Paintball Fields

These fields normally have a mix of wooded areas, hills, and flat areas, limiting your visibility. This allows you to sneak around your opponents, which is perfect for capture the flag or elimination. Some games will allow you to play the part of the sniper and stake out in the tree to protect your team’s territory.

Bunkers aren’t required for a woodsball field, but they are very common. They can be made from a variety of materials, be it wood, metal, or dugout in the ground.

Because these fields have so many variations, it’s hard to pin down an exact formula for it. This makes it easy to create for yourself as well if you don’t want to pay the fees to use a professional field.

Rules for Woodsball Paintball

Rules for this kind of paintball vary as wildly as the different fields do. Many teams, especially those with a homemade field they only use, will make up their own rules for their games. This can be a fun idea, especially if you can rearrange the field occasionally for a new element.

Ambushes, attacks, and VIPs can all be a way to change things up. You can select one player to be a VIP with a protective team while the rest of the players attempt to kidnap the VIP. Or, recreate a historical battle or movie scene.

Different fields may have some rules of play, but that’s usually for public events. If you rent the entire field for just yourself and friends, they may have no play rules and allow you to create your own.

What’s the Best Kinds of Paintball Guns for Woods Ball/Recreational Paintball

Mechanically operated markers are the most used marker for woodsball. This is because they’re sturdy and reliable but still have a good firing rate. They can also withstand the hard play of woodsball and won’t malfunction simply because you got it dirty.

Pump markers are the second-best for woodsball. Some teams enjoy keeping it to ‘pump only,’ where everyone must use the pump markers to keep it even between both teams and players. Pump markers are also a common ‘second weapon,’ carried in case anything happens to their main marker, which is typically mechanically operated.

Electropnuematic markers are most woodsball player’s last choice. This is because, while the electropnuematic markers have a high firing rate, they’re not as tough as mechanically operated and pump markers. They can malfunction on the field often during woodsball games.

Who Would Enjoy Woods Ball Most

Recreational paintball in the woods is strongly strategy based. A player who prefers military-type tactics will excel at this. This is also a great option for people with some land who enjoys working on things, as you can easily build your own field for a minimal cost.

Speedball Paintball

Speedball is the only type of paintball game that is used for tournament play.

While woodsball is full of strategy, speedball is full of ‘spray and pray,’ referring to the technique of just firing your marker and hoping to hit someone. This is because the game is much more fast-paced.

Speedball is the only version of paintball that is played professionally. It’s more ‘spectator friendly,’ as the field is open versus woods ball’s complicated, wooded field.

Speedball Paintball Fields

Speedball is partially characterized by the field it’s played on. Unlike woodsball, the field is flat and treeless, giving you a good view over the entire field. The only protection is bunkers.

Originally, most bunkers were made of wooden spools or crates, like woodsball is played with any kind of bunkers. Now, the most common ones you’ll find are inflatable ones of different shapes and sizes.

The fields are typically smaller than other paintball game fields, only about half of a football field in length whereas a woodsball field, for instance, can be three to four times that size at least.

You definitely can turn your backyard into a speedball field, but unless it’s already cleared, it may be best to stick to professional fields, even with their fees.

Rules for Speedball Paintball

Speedball is the only paintball played professionally, so it has stricter rules than the others. Unlike woodsball, speedball is mostly straight adrenaline and not very much strategy. If you’re hit, you’re out.

Your goal is to hit all of the members of the opposing team. Whichever team manages to defeat the others are declared the winners and, in tournament settings, get to move on to the next round.

What Paintball Gun Is Best for Speedball

Electropnuematic markers were made for this. Their rapid firing rate is the key to speedball, and because you aren’t in the woods, their lack of toughness isn’t as much of an issue.

Pump action markers are the worst for speedball, as they’re slower and better used in strategy games. Mechanically operated markers aren’t ideal either but are significantly better than pump markers.

Who Would Enjoy Speedball Paintball Most

If you enjoy slower, strategy-based games, speedball probably isn’t for you. There really isn’t anywhere to hide on a speedball field, and you can’t very well ambush anyone either, for the same reason.

If you like fast-paced games with a lot of action and adrenaline, you should try speedball. Games don’t last nearly as long as woodsball, so you aren’t committing too many hours of hiding in the woods with speedball.

Scenario Paintball

Scenario paintball is the last main variant of paintball. The remaining two, stock class and tournament paintball, are more specialized versions of woodsball/scenario paintball and speedball.

Scenario paintball is when you play a paintball game adding in a theme or storyline. Popular ones are:

  • Historical battles
  • Holiday themes
  • Movie themes
  • Fictional battles
  • Zombie themes
  • And many more

The themes are as varied as the groups who play. Big fields will sometimes set up a massive game open to the public with a set theme as a special event or smaller groups will run a smaller game just with themselves. If you have a home field, you can easily theme the field as well.

 The Specifics of Scenario Paintball

Unlike woodsball and speedball, scenario paintball doesn’t have anything, in particular, that’s great for it.

Because the themes and storylines vary so widely, you can’t choose just one type of marker to use. If you want to seriously play scenario paintball, your best choice for a marker is the trusty mechanically operated ones. This is a good in-between, with a faster firing rate than the pump, but more reliable than an electropnuematic marker.

Anyone who enjoys themed games could enjoy a scenario game. Horror fans often have zombie battles, and those who love history can spend a long time planning a perfect recreation of any battle.

There also isn’t a set field. Any field will do, really, as long as it fits into your theme or story. Many scenario games will last a long time, 6 to 48 hours being fairly common. It all just depends on how committed to the theme or story you are and what you want to do.

Stock Class Paintball

This is a slightly less clear variant of paintball. The key to it is that you can only use paintball tech available in the early 1980s. This leaves you without any mechanically operated or electropnuematic markers.

Markers cannot hold more than ten rounds of paint at a time, must be fired by 12-gram carbon dioxide powerlets, and must hold paintballs in a linear feed tube parallel to the barrel.

The powerlets will only fire about 20 to 40 rounds, so you must replace it often during gameplay. The linear feed tube won’t cause the rounds to naturally fall into the marker, so with every shot, you have to tip the end of the barrel up to allow a new round to fall in.

Stock class paintball is greatly enjoyed by strategists. Obviously, you cannot use any other marker than a pump. This is also a good option for anyone who wants to go back to the roots of paintball.

Tournament Paintball

As long as paintball has been invented, people have been gathering to play together. Games used to only be played in the woods before the speedball variation appeared on the scene, which was hard for any spectators.

In the 1990s, speedball began to become the popular choice for large paintball competitions. People realized how much better speedball lent itself to tournaments, and today, all organized paintball tournaments are speedball.

Today’s Speedball Paintballing Tournaments

Speedball is the main variant of paintball to be played tournament style, as the others don’t lend themselves to it nearly as well. Each team must make their way through a series of games to make it to the final games.

These are always speedball, as woodsball, stock class, and scenario all take much longer to play through a full game. Speedball fields are open, allowing referees and spectators both to watch the gameplay. This allows referees to be able to see what’s happening clearly when making a call, as well.

Because the field is man-made, unlike woodsball’s field, they can ensure both sides are the same. This keeps any players from complaining of a competing team ‘cheating’ by having a terrain advantage.

All in all, speedball is the paintball variant that best fits with competitive play and is thus what’s used for any kind of paintball tournaments.

Weight of Paintball Guns

Another thing to consider is how heavy paintball guns can be. If you have a heavy gun during speedball, it can slow you down.

The weight range of paintball guns is typically 2 pounds to 8 pounds.

You should decide how much you’re comfortable carrying a marker-based off on your overall strength and endurance levels as well as what kind of paintball you’ll be playing. If you’re looking at playing speedball and don’t have high endurance, you’d be better off with a lighter marker to carry while running.

How Serious About Paintball Are You?

If you are just beginning to play paintball and have a field you enjoy going to where you can rent gear, you may want to stick with that for a bit before purchasing your own marker. While your performance may be increased with a better marker than you can rent at the field, your bank account can be dramatically decreased with a purchase of a marker.

If you only do it very occasionally, say once a month, you also may want to consider it before you purchase a marker. Markers can be a major investment, and if you go to public fields to play, you can just rent one.

However, if you seriously play or want to play on a private course, markers are a great investment. Serious players usually find themselves with something of a collection of markers, much as hunters do with firearms.

What Kind of Player Are You?

Are you a strategist? Are you a leader? A follower? Someone who has terrible aim and pulls the trigger while hoping to hit something (me)?

It’s important to know what kind of player you are before you purchase a marker. While you may love the experience of a pump marker, you may do better with something that can fire more quickly.

Here is a quick chart to sum up the things you need to remember about the most:

  Firing-rate Durability How likely to need repairs The variant of paintball intended for Cost
Pump Slowest Very durable Not likely or can be done at home Stock class, woodsball, or scenario Usually cheapest
Mechanical Medium The toughest Almost all can be done at home Woodsball, scenario, some speedball Wide range, from low to high
Electro-pneumatic Fastest Least durable Most likely to need repairs Speedball and tournaments Most expensive

 

What Kind of Team Are You Playing With or Against?

While mixed marker games can be fun, you may want to touch base with your team before buying a marker. If everyone else has pump markers, then your new mechanical operated one may be deemed an unfair advantage.

The same applies when playing against another team. The firing rate of the three different markers can vary greatly between them, and you want to make sure not to make anyone made before you even step on the field.

Price Ranges of Paintball Guns

What type of paintball gun you buy and how serious about paintballing you are will influence how much you spend the most.

$100-$300 is a good budget for your first marker. This is enough to get you a quality gun, but it won’t have a million different technicalities to confuse a beginner.

Most paintball markers will stay within this range or higher. If you are looking for a professional marker, you’ll be spending more, closer to a range of $300-$700 or even higher, if you want an electropnuematic marker.

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