The Basics of Paintball Marker Operation

Making a Mark

Paintball markers, or paintball “guns” as they are popularly known, look a lot like firearms. This is, of course, by design, since paintball games are a type of wargame and the idea is to simulate an armed conflict.

While paintball markers have some things in common with real firearms, they operate on different principles. By understanding your marker better, you can also become a better player and have a clear idea of how and when things go wrong.

paintball marker

The Basics

OK, let’s start with the most basic facts about a paintball marker. It’s a device that fires a projectile (the paintball) at a target (your friend’s body) by using a propellant through a barrel. That does make it a gun! However, a firearm uses a much more powerful propellant, such as cordite in modern guns. The projectile it fires is also much heavier and harder.

Firearms use a powerful, controlled chemical explosion. Paintball markers use a controlled burst of compressed gas to propel the paintball at its target. These are two very different processes that use different mechanisms to work.

When you pull the trigger on your paintball marker, compressed gas from an attached reservoir is released. Usually the gas in question is carbon dioxide, although compressed nitrogen and even plain old air can also work. The gas does not directly push the paintball down the barrel. That would be pretty inefficient. Instead it moves a piston, which flings the paintball forward at a speed of about three hundred feet per second.

But how does the paintball get into position for firing? That’s where the feeding mechanism comes in. With a firearm, projectiles are fed into the firing chamber using a magazine. The equivalent in a paintball market is the hopper. This is a container that holds paintballs in reserve. It funnels the paintballs down into a single queue. After you fire the ball that’s currently in front of the firing assembly, the next one falls into place when the assembly has reset. Ready to go again.

Paintball Marker Variants

Not all paintball markers work exactly the same way. There are a few different design variations that you may encounter in the field.

The first generation of paintball guns were pump-action. Just as with a pump-action shotgun, you can only fire one shot before having to reload the mechanism. The pump-action resets the firing assembly and loads the next paintball. Obviously using this type of marker means having a slow rate of fire, not to mention that you have to aim every shot individually. Still, pump-action markers are low-maintenance, affordable, and reliable. Plenty of people still swear by them. There are even competitions that only allow this type of marker. Still, they aren’t the norm any more.

That honor goes to the semi-automatic paintball marker. If you’ve played paintball before this is most likely what you were handed. Sometimes referred to as “blowback” markers, they use the same principle as semi-automatic rifles. Some of the released gas of the firing is diverted to reset the firing mechanism. So every time you pull the trigger a paintball will faithfully fire out of the business end.

Fully-automatic paintball markers, on the other hand, let you hold down the trigger and the projectiles will just keep firing. This is very satisfying but, of course, can be wasteful. These types of markers are also more complex; since the purely mechanical semi-automatic uses a gravity-fed hopper, there’s a limit to how fast it can fire. That limit is, however, higher than all but the most freakish humans can achieve through discrete trigger pulls. To overcome this, automatic markers use a motorized hopper and electronic fire control system to sync everything up. Using this high tech approach, you can achieve firing rates as fast as twelve balls per second. Ouch.

Fully automatic

Fire and Forget

Paintball markers are actually quite fascinating machines when you start to look under the surface. While they have a lot in common with real firearms, there are enough differences to make them interesting in their own right. Semi-automatic markers are the most common and the one you are most likely to first use. Now you should have a better idea of the complex mechanical dance that happens every time you squeeze that trigger to get another kill.