What Is a Paintball Made Of – What Kind of Paint Is in It?

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Small, spherical, and splat-ready, the ammo used for the sport of paintball is as important to the game as the markers — so what is a paintball made of? Sometimes referred to as “paint,” the gelatin capsules used in paintball are a scientific marvel. These balls hold their shape when shot at incredible speeds. On impact, they leave behind a nice, colorful mess.

Paintball involves shooting at other players with paint. After someone is hit, they are out of the game, and the paintball pellet leaves behind vivid proof they’ve been hit. Anyone who’s been hit by a paintball can tell you it hurts, especially at close range. The capsules are as safe as possible, though, leaving behind a washable mark on your clothes rather than a bruise on your skin.

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05/12/2024 09:46 am GMT

What Is A Paintball, Explained

Paintballs are spherical, gelatin capsules filled with a non-toxic, water-soluble “paint.” They are fired from a gun or “marker” during a paintball match. The intention is to leave behind a mark or tag to indicate that a player is out. The fun “splat” that everyone thinks of with paintball is created by the dye or fill inside a paintball.

While they may feel pretty firm, the outside of the capsules is a malleable substance like a gel or soft plastic, while the inside is liquid. Paintballs are designed to explode on impact, leaving behind a bit of a mess, but other reusable forms don’t (more on that below). Also, sometimes a paintball marker may bounce off of a player, especially if hit from far away (because the paintball has lost velocity).

Paintballs load into a marker’s hopper, which is the device that usually sits on top; the hopper then feeds the balls into the firing chamber. (Though some paintball pistols instead use magazines, making the markers look much more like a real gun).

Typically, paintballs are .68 caliber, but some guns may require more unusual sizes, like .43 or .71 caliber. They are shaped like spheres, although the little balls often get misshapen due to outside factors like heat. The spherical gelatin capsules can also absorb water from the environment and swell (so be careful about using a paintball you find on the ground – it could have swelled from environmental moisture and will now jam in your marker’s barrel).

What Is The Outside Of A Paintball Made Of

multicolored paintballs placed in sport equipment store

A standard paintball shell is a solid yet soft substance that can hold its shape when handled and fired but will burst from the impact of hitting a target. Typically, the outside is a substance like cellulose acetate, gelatin, or even plastic.

What Is Inside Of A Paintball

Paintballs are full of paint – or, more accurately, a paint-like substance. Modern paintballs are filled with a water soluble dye that should (ideally, anyway) be easy to wash out of clothing. The fill is what leaves behind a mark, and it might be a different color than the paintball shell! For example, these Valken Tango Paintballs are purple on the outside but have a bright orange fill.

Although they aren’t edible, they use some of the same ingredients you might find in your favorite snacks. Wax, gelatin, sorbitol, canola oil, and soy lecithin are just some of the ingredients used by major paintball manufacturers. Using food-grade ingredients means that the paintballs won’t hurt the environment when washed away — and you won’t have to worry about accidentally ingesting some if it gets in your mouth during the game.

When they were first invented, early versions were made of glass and filled with oil-based paint. The encapsulation process used now makes much safer ammo for markers — especially when playing paintball with kids.

Of course, since paintballs are filled with paint, it is possible they will leave a stain after shot.

Why Paintballs Hurt When Getting Shot

Although paintballs have been designed to be as safe as possible and explode on impact, getting hit by one can still hurt, especially at close range or if hit on bare skin. The velocity required to shoot a paintball at an adequate speed to explode on impact means that they can leave behind welts or bruises.

The paintball guns used in recreational play should not shoot faster than 285 feet per second. The further away you are from your target, the more time the ball is in the air – and the less impact force when it hits. This is why it hurts more when shot at close range on the paintball field.

Can You Get Refillable Paintballs?

close up of paintball balls in the hand of player

While you cannot refill your paintballs, you can buy reusable specialty ammo. Making paintballs is a special manufacturing process that involves encapsulating a liquid water soluble dye. It’s not possible to have the outer shell stay intact enough to refill it after firing.

It’s possible to use reusable paintballs; however, they function slightly differently than the standard kind. For those who want to do a lot of practicing (especially inside, where cleaning up paint can be an ordeal), reusable paintballs offer a cost-effective alternative to standard ammo.

Some reusable paintballs are simply soft riot balls that can be picked up, cleaned, and reused after firing. Since they are a rubber-like material, they are very durable; however, they won’t leave a mark (apart from possibly a bruise or welt) since they contain no dye. Riot balls aka rubber bullets are much harder than paintballs, though, so not only does it hurt more to get hit by one, but there’s a higher chance of injury.

Another option for a refillable paintball is the Reball® brand of paintless paintballs which are synthetic .68 caliber rounds that you can fire thousands of times. They are good for drills or testing a paintball gun, but as with riot balls, they leave no mark behind.

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