how do paintball guns work

How do Paintball Guns Work?

Paintball guns have gone through a lot of changes since the first version was invented in the 1970s. Today there are many different styles of paintball guns, designed for different playing styles and levels of play. A paintball marker is a precision tool. The best paintball guns must be reliable, accurate, easy to use, and relatively safe. It has to withstand the elements and abuse. It must fire quickly, smoothly, and accurately. In this paintball guns 101 article, we take a look at how do paintball guns work.

So, how do paintball guns work? Paintball guns, also called paintball markers, use compressed gas such as carbon dioxide or compressed air to propel gel-filled capsules, called paintballs, through a paintball gun barrel. They use either a mechanical or electric firing mechanism and have an average firing velocity of around 280 FPS. 

How a paintball gun works depends on the type you choose to shoot and the kind of compressed gas you use. Markers differ depending on the game you choose to play and your skillset.

Paintball markers don’t work the same as other types of guns, such as real guns or airsoft guns.

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How do Paintball Guns Work: 2 Types of Paintball Marker Mechanisms 

paintball guns 101

So how does a paintball gun work?

First, there are two types of paintball markers, mechanical and electro-pneumatic, which can just be called electronic.

Which you choose will likely depend on your skill level and type of play.

1. Mechanical Operation 

When the trigger is pulled, a spring is released, propelling a bolt forward that launches the paintball. The paintball is pushed in the barrel by the bolt that strikes a pin. The pin triggers a valve that lets air into the barrel. The bolt then goes back to its original position from the “blowback” caused by the air force. You’ll also hear these types called “blowbacks”.

There are several types of mechanical paintball markers:

Pump or Bolt Action: This is similar to pump-action shotguns or bolt action rifles in that they must be reset after each shot.

Double Action: This works like a double-action revolver in that the trigger mechanism fires and resets the firing mechanism.

Throwback Semi-Auto: This works similar to an AK-47. The mechanism uses gasses released by the valve, which reset between shots. 

Blow Forward Semi-Auto: Stored in the valve, the gases cycle the bolt to fire the paintball, then resets for the next shot. 

Pneumatically Operated Semi-Auto: This is a semi-auto conversion that uses a low-pressure pneumatic piston to control a valve connected to the trigger. It resets between shots. 

2. Electric Operation

In these paintball markers, the trigger is activated by a battery-powered circuit board, activating solenoids that fire the gun.

These circuit boards can be programmed to fire automatically or in different patterns. This allows trigger pulls to be more like a mouse click and increases the rate of fire. However, they need a regulator for consistent air release into the barrel.

These are also lighter weight markers than mechanical ones.

Paintball Marker Components

Paintball markers have four components: 

  • Body
  • Loader
  • Barrel
  • Air tank


Most of the functions of a paintball marker are in its body, containing the firing mechanism components: the trigger frame, bolt, and valve. The bodies are typically made of aluminum. 

The most significant difference between marker bodies is where the trigger and barrel are located. More expensive models used for speedball may position the triggers towards the center, while those used for games like woodsball may have a more forward trigger.

The amount of trigger force needed will vary and affect the firing speed. Those with an electric mechanism will fire much faster. 

The bolt and valve are what cause the marker to fire. These can be separate, or the valve can be built into the bolt, which is typically the case with the electric mechanisms. The bolt controls airflow and allows paintballs into the chamber, while the valve controls the firing. 


Loaders, also known as hoppers, are the containers that hold the paintballs. There are three types: stick feed, gravity feed, and agitating. 

Gravity feed: This is the cheapest and most straightforward type of loader. These are basically containers that feed the paintballs down the sloped sides. They also jam much easier, but shaking the marker can help alleviate this problem. 

Agitating: These hoppers use a propeller that spins to agitate the paintballs to keep them from jamming. These come with and without sensors that help it know when there is a paintball in its “line of sight,” causing it to rotate. 

Force feed: These use an impeller, either spring-loaded or powered with a belt system, that forces the paintballs into the marker. This is the most popular type for tournaments because it’s the only hopper that can keep up with the electric markers’ high rate of fire. 


The barrel is what controls the release of gas and directs the paintball. There are multiple bore sizes to fit different paintball sizes and different lengths and styles. They come in one, two, or three pieces and are typically made of aluminum or stainless steel. 

One-piece barrels are usually the least expensive and are as they sound: one piece. 

Two-piece barrels have a front and back. The back attaches to the marker while the front contains the porting. This adds the rest of the barrel length to the marker. 

Three-piece barrels have one back, and sleeves with differing bores are attached.

Air Tank

The air tank is what holds the carbon dioxide or compressed air. 

Carbon dioxide is usually used in the less expensive models. It causes more inconsistent firing because it has to be vaporized to be used. 

High-pressure air is more expensive but also offers a higher velocity. It’s commonly used in electric markers because CO2 can harm the solenoid valve used in those mechanisms. 

Propane may also be used as a propellant in paintball markers, but it is far less common.