Paintball guns may seem like an expensive purchase to most people, with entry-level options starting at around $80 without any required accessories and some models running upwards of $500. However, there’s a good reason for the average paintball marker to cost so much. Inside each one is an array of complex moving parts that must be machined and designed to very exact specifications to create an airtight seal while still moving many small parts all at once. I may not be an engineer at Tippmann with access to their schematics and blueprints, but I do know enough to give you an introductory course on how your paintball gun works.
Paintball Firing Mechanism (Semi-Automatic)
Differences Between Makes and Models
Before I get into specifics, I want to put a disclaimer that these explanations may not tell the whole story of how your paintball marker functions. Different manufacturers and, sometimes, individual models can have highly differentiated internal components. The mechanics outlined in this article should be more or less universally applicable, but don’t be surprised to open up your paintball gun and find parts or features that may be absent from this list.
How to Push a Paintball
I’ll start with the final part of the whole process, and work my way back through the systems to better explain how and why one thing leads to another. When a paintball launches out from the barrel of your gun, it is being propelled by the force of expanding air behind it. A small burst of high-pressure air suddenly gets released behind the paintball, pushing anything that can move (in this case, only the paintball) out of its way as it seeks to escape its confined area. Once the paintball finally leaves the barrel, the air can escape right behind it.
Regulating Bursts of Air
High-pressure air alone cannot shoot paintballs effectively. If you had nothing but a CO2 tank to launch paintballs with, then you would lose all of your air reserves with a single shot. The main job of your airsoft gun (aside from providing a barrel to shoot and aim through) is to supply only a small amount of air at a time and cut off the flow before another paintball can drop down from the hopper.
Different manufacturers have different ways of controlling airflow. Some use electronic systems that turn motors to stop or start flow independent of any other parts. These systems are often more reliable (but harder to repair) and can be found on many newer and more expensive models. However, they offer benefits such as fully automatic and burst fire configurations that can be selected at the touch of a button. Others may rely on springs that push mechanical parts back and forth, each spring and part carefully designed to open and close valves at the exact moments necessary to send the perfect amount of air.
The trigger assembly is, for many paintball guns, the most complex part of the whole system. Mechanically-operated triggers may have a variety of ways to reset and function as intended, but most often rely on moving parts in the bolt assembly to reset them back into place. Some manufacturers, including Tippmann, design their bolts to have a slight taper on their back ends. These tapers help the trigger to slide back into place and lock the bolt back as it prepares to fire another round. Electronic triggers are much simpler, and simply activate a switch or electric connection between two points, indicating to the onboard micro-computer that the gun should fire.
Controlling Air Pressure
Most paintball markers include a dial or switch that allows you to adjust air pressure. This adjustment can help you to control the feet per second at which your paintballs fire, which may be required for some play locations. Again, different manufacturers may have different ways of managing pressure. The simplest way to adjust pressure is to apply a valve near the point where your air tank connects that controls how much air enters directly from the source. Other guns, however, may have an entirely separate holding tank for air that can house its own adjustments for pressure. These systems typically offer finer tuning of pressure and better long-term performance, making them more common on expensive models.
Connecting the Air Tank
CO2 and compressed air tanks function in virtually identical ways. Air tanks tend to be built from sturdy metal frames designed to resist internal pressure even when jostled around or dented. On one end of the tank rests a specially-designed valve that enables a connector to pass through but stops air from escaping. When a connection is made with either your paintball gun or a refill station, a small tube connects into the air tank to allow air to pass freely through that small opening.
If you have questions about how a specific brand or model of paintball guns operates, you should talk to your local pro shop to see what they know. If the shop offers repair services, they probably also know exactly which systems are typical of each manufacturer and can better advise you about what each part does. In my opinion, though, the components that go into a paintball gun are less important than making sure the whole marker works well.