What is a Paintball Gun?

Copyright 2010 David Muhlestein, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Paintball is a variation of tag where players "tag" or "mark" each other by shooting paint-filled gelatin capsules at each other with paintball guns. The sport has countless variations and is played throughout the world, but the common trend is that the game depends on the paintball gun to be played.


In its simplest form, a paintball gun is nothing more than a device that directs compressed air behind a paintball which sends the paintball flying.
In slightly more detail, a paintball gun is shaped like classic guns and is attached to a source of compressed gas and is actuated by firing a trigger. Think of it just like a traditional gun, but, rather than firing bullets with gunpowder, it fires paintballs with compressed air.


A paintball gun has several basic parts that work together to propel the gun. Additionally, there are several accessories that are required to properly play the sport.

The body of the gun houses the internal mechanism that loads a paintball into a firing chamber and actuates the firing mechanism. The bolt is the device that loads the paintball. Additionally, there are many different ways of firing the gun including mechanical, electro-mechanical and electropneumatic methods. There are literally dozens of different firing mechanisms and hundreds of variations on these designs, but the end result is that they take some of the compressed air and direct it towards the paintball.

At the front of the gun is a barrel. This device serves to aim the paintball and also directs the expanding gas so that its energy is concentrated on the paintball. Most barrels have small holes in the sides near the front which is referred to as porting. These are intended to dampen the sound and recoil from firing the gun.

Underneath the firing chamber is a handle or grip and a trigger. The trigger acts just as the trigger on a firearm works - when you pull it, the firing mechanism is actuated and the gun begins to fire. There are many trigger variations from single triggers to double triggers to multi-way adjustable triggers, but they all serve the purpose of starting the process of shooting a paintball.

At the top of the gun is a protruding device called a feedneck. This is simply a hole into the gun that paintballs roll down before the bolt pushes them into the firing chamber.

To properly shoot a paintball gun you need a compressed gas source which is either CO2 or compressed air. This gas source is stored in a tank and the tank attaches to the gun either directly by screwing into a small port or else remotely via a tube.

The final necessary accessory is the hopper or loader. Most basically, this is a container that attaches to the feedneck and holds the paintballs that will be fired. Again, there are many varieties of hoppers, but they all serve the purpose of loading paintballs.

Gun or Marker

There is debate in the paintball community whether to refer to the device that shoots paintballs as a "paintball gun" or "paintball marker". I refer to them as paintball guns because that is the more commonly used term, particularly among beginning players. The terms, though, are truly interchangeable and should be thought of as synonyms.