Paintball Gun Buyer's Guide
The beginner paintball player can get overwhelmed when looking to buy their first paintball gun. The new player has more options than ever from a wide variety of manufacturers and styles. It’s really not hard to make an informed decision; you just need to figure out what your needs will be and what you want out of your gear. When buying your first paintball marker you should ask yourself the following questions:
- Where do you plan on playing? On private property or a commercial field?
- Where will you get your air tanks filled? Is both CO2 and Compressed Air available?
- Do you want to shoot a lot of paint fast, or less shooting and more sneaking?
- What is your budget?
The Three Basic Types of Markers
Paintball markers can be broken down into three basic types. All have their pros and cons depending on the needs of the player. There are other types and hybrids on the market but these are the three the new player will most likely choose from.
Pump paintball gun s are the oldest type of marker that are seeing a resurgence in recent years. Pumps require manual operation to fire. Typically one has to work a shotgun-like pump to cock the marker and chamber the next paintball for each shot. Pump markers are very reliable and make a player focus on their field skills and accuracy instead of firepower. While playing pump is a rewarding challenge it is also the hardest way for a new player to get into the sport, especially if they are consistently up against opponents with semi autos.
Mechanical paintball guns are the most common markers seen in recreational play. Mechanical markers are typically semi-automatic, meaning they fire one shot per trigger pull. They are easy to maintain and often very affordable. They are the easiest markers to use, the paintball equivalent of an autofocus digital camera. Most mechanical markers can operate on CO2 or Compressed Air. If you're playing at a commercial field or have a well-managed pro shop nearby then you can usually get either tanks refilled easily. If you cannot get compressed air fills easily then you will want to make sure your marker can operate on more readily available CO2. Most mechanical markers will do so.
Most mechanical paintball guns on the market today are what is called a blowback design. When the trigger is pulled it moves a sear catch. This releases a striker or hammer that is under spring tension. The striker hits the valve, opening it long enough to propel the paintball out the barrel. The pressure from this also throws the striker back until it is caught by the sear while the next paintball falls into the breech for the next shot. Blowbacks tend to be either a stacktube design like Kingman Spyders or an inline design like Tippmanns, BT-4s or Valken SW-1s. Stacktube designs are usually more gas efficient, so if you are playing where you cannot get tank refills throughout the day you may want to consider that. Inline guns are not as gas efficient but have many more upgrade options if you decide to trick your marker out later.
A few beginner-friendly paintball guns operate on a spool valve system like many popular huigh end models, but utilize a mechanical solenoid instead. The GoG eNMEy paintball gun is the best of example of this. It is not as gas efficient as a stacktube design, but fires with extremely low recoil and is very gentle on paintballs, reducing the chnace of paint breaking while you are shooting.
Electronic paintball guns were once an expensive luxury but now are more affordable than ever. Electronic paintball markers use an electronic solenoid to fire the marker. They are usually powered by a 9 volt battery or a rechargeable equivalent. Instead of a long and heavy trigger pull like mechanical markers, an electronic gun's trigger clicks a microswitch or trips a laser beam. Pulling the trigger is like clicking a button on a computer mouse, so anyone can achieve very high rates of fire. A circuit board controls all the commands going to the solenoid so almost all electronic markers are capable of burst, full auto, ramping (adding extra shots the more you pull the trigger) and other firing modes. Electronic paintball guns can be broken down into three basic types: electric sear tripper, pneumatic poppet valve and spool valve.
Electric sear trippers are basically mechanical markers that use an electronic solenoid to trip the sear catch. They increase the rate of fire and give you more firing mode options. They are still quick and easy to maintain just like their mechanical marker originals. Some of the more common electronic sear tripper markers include the Kingman Spyder Fenix, Tippmann A5 with E-Grip and the Empire Battle Tested BT-4 ERC.
Pneumatic Poppet Valve Markers are similar to blowbacks in concept but use a pressure-powered ram instead of a striker. The result is a very fast and consistent paintball marker that is very gas efficient, getting many shots per fill. The Planet Eclipse Ego and Bob Long Intimidator series are classic examples of this style of marker. Almost all pneumatic poppet valve markers require compressed air to fire. Using CO2 can cause permanent damage to the solenoid. The main drawback to this style of marker is they tend to be louder and have more “kick” when fired.
Spool Valve Markers are incredibly popular for variety of reasons. Spool valve marker only have one moving part (the bolt) so they have virtually no recoil and very low maintenance. They have a compact profile and tend to shoot very quiet. The main drawback to spool valve markers is they are typically not as gas efficient as other markers and, depending on the model, cannot use CO2 tanks (be sure to thoroughly read a marker's description if it can use CO2 or not!). The Smart Parts Ion was a revolutionary design that brought the spool valve to the masses. Some of the more common and popular spool valve guns today include the GOG eNVy and eNMEy, Planet Eclipse Geo, and Dangerous Power G5.
A hybrid of these operating systems is the Spring Return System. This is a simplified means where either system is used to drive the bolt forward to fire the paintball, but a spring is used to push the bolt back into position for the next shot. A FASOR (Forward Air Spring Operated Return) has more “kick” than other full pneumatic markers. They are not as high performance but cost less since they do not use such a complicated solenoid. Classic examples are the Planet Eclipse Etha, Invert Mini, Empire Axe, and Tippmann X7 Phenom.
What You Get For The Price
A quick browse through ANSgear.com and you will see paintball markers vary greatly in price, from as low as under $25 all the way up to $1600 and more. Why such a huge variation in price? In many ways paintball guns are like cars. You can go out and buy a Honda Civic or a Lamborghini; both get you from Point A to Point B. What you're paying for is how fast, how comfortable and in how much style do you want to get there.
Cheap paintball guns that typically cost $25 to $90 are basic markers to get you out on the field. They may be pump or mechanical semi auto. For the player who may only play a couple times a year they are great. With proper care and maintenance they will last you for a several seasons. Many components including the body, trigger and feed neck are usually plastic. They are easy to take care of and simple to use. However, they are not built for high performance so if they break down beyond a simple o-ring outside of warranty then they are generally not worth spending money on to fix.
When you step up to the $100 to $200 price range you are paying for durability and upgradability. The bodies are typically glass-filled nylon or cast aluminum. The overall build quality is higher and many performance upgrades and options are available. You start to see features like clamping feed necks, anti-chop eyes and quick field strip abilities coming standard instead of as an aftermarket option. Markers in this price range may be pump, mechanical, electronic sear tripper or spool valve.
From $550 and up, the performance is through the roof. These are the paintball equivalent of sports cars. They are engineered to be lighter, faster, smaller and more consistent than anything else on the market. They feature cutting edge design and are as much for looks as they are for pure performance. While not necessarily heavy on maintenance, they do require very specific procedures to keep them operating at their peak output.
Offset Or Centerfeed?
Most paintball markers have either a centerfeed or an offset feed. A centerfeed (or vertical feed) marker has its feedneck situated on the top center of the marker. To aim, the player sights down the side of the marker and barrel. The advantages of a centerfeed is that the marker is ambidextrous, more balanced and you can tilt it slightly so your hopper stays behind cover. Some people find this to be an unnatural type of shooting style, though.
An offset feed has the feedneck oriented to the right or left of the body (typically right). This allows you to sight straight down over the top of the barrel. It provides clearance for most types of red dot sights and scopes you may want to use, too. Players who are used to shooting traditional firearms tend to prefer this style of feedneck.