When it comes to shooting simulation sports, airsoft and paintball have made their way to the top of the game in terms of quality and fun.
But which one is the better experience? This short guide will go through the specifications of both shooting sports and then compare them to one another to give you an idea of which style would work best for you.
What is Paintball?
Paintball is a team sport that has been around for more than 30 years and can be played both outdoors and indoors in specially crafted arenas.
According to the paintball and airsoft manufacturers at Valken, paintball is a combination of different childhood games, including tag, hide and seek, and capture the flag, only on a larger scale and with more complex rules.
Furthermore, the participation of a paintball game can range from just a few people per team to more than a thousand people per team, depending on where the game is being played.
The primary object of the game is to capture the opposing team’s flag and return it to your team’s “base.”
The paintball aspect comes in as your way of moving across the field and “eliminating” opponents by shooting at them with your paintball gun.
There are a variety of styles of paintball guns that all resemble real guns (or at least the function of a firearm) in some way.
With these and the proper gear, paintball is a fun, competitive outdoor sport enjoyed by millions of people around the world.
What is Airsoft?
Airsoft is also an outdoor competitive shooting game, but unlike paintball, airsoft uses small plastic BBs instead of paint.
According to the professionals at VIP Airsoft in Gilbert, Arizona, airsoft more closely resembles a military simulation sport that promotes mock combat with airsoft rifles and pistols that more closely resemble modern firearms than paintball guns.
Just like paintball, airsoft games can be played outdoors or indoors in specially designed arenas and can hold as many participants as the area allows.
In addition to military combat simulations, airsoft games can also resemble small skirmishes, close quarters fighting, and so on.
Airsoft is also often used by law enforcement agencies to practice mock scenarios that officers may encounter.
What is the Difference Between a Paintball gun and an Airsoft Gun?
While both paintball guns and airsoft guns are mere copies of real firearms and incapable of being loaded with actual bullets, they are distinctly different from one another.
For example, a paintball gun (regardless of its specific style) uses a top-loading mechanism where your paintballs are stored while an airsoft gun, which more closely resembles an actual gun, is magazine loaded.
Both are used as competitive or sports weapons that are not designed to kill, but depending on the type of competition that you are looking to engage in will determine which type of gun you will want to use.
The world and regional paintball information guide are known as WARPIG classify three different types of paintball guns:
- Pump action paintball guns (or pump guns) work similarly to a shotgun that must be cocked before each shot. The paintball spray resembles a wider bloom just like a shotgun.
- Semi-automatic paintball guns require that you first cock the gun before you can shoot the first time. However, once cocked, the gun will continue to shoot with trigger pulls.
- Fully automatic paintball guns do not require any cocking and will shoot for as long as the trigger is depressed.
Again, paintball guns are top loaded with paintballs going into a rounded tank attached to the top of the gun.
This short YouTube video from eHowSports will give you a clear idea and vision of what loading a paintball gun looks like.
For airsoft guns, there are three main types that can take on a variety of different styles and shapes.
The Airsoft MegaStore breaks down these three types:
- Spring powered airsoft guns propel a single BB using the power of a loaded spring. You must cock the gun (or the spring) before each shot to use this type of airsoft gun.
- Electric airsoft guns, or AEGs (automatic electric guns), have a battery-driven internal motor that automatically cycles a piston and spring internal construction that launches pellets so long as the trigger is depressed.
- Gas airsoft guns are semi-automatic weapons that commonly use CO2 as a propellant to shoot BBs. Gas airsoft guns come in a blowback (where the slide of the gun will kick back after each shot) or a non-blowback style.
Since the types of airsoft guns are more varied and different than paintball guns, there are a few different ways to load an airsoft gun.
But on average, these guns use a bottom loading feed or a magazine, just like a real firearm.
This YouTube video will give you a better idea of the different types of airsoft guns out there and how they are loaded.
What is the Difference Between Paintballs and Airsoft BBs?
The most obvious difference between paintballs and airsoft BBs is that paintballs have paint and the BBs do not.
Beyond that basic difference, the construction of each time of ammo is completely different, even though the two are used for similar purposes.
The author of the blog Paintimpact Gregory explains in detail what a paintball is and what it is made out of.
When you first pick up a paintball, you will notice that it is covered in a shell that has a slight give.
This is because it is crafted from gelatin and often resemble a supplement pill made of the same casing.
Gregory explains that the nature of this gelatin casing means that once you drop a paintball or it otherwise comes in contact with water, it is essentially useless because it will start absorbing any and all moisture within moments.
A swollen paintball can jam your gun, which will slow you down on the field and possibly damage your paintball gun.
Inside the gelatin, the casing is a liquid fill that is most often made of a polyethylene glycol mix dyed with color.
Paintballs can also be made of an oil-based liquid that is much cheaper, but also much more difficult to wash off of materials, skin, and gear.
There are many paintball areas that will not allow the use of oil-based paintballs, so be careful when you are making your purchase.
Furthermore, when searching for your ammo, make sure that your paintballs are labeled nontoxic, both for yourself, your friends, and for the environment.
Airsoft BBs, on the other hand, are radically different and are usually made up of a hard plastic in the shape of a 6 mm ball. B.B. Pelletier at the Airgun Academy explains that airsoft BBs are sold in measurements of a fraction of a gram.
The lightest BB available weighs 0.12 grams and moves up through 0.25 grams and beyond, but the size of the airsoft BB never changes. These weights refer to the internal composition of the 6 mm BBs.
In addition to plastic BBs, there are some that are crafted from aluminum, biodegradable materials, and glow in the dark material that works well for nighttime shooting.
The type and weight of BB that you use will be determined by the area you will be shooting in, the type of gun you will be using, and your own personal preference.
What Kind of Gear Do Paintball and Airsoft Exercises Require?
When it comes to equipment, both paintball and airsoft require a great deal of protective gear since you are participating in a sport that simulates shooting at one another with small pellets.
While these pellets (both paintballs and airsoft BBs) are not designed to kill or maim in any way, they can still cause a great deal of damage and resultant pain if you are not equipped properly.
For paintball, the experts at AC Paintball recommend that you wear the following clothing and equipment when you go to a paintball arena:
- Long sleeve shirts and long pants
- Loose fitting clothes for easier movement
- Multiple layers (weather allowing) in the form of sweaters or jackets
- Dark colors or camouflage
- Comfortable and sturdy shoes
- Headgear, including a hat, helmet, mask, and goggles (many different companies sell this type of headgear as an “all in one” feature)
- Thick gloves
At Airsoft Warrior, the list of gear to wear while participating in airsoft looks much the same, but adds a couple of details:
- Holster or sling to carry your weapon while it is not in use
- Tactical vest with plenty of pockets to carry extra magazine and ammo
- Spare magazines for quick reloading
While each sport has its unique aspects which are directly connected to the types of guns and ammo used in each respective sport, both paintball and airsoft share a general need for long, protective clothing and gear.
Again, this is largely for your own safety and to reduce the impact of the paintballs or airsoft BBs coming in contact with your body.
The more layers you have, the less likely you are to feel much pain when struck by flying projectiles.
How Expensive are Paintball and Airsoft?
Although prices will vary depending on the type and quality of equipment that you purchase, on average, airsoft tends to be cheaper than paintball.
Using Amazon as a comparison market, the average price of an airsoft gun runs as low as $10 for a single shot spring pistol to as much as around $500 for a higher quality automatic or gas powered rifle.
However, the real discrepancy in price comes with the ammunition, since the investment in the gun should be a one time deal (or, if you want a good airsoft gun or paintball gun, you should expect to pay more).
When purchasing airsoft BBs, you can generally find a 5,000 BB pack for between $10 and $20.
Paintballs, on the other hand, will come in cases or tubs with around 2,000 paintballs that will run you around $30 on average.
When put into perspective, this discrepancy in price makes sense: paintballs are made with less common and more complex materials than airsoft BBs.
But depending on which form of a competitive shooting sport that you want to pursue, the price may become an issue.
Beyond the differences in gun and ammo price, the fields and equipment tend to run more similarly.
If you are an experienced airsoft or paintball participant, you may already have a set of gear that you prefer to wear during a competition or game and it is more than likely that that set will work just the same for the opposite form of the sport.
How Competitive are Paintball and Airsoft?
While anyone can go down to a paintball or an airsoft arena and play a game (given that they have the equipment they need), there are tournaments and championships held in both sports around the world.
These tournaments tend to be local in scope but can involve thousands of people depending on the size of the arenas and the local interest in the sport.
As time goes on, it is likely these two similar sports will continue to see a growth in participation.
So Which One is Better?
There is truly no real answer to this question, at least not on a grand scale. Instead, the decision is solely up to the individual participating.
Paintball has long been the traditional outdoor shooting sport and continues to hold a place of prominence amongst this type of activity.
But airsoft is following quickly behind, and there are even rumors that the sport may be in the process of developing an airsoft paint BB.
With the superior accuracy of airsoft projectiles and guns, this could mean a major paradigm shift in the competitive sports shooting world.