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What Are Paintballs Made Of?
With so much attention usually focused on high-quality guns, coveralls and armor, most people forget all about the humble paintball! We certainly don’t spend too much time thinking about what they’re made of, but the composition of a paintball actually has a big influence on how they behave when fired, their safety and cost.
What goes into a paintball?
Given the name, it’s reasonable to assume that paintballs are made of paint, but there’s much more to them than that. The average paintable is a gelatin capsule that contains polyethylene glycol, along with a variety of other water-soluble components as well as dye. Since the ingredients are all water-soluble, they wash out of clothes easily.
The gelatin outer is solid enough to hold its shape in the chamber but designed to smash on impact, releasing the various dyes. This doesn’t always happen, however, and a more solid paintball can ricochet off its target and change direction completely. Many teams use this tactically. In a typical game of competitive Speedball, bouncing paintballs off cover can create a hazardous environment for the opposition and offers an effective way to put them under pressure.
How are they made?
The process is complex and often quite secretive since individual companies don’t want to give their trade secrets away. Generally speaking, an individual paintball is made from two gelatin strips, each with a dimple. One dimple is pumped full of polyethylene glycol, dye and other ingredients, and then the two strips are combined, heat moulded together and shaped into a single ball. That final step is crucial. Simply heat moulding the two strips doesn’t form them into a sphere; this has to be done separately. The closer to a perfect sphere the paintball is, the truer it will travel through the air, delivering a much more consistent experience.
Are they toxic?
Not at all! The overwhelming majority of paintballs are not only non-toxic but technically edible (although the taste should serve as a deterrent!). Paintballs purchased from a reputable source tend to be large parts dye and water, which have undergone stringent safety tests and must conform to strict regulations. These ingredients are food-grade and completely safe. It’s a different story for older paintballs, however (think those manufactured back in the 1980s, when the sport was in its infancy), and these should be avoided.
How much do they hurt?
The answer to this question is… it depends. Paintballs are fired at high velocity, and there’s no getting around the fact that being hit by any fast-moving projectile is bound to hurt a little. Just how much depends on a range of factors, including where you’re hit (areas with less fat and/or muscle will hurt more), and the range (a close-range shot will obviously be more painful). Nevertheless, paintballs are designed to shatter instantly and spread their dye rather than cause pain, and Paintball is far from being an extreme sport.
Original paintballs were designed to mark livestock and often contained heavy elements including glass! Fortunately, that’s no longer the case and, generally speaking, every care has been taken to make the impact far less painful. Moreover, protective equipment has advanced a great deal. A typical chest protector like the HK Army Crash will absorb an enormous amount of impact while remaining nicely lightweight. Layers are the most effective way to reduce pain as individual layers will absorb the shock of being struck. Still, the slight risk is what gives Paintball its thrilling edge!
How much do they cost?
Paintballs are usually sold in large batches. In the field, they’re stored in pods which are, in turn, stored in vests like the Maddog tactical vest. Costs tend to be between $15 and $30 for a 500-round bag.
The more expensive the paintball, the better quality it will be in terms of uniform size and shape. While this might not seem especially important, it has a dramatic effect on rates of fire and accuracy as consistently-shaped paintballs load quicker and travel through the air in a more or less straight line. Premium-quality, fully-automatic guns like the Dye Rize CZR have high rates of fire, but that’s useless if you’re trying to fire paintballs of different shapes and sizes. The manufacturing process does take this into account and individual balls go through a special shaping process, but it's still worthwhile to opt for quality rounds. Good-quality ammunition will take you far and is just as important as great gear.