What are Paintballs Made of – The Best Paintballs

what are paintball made of

How paintballs are made & what is the best paintballs?

Hmmmmm…you may be having a hard time trying to figure out the answer to this question.

Yes, you probably participate in this game often but have never thought about what materials are used. What excites you more is shooting your opponents and avoiding getting shot at. Truth is that paintball is becoming popular by the day. You will see children and adults taking part in the activity. Some use it to break the monotony of life and do something completely different. Other people enjoy the thrill of being outdoors while there are those who want to be part of a growing trend. Companies also use this activity for team building.  

A brief Paintball History 

Records indicate that paintball was invented in the 1930s by Charles Nelson and his brother, Evan. The two ran a paint company and at some point were using this activity as one of their marketing techniques. Later on, the two brothers working with forestry engineers started using paintballs to mark trees. They also targeted cattle ranchers who found the r technique easier when it came to marking their cattle. This was helpful when distinguishing their animals from others or when counting them.  

However, it is Charles Gaines who invented the game of paintball in 1981. Gaines together with a New York stockbroker called Hayes Noel and Robber Rumsey, a ski shop owner, had always discussed shooting paint guns from an air gun. Their goal was to have a tactical or combat experience. Paintball started gaining popularity in 1989 and has become a popular sporting and fun activity today.

What exactly is paintball?

Paintball is a sport which entails two opposing players or team of players shooting each other with miniature balls that contain paint or dye. The balls are pebble-sized and are shot from a specially designed air gun. It relies on carbon dioxide cartridges that force the balls out of the gun towards the chosen target. Upon firing the gun, the ball will move from the gun towards the player or object and will burst open when it hits its mark and release the color. The ball comes in round shape and features different colors and compromises of a shell and fillings.  

What are paintballs Made of? 

It is an undeniable fact that paintballs are great marvels both in the chemistry and the engineering worlds. Think about it for a second – how the paintball marker works like an actual gun to propel a dye encapsulated in a shell at high velocities, essentially for fun. If you ask us, it is a rather swell, magical experience. And if you are exactly like us, you know that there is a lot more that goes on inside that paintballing marker. So, in a bid to understand what the paintballs are made of, we’ll take a dive into the science lab to look at the engineering and science behind the working mechanism of the paintballs.

Encapsulation Techonology 

A paintball marker is quite strong, and the marker/ gun is initially fired at a high velocity reaching 91m/s or 200mph. The paintball is propelled forward at this high speed without breaking, but it will burst open when it hits your target, without causing tissue damage to the person hit by the paintball. The only thing that’s felt on impact is a sting, which we’ve now learned that it results from the deformation of the paintball, which results in the increased stopping time and the reduced force on impact. For this to happen, we have to talk about the encapsulation technology, which is the process through which liquids, in this case, a dye, is made inside a gelatin shell.

Encapsulation is big in the pharmaceutical industry, and it essentially involves enclosing substances in solid or liquid form in a thin and transparent enclosure – often a gelatin membrane. These capsules are called soft gels because of their elasticity. The gelatin shell used is derived from fibers of denatured collagen collected from connective tissue, bones, and the skin. For paintballs, the gelatin used is derived from pigskin. But this gelatin is not used alone, a plasticizer is incorporated in the gelatin, increase the stability of the paintball, while also making the gelatin a lot more moldable. For the perfect balance between brittleness and the elasticity of the capsule/ shell, there is a gelatin and plasticizer ratio that must be adhered to, allowing the paintball to break open only upon impact.

During encapsulation, the encapsulation machine first makes two dimples on two gelatin strips. Each of these dimples will form half of the paintball. The machine fills up the dimple with the dye and the other ingredients, and then the dimpling process continues until a solid paintball is formed. The halves are made of heated gelatin meaning that thy will mold quickly into a ball, and with very little gelatin formed at the ball’s rim. The balls don’t form perfect circles, however, hence the next step that involves the tumbling drum where the balls are bounced around to form perfect circles. The heat from gelatin enhances the formation of the perfect shapes. In the last step, the balls are dried completely. The drying time is a protected trade secret that is affected by the formula that was used in making the paint, the paintball, as well as the time spent in the tumbling drum.

The Fill and Water Solubility of Paint Balls

Although the gelatin used is designed to be insoluble in water, the gelatin will naturally break down in contact with water, forming a colloidal gel.

Paintballs are also soluble in water. Although this wasn’t the case originally, it was deemed fit to make the paintballs water-soluble. Today, paintballs are soluble in water, thanks to the use of polyethylene glycol or PEG, which is colorless, tasteless, viscous (its viscosity means slow flow, which gives the paintball liquid its thick and syrupy consistency), and almost odorless. PEG also dissolves in water, and the best part is that it doesn’t affect the gelatin shell in any way.

Note that besides contact, paintballs would burst in the presence of water, for example, if dipped in water, because water would travel through the permeable gelatin membrane into the ball where the water molecules’ hydrogen bonds will bond with PEG. As the concentration of water in the paintball increases, there will also be a significant increase in the size of the paintballs, and the balls will burst when they are unable to hold more water.  

The dyes that are encapsulated in the gelatin shells of the paintballs are water-soluble and polar with the PEG giving the dyes their polarity and the solubility in the paintball dye.

Now, we know that you’d like to know what the other ingredients of the paintball dye. While the ingredients are regarded as proprietary, it’s been found out that the most common ingredients in the paintballs include calcium, PEG, mineral oils, iodine, and food coloring. However, the dyes are soluble in water, and they are all contained within the gelatin-plasticizer- PEG ecosystem.

Also, the ingredients are non-toxic, safe for the environment, and also food-grade, meaning that you don’t have to worry if you ingest the dye.

Are Oil-based Fills ideal for Paint Ball?

Even though this would be a possibility, it’s ill-advised to use an oil-based fill because the oil is not only hard to wash off from your clothing and the rest of your gear, the oil is also very hard on your equipment. Also, oil is unsafe for the environment.

Magic Paint Ball Markers

The firing equipment used in firing paintballs are referred to as paintball markers, and not paintball guns, as you’d expect. The use of the term ‘marker’ rather than guns arose from the initial use of the paintballs, where the instrument was used in marking cattle and trees. Also, the marker is less violent. These markers are high-precision, rapid-firing instruments. A marker has the capacity of firing as many as 100 paintballs in a 30-second window, and they come in different models and makes.

The most common paintball marker is the CO2 12-gram cartridge that fires 100 paintballs/ 30 seconds. However, if you choose the paintball markers with larger hoppers/ storage chambers to hold the paintballs before you fire, then you’ll be looking at a 250-paintballs reserve. There also are fully-automated paintball markers, although these are often prohibited in the playing fields.

How do Markers Work?

Generally, compressed gas will launch a paintball. Gas is commonly used because of the larger space between the molecules. So, when you cock the market, the paintball would fall into the firing barrel from the hopper.

What are paintball shells made of?

If you look closely at a paintball after it raptures, you will notice that it comprises an outer shell and the fillings or “guts” as some people prefer to call them.

The outer section holds and protects the paint or dye and will burst open after it hits the target.  

In the beginning, the shell was made from glass. This was when it was used for cattle and tree marking. The glass was very thin and easily broke on impact releasing the dye. However, this changed over time especially when it became a sporting activity. Gelatin is now the material of choice and is fairly strong but safer than glass. It’s the same material that makes liquid pills, liquid vitamins such as vitamin E, capsules and more. Gelatin is lighter than glass meaning it travels faster and isn’t as painful as glass because of its elastic nature.

What is paintball filling made of? 

The filling comprises the color or dye which is found inside the encapsulated shell until it breaks open after firing from the air gun. In the beginning, the gut was made from oil-based paint. The paint was hard to wash from clothes, was messy, had some odor and also was not environmentally friendly or biodegradable. Because of these setbacks, manufacturers went for more user-friendly and eco-friendly compounds.  

Nowadays, they use compounds which are water soluble and biodegradable. In fact, truth is that they don’t contain any paint although they are known as paintballs. The most common ingredients include Mineral Oils, Iodine, Calcium, Food Coloring, and Ethylene glycol. These filling make the balls lighter and also save you from angry stares or frown from environment conscious people. This because they easily dissolve in water, doesn’t contain any toxic compounds, and are biodegradable.  

Are paintballs toxic to humans the people and the environment? 

Lately, many people who participate or are planning to take part in paintball are asking whether the activity is safe. As I told you earlier, paintballs have become much safer than they were at the beginning. Gone is the time when real paint or oil-based paints, which was harmful to both people and the environment, was the key ingredient.  

Nowadays, manufacturers are using water-soluble compounds which are actually not paints. The Mineral oils, food coloring, iodine, or ethylene glycol which makes the fillings and the gelatin that makes up the shell are completely safe. They can easily be washed from clothes and won’t cause stains, don’t emit any bad odor or fumes, and also won’t mess the ground. Besides being human-friendly, the paintballs are also biodegradable and environmentally-friendly. 

Choosing the best paintballs

Paintballs come in many sizes, colors, design, and brands. They nevertheless are different and if not cautious, you may purchase the wrong product. When hunting for a product, you should look at these aspects: 

  • Good performance: Pick balls that will deliver top performance. They should move fairly fast, follow a straight pattern, and won’t lose effectiveness over time. Talking to professionals as well as reading reviews helps. 
  • Reliability: The appropriate product is reliable and also durable. It will maintain its shape and effectiveness for a long time won’t harm the target person or the air gun, and bursts without any risk of injury. It also won’t mess your clothes or other things.  
  • Safe and hygienic: You should ascertain that the item is completely safe for human beings, adults, and kids, as well as pets. Ensure it is made of water-soluble materials, doesn’t contain toxic ingredients like lead, phthalates, petroleum, mercury, BPA among others. 
  • Environmental friendly: The best paintballs are made of biodegradable compounds. The materials will degrade over time and this reduces pollution or damage to the environment. 

Other vital consideration includes brand reputation, type of air gun, design, color, and price.


After reading this article, questions like what are paintballs made of? Are paintballs safe for babies? Is it safe to use paintballs? Or who invented paintball will be less frequent. We believe that you have a better understanding of paintball. And with this knowledge, you will be able to appreciate and enjoy the game better. Go out there and have the time of your life.

  • Updated 9 months ago
Anthony Maldonado

Smith Brown is a 23-year-old Blogger from the USA. He works for the hunting and self-defense related fields. Now he keeps on doing it through teaching others about how to prepare and DIY.

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