Paintball vs Airsoft | Let’s End this Debate

Paintball vs Airsoft

“Paintball vs Airsoft, Which one is better among the two extreme sports?” I am sure this question bothers you every time you hear it. Don’t worry. Since the beginning of Paintball and Airsoft, there has been an ongoing debate about which one is better.

Although both Airsoft and Paintball may look the same to outsiders (After all, both games are based on eliminating your opponent by shooting), there are still some major differences that set them apart from each other.

The main difference between Airsoft and Paintball is the type of gun and projectile used. Paintball guns shoot gelatin balls filled with paint. In contrast, airsoft guns shoot plastic bbs that are much smaller in size than paintballs.   

Is that the only difference? Not at all. There are several other differences that we will discuss.

So without further delay, let’s first take a look at the working of both guns.

Note: Instead of giving you a general answer. We will rather compare the different aspects of both games. In the end, you will be able to decide which one suits you best according to your personal preference.

Difference between Paintball & Airsoft guns

Paintball guns are generally called markers and can be divided into three types which include Pump, Mechanical, and Electronic paintball markers. 

All paintball guns work in a similar way. A hopper or a magazine is used to feed paintballs. A bolt will then load the paintball into the barrel and seal the barrel at the same time.

Compressed air is injected rapidly into the barrel, which creates enormous pressure resulting in paintball shooting. However, the thing that sets them apart is the firing mechanism.

Pump guns use pumps to load, while mechanical and electronic guns use spring action and circuit board, respectively. 

Similar to paintball markers, Airsoft guns can also be divided into three general types: Electric, Gas, and Springer Airsoft guns. In all Airsoft guns, bbs are fed by a magazine. The types are divided based on their shooting mechanisms.

Electric airsoft guns are battery-powered. The Gas gun uses compressed gas, while the springer gun uses spring compression to fire bbs. 

Now, that you know the types and working on both guns, it is time to compare the different factors of both games.

Paintball vs Airsoft – A Detailed Comparison

Now that you know the basic types and working of both guns, it is time to compare different factors such as realism, popularity and pain factor, etc.

1. Realism


When it comes to realism, Airsoft clearly has the upper hand over Paintball. The Airsoft guns heavily resemble real-life firearms. On top of that, they also function in a very similar way to a real-life gun.

On the other hand, paintball guns are usually non-tactical, and there is a reason behind that. If we look at their origin, paintball guns were not designed to match the aesthetics of real-life guns. That’s why paintball guns have their own unique shape, which sets them apart from other guns.

Although there is also a tactical side of paintball known as Mil-Sim or Military Simulation Paintball, where the guns are designed to be more realistic and can even be fed through a magazine as well, like the Tippmann TMC for instance. However, the addition of an air tank gives away all the tactical look.

In a nutshell, Airsoft guns are replicas of real guns. As a result of their realistic nature, manufacturers must denote Airsoft guns with an orange tip.

2. Popularity

Popularity of paintball vs airsoft

Paintball has been more popular throughout the history of both extreme sports. The mid-’80s to the late ’90s were the peak time of paintball. Paintball fields were opening everywhere and were doing great business.

The popularity of paintball has declined since early 2000. Although, It has become stable after 2013. In fact, it showed a little spike in 2016 when the average paintball player per million touched 3.71.

On the other hand, airsoft always had more stable popularity from the beginning. If we look at the number of players in both games, Paintball will take the lead. Despite facing a decline in popularity in past years, Paintball still managed to get the upper hand in popularity compared to airsoft. 

3. Range & Accuracy

Range in Airsoft vs Paintball

The primary focus of both games is to eliminate opponents by shooting. Therefore, range and accuracy are an integral part of both games. The Accuracy usually depends upon a couple of factors, such as the weight and diameter of the ball and the aiming expertise of the shooter.

But, if we put the aiming expertise of shooters aside, Airsoft bbs tend to be more accurate than the typical paintballs. (First-strike rounds are an exception here, we will discuss them later in this article)

The size of an Airsoft bb is 6mm compared to the size of a Paintball which is .68 caliber (17.3 mm). This means that the plastic bb will face much less wind resistance and travel more distance thanks to its smaller size and lightweight. 

On the other hand, paintballs are filled with paints and weigh about 3.00 grams (0.0066 lb). With this weight, a paintball will require more energy to reach the same distance as an airsoft bb.

In defense of paintball, we can’t ignore the existence of First Strike rounds, which has a phenomenal range of up to 400+ feet. Unlike the typical paintball, a First strike round is half-circle with added fins on the rear to improve range and accuracy.

However, there are a couple of drawbacks of First Strike rounds. Firstly, they are very costly, and secondly, they are only used with First Strike compatible guns. 

4. Cheating

Cheating in Airsoft vs Paintball

In my opinion, cheating is by far the most off-setting thing about Airsoft. Since airsoft guns shoot bbs, that doesn’t leave any visible mark on impact. Chances of players cheating in airsoft are far, far more as compared to paintball. 

On the other hand, Paintball uses paint-filled balls that explode on impact, leaving paint markings on the target. The markings are visible and hence, make paintball hard to cheat.

Airsoft uses an honor system, which means if a player gets hit, he should surrender himself and leave the field. But, since we don’t leave an ideal world. Many players don’t call themselves out even after getting shot a couple of times. 

In Paintball, players can also cheat by wiping off paint. Sometimes, paintball doesn’t break on impact, leaving no marking behind, and players usually continue playing if they manage to go unnoticed. However, their numbers are negligible.

Although, both games have their own referees, who keep an eye on players the whole time. But since bbs are tiny and are not visible when firing, they are harder to detect.

5. Pain Factor

Airsoft vs Paintball - Which one hurts more?

Generally speaking, Paintballs hurt a lot more than Airsoft. In both Paintball and Airsoft, the pain felt by a player on impact is directly proportional to the mass and velocity of the projectile. 

A paintball is 17mm and weighs about 3.0 grams compared to an airsoft bb which is 6mm in size and weighs about 0.2 to 0.25 grams. 

Since paintballs are about 3x bigger and 10x heavier than bbs, they need more kinetic energy to cover a similar distance. The more kinetic energy a projectile carries, the more pain will be felt on impact. At 300 FPS, a paintball will carry a KE of 12.5 Joules. On the other hand, a 6mm bb will carry a KE of 0.84 Joules.

Although, there are also a few other factors that contribute to how much pain you will feel. Firstly, the location of impact. Getting shot around sensitive areas will obviously hurt like hell. The sensitive areas in question are the face, neck, crouch, and inside of the legs. 

Secondly, the distance between the shooter and the target. The further you are from the shooter, the less you will feel pain.

And lastly, the amount of clothing or padding. Obviously, wearing thick padded clothes with multiple layers will absorb the impact of paintball or bbs.

6. Adrenaline rush

Adrenaline rush in Paintball

If you are one of those daredevils who’s constantly looking for some serious action, out of the two extreme sports, Paintball will satisfy your craving more. 

Paintball is all about testing your gears and your body to its limits. You will either be running, rolling, crouching, or sliding the whole time.

Even though you will also be doing pretty much the same in an airsoft game, the adrenaline rush you feel in paintball is unmatchable by any of its counterparts. 

Whether you are staying behind guarding the flag, raiding the next bunker, or sneaking behind the enemy, you will constantly feel the adrenaline rushing through your veins.

Moreover, paintballs hurt more on impact as compared to Airsoft bbs due to their larger size and weight. The fear of getting hit creates an atmosphere close to the one on the battlefield. That atmosphere is another reason for the adrenaline rush paintballers feel during the game. 

7. Which one is more expensive?

Airsoft vs Paintball - Which one is more expensive?

Cost is a huge factor when comparing Paintball vs Airsoft. In fact, this particular factor is the reason why many paintballers switch from paintball to airsoft.

Although both sides have their own affordable gear, the average cost of starting out in both sports is pretty much the same. For instance, in both paintball and Airsoft, you can easily get yourself a great quality gun for under 200 bucks. Still, there is one thing that makes Airsoft way cheaper than Paintball, and that is AMMO.

Usually, paintball fields don’t allow you to bring your own ammo. Why? Because they need to make money somehow to stay in business. That’s the reason why their ammo is a lot more expensive than the one you can find online. On paintball fields, the average cost of 500 paintballs is around 10 to 20 dollars. It also varies from state to state, but pretty much, it is the same.

On the other hand, Airsoft bbs are way cheaper. You can literally buy thousands of bbs at the same price of 10 to 20 dollars. Obviously, the quantity may vary with a change in weight and brand of bbs. Still, it is a pretty big value for money. On top of that, many Airsoft fields typically charge a small fee if you bring your own ammo.

We can’t blame paintballs for their high price as they are more costly to manufacture and can’t be sold in bulk compared to plastic bbs. Anyway, props to Airsoft for being more cost-efficient.

8. Leagues and Tournaments

Paintball Tournaments and Competition

Being the more popular one of the two extreme sports, Paintball enjoys a large fanbase. More players mean more leagues and tournaments with more prize money to win as compared to Airsoft. 

Unlike Airsoft, Paintball also usually gets more mainstream media attention. With matches being shown to channels like ESPN and many other online pay-per-view sites. 

Speaking of popularity, paintball has its own world cup and national leagues sponsored by big brands. Moreover, Scenario events like the Living Legends are also quite famous. Every year, thousands of players sign up for these events and leagues. 

On the other hand, Airsoft also has its own leagues and tournaments, but they are not as trendy, and comparing them to paintball would be an injustice. 

9. Post-Game Cleaning

Cleaning Paintball gun

When it comes to being the more messy one of the two extreme sports, paintball is to blame. After a couple of games of getting shot, rolling, jumping, sliding, diving, and crouching. Your clothes are literally covered in mud and paint.

Although, the paint used in paintballs is washable and only takes a single wash to come off. It is still recommended to wear clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty. Moreover, paintball gears also require frequent cleaning. A wipe with a damp cloth will wipe off any paint sticking to your gear. 

You are meant to get dirty in extreme sports, and it’s just part of the game. But, for players who don’t like to get rough and messy, Airsoft is a more suitable option. 

Although, you also get a little dirty playing airsoft because you are still running, sliding, or crouching pretty much the whole time. Still, your clothes will be good enough to be worn another day.

10. Eco Friendly

Airsoft vs Paintball, which is more Eco Friendly?

Last but not least, eco-friendliness is also a major aspect when comparing two extreme sports. Paintballs are made up of gelatin filled with biodegradable paint inside. Over time, the gelatin will break down, and the ground will absorb the paint. 

On the other hand, Airsoft bbs are typically made up of plastic, which doesn’t degrade on its own. Oftentimes, birds mistake those bbs for food and cause themselves some serious trouble.

Airsoft bbs are also available in biodegradable options. But, they are generally more expensive and are not used much often. Moreover, even biodegradable bbs can take up to several weeks to break down. 

Conclusion – Which one is better?

Airsoft is more realistic, much cheaper, less painful, and has better range and accuracy. On the other hand, Paintball is more popular, fun to play, hard to cheat, and has more tournaments. 

In conclusion, both extreme sports have a history and legacy of their own. Both are action-packed, both require skill, both demand honor, and both help with team-building abilities. 

Both games have their pros and cons, and their liking is subject to personal preference.

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