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Paintball - So Many Paintballs, What's the Difference?

Updated on February 9, 2012
A case of Karnage Burn.
A case of Karnage Burn.

Know the Words!

Probably should go over some common paintball terminology... well, just about the paintballs themselves, anyway.

  • Paint: short term for paintballs.
  • Case: 2,000 paintballs in a box. Most common way paint is sold. Sports stores & certain department stores sell paint in boxes of 500 or 1,000 balls, usually low end stuff.
  • Bag: 500 paintballs. Most cases are divided into 4 bags inside.
  • Skid: a pallet of 40-90 cases. Stores and some teams order paint by the skid (manufacturers often offer discounts when ordering this much paint).
  • Shell: the gelatin shell of the paintball. Shells can be thicker or thinner. Thicker shells are designed to withstand the higher operating pressures of lower end markers; thinner, more brittle shells are usually for tournaments, where players want paint that's guaranteed to break on target (markers used in tournaments are generally more gentle on the thin shells).
  • Fill: the paint inside the paintball. Thinner fills are found in cheaper paintballs used in recreational or practice games, where visible markings aren't as crucial. Tournaments use thicker fill paint, so marks are easily seen and hard to wipe off.

Some Z-Balls, reusable paintballs sold by GxG.
Some Z-Balls, reusable paintballs sold by GxG.

Know the Difference!

Choosing paintballs isn't just about the best brand. Every company offers a variety of grades. So let's go over those.

  • White Box: also called "Seconds." When manufacturers fill paint orders, there is often excess. They gather the excess and make cases of mixed grades (often in white boxes). Great for practice or low budget recballers. Cheapest paint available.
  • Field: these paintballs have a relatively thick shell (to withstand the higher operating pressures of lower end markers, like rental markers) and a thin fills. Shell & fill colors are limited, usually only one or two colors made. Not the highest quality but the cheapest grade aside from white box.
  • Recreation: these are pretty similar to field grade but with slightly thicker fills for better visibility when they break on target. Available in a few more colors than field grade.
  • Intermediate: i call this mid-grade, although it's pretty far down the list. Thinner shells, thicker fills with brighter colors. Shells are a bit more uniform in shape. Somewhat the cheaper version of tournament paint.
  • Professional: or tournament paint. Thin shells, really thick fills in the brightest colors, shells are perfectly round. Some companies offer paint in this grade only at tournaments. This stuff is expensive.
  • Re-usable: paintballs that don't break, just solid rubbery/foamy balls that resemble paintballs. People don't often play paintball with these, because they don't mark and, sweet jinkee, who would want to pick them all up again. Best used for testing markers at home or target practice. These are really expensive, and only a few companies make them (most famous being Re-Balls).

Didn't cite any prices, since they vary a LOT from company to company, field to field, store to store, location to location. Fields often sell the paint at higher prices, since rentals & paint sales are the only ways they actually make money. But there's valid reasons, too: paint is often in better condition and saves players the time & gas of getting their own paint. Support local fields so they stay in business!

Know the Condition!

Believe it or not, paintballs have a shelf life - they aren't good forever. And there's a few reasons for that.

Paintball shells are not the most resilient materials in existence, especially since they are designed to break when they hit something. And being made of gelatin, they're somewhat soft. Even the constant weight of paintballs piled on themselves can cause flattened sides & dimples. Balls that aren't perfectly round won't fly perfectly straight. So you don't want them sitting in one position for more than a few days.

Also being made of gelatin, the shells can get old, even stale. Older they get, the less likely they'll break on target, or even the opposite - more likely they'll break prematurely. Typically, paint will "expire" after 3 months.

For these reasons, you want to avoid shops that let paint sit on the shelves for months and months. Sports stores & department stores are infamous for this. If you have to get paint at any of these places, open the boxes (but not the bags inside!) and visually inspect for evidence of oldness. Paintball shops & fields are usually much better about the care of their paint and either sell off paint before it gets old or "rotates" the cases (turn the boxes over frequently so dimples don't form).


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