What Are Paintballs Made Of?

If you’ve ever played paintball, chances are you’ve gone home covered in brightly colored paint.

But have you ever thought about what exactly that paint is, and what makes up a paintball

While the specific ingredients vary by manufacturer, the paintball as a whole isn’t made of your standard interior wall paint or the stuff the artist down the street uses to make masterpieces. It’s a special blend designed just for the purpose of being used in a game of paintball, to keep both the players and the environment in which they’re used safe.

Because of the way they are used, paintballs are nontoxic. Otherwise your standard game of paintball would be a lot more dangerous than a bruise here or there, and you’d be endangering wildlife and nature surrounding the area they are used. Not only are they nontoxic, they’re made of food grade materials, which isn’t to say they should be used as a halftime snack, but makes them safer to play with and for the environment, although they can be dangerous to pets if consumed whole. They’re also biodegradable, preventing a huge, brightly colored mess in their wake. They decompose on their own, which means players don’t have to clean up after a rowdy game of paintball.

Paintballs are a vital part of successful game of paintball, and the wrong paintball can be the difference between a win and a lose. Learning about how they’re made, why they’re made the way they are, and what makes a good paintball can help improve your game, and make it way more fun.

The Perfect Paintball


So what is a perfect paintball, anyway? Before you learn what a paintball is made of, learning what the most important attributes to a paintball are important to understanding why they are made they way they are. Sure, you can load up with any old ammo and hope for the best when you’re in the field, but if you’re going to play, you want your skills to shine and your paintballs to not let you down.

The Shape

There is a reason that paintballs are round. They are round because this helps them to shoot straight and provide accuracy following an aim. If you have deformed paintballs, they’re not going to do their job correctly.

The Durability

A paintball must be both durable enough to keep it’s perfectly round shape, but brittle enough to explode on impact. A paintball that explodes too early can result in a gummed up paintball gun, and one that doesn’t explode at all results in a disappointing shot.

The Cleanliness

It may seem hard to keep your paintball free of debris in the field, but the cleaner your paintball, the more accurate it will be. Anything on the outside of a paintball can be left behind in your barrel, which takes away from you level of accuracy.

The Cleanup

Cleaning up after a game of paintball is a necessary evil of an otherwise fun game. So why make it more difficult than it needs to be? Choosing a paintball that has all the other qualities above, plus is easy to clean up after, completes the four pillars of a perfect paintball.

The Components of a Paintball

Pods with paintballs

Now that you know what contributes to a perfect paintball, it will make a lot more sense why they are made they way they are. Anyone who has ever played a game of paintball, or even seen a paintball for that matter will know that they are a round shell with a filling. So what exactly makes up these parts?

What makes up the shell?

While it seems pretty simple, a shell encapsulating a liquid, much like many vitamins and common household pills, it’s actually a pretty cool process behind making a paintball. The outer shell protects the inner liquid, allowing for the splatter you’re familiar with as they strike. If the shell is too strong, you run the risk of it not breaking on impact, and being far more painful, and if the shell is too brittle, it can break in transit, or in your paintball gun, rendering it useless.

Finding this perfect balance of strength and ability to break on impact is vital to having a good paintball. The solution to this is the use of gelatin, much like those vitamins we mentioned earlier. Gelatin is strong enough to allow the paintball to keep its perfect shape, while flexible enough to allow it to explode on impact. The detriment to gelatin is that it can absorb water and lose accuracy or dissolve, but it is these same characteristics that allow it to quickly biodegrade after use.

What makes up the guts?

The guts of your paintball, the paint as most would call it, as actually a dye that is water soluble. The water solubility of the fill is what makes for easy cleanup, unlike an oil-based paint. The main component of the fill is a polyethylene glycol, which sounds much fancier than it actually is. It’s simply a common inert liquid that has uses in industries across the board. The part that makes it perfect in a paintball is its consistency and flexibility. It also takes extreme temperatures to freeze, which makes it easy to store and durable in many different climates.

While polyethylene glycol is the most common and popular fill for a paintball, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other options. Some cheaper paintballs may contain an oil-based dye, which is hard to clean up without the help of harsh chemicals, and can cause damage to your paintball gun. Many fields don’t even allow the use of oil based paintballs, so this isn’t an area to skimp on when stocking up for your next game.

Safely Storing Your Paintballs

It is best to store your paintball in an airtight container, especially if you live in a particularly humid climate. This will protect them from moisture which can cause them to expand and lose shape. Paintballs are designed to be perfectly round to ensure that they have the best possible accuracy and don’t jam up in your paintball gun. It is for this reason that if you spill your paintballs in an area that contains moisture, it may be in your best interest to consider them casualties and throw them out.

Storing paintballs at room temperature is typically recommended. If you live in extremely cold climates that reach extremes of -15 degrees, you should make sure that your paintballs are stored in a place that keeps them from freezing, as this can have adverse results by causing them to expand or become gummy. Using a frozen paintball can be dangerous both when being struck by one, and by damaging the gun. Direct sunlight can also cause the paintballs to harden and lose their durability.

A Caveat to Non-Toxicity

Keep paintballs away from children and pets. While they may be nontoxic, their bright colors attract children who may think they are a sweet treat, and the size of a paintball acts as a choking hazard for little ones. Curious pets may also consume them, which can serve as a choking hazard as well, but can also prove deadly as they are osmotically active which will cause intestinal distress by attracting water to the area, causing imbalances. Let your vet immediately know if you think your pet may have consumed paintballs, so he can be properly treated.

Cleaning up a Paintball Mess

While many people have clothing that is dedicated to playing paintball, not all hope is lost if you wore your Sunday best or favorite jeans to a round of paintball. This is where playing with water soluble paintballs plays an especially important role. You can wash your paint-stained clothes much like you would your regular laundry. Spot clean any areas that look particularly tough, along with a little stain pretreatment.

After you run your laundry through the wash, air dry it and look for any stains that may not have come out. Soak in a solution with a touch of ammonia and dish soap for up to half an hour and most of your stains should come right out after another wash cycle.

If you don’t already have specific paintball gear, it can be worth considering, as it is designed to repel water and stains, while also offering an additional layer of protection from a paintball strike. There are many different options available to meet your needs.

Now get out there and play!

You should have a pretty solid understanding of how paintballs are made now, and why they are made with a gelatin shell and a polyethylene glycol dye fill. Knowing this gives you the knowledge to buy the best paintballs, and play your best game without interference from any external factors that may affect your accuracy. A good game is ended with a quick and easy cleanup, preparing you for your next game, while your paintballs are stored safely and ready for next use.

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