Paintball is an ever-growing sport played by millions all over the world. It is believed that the sport originated in Australia not too long ago when shepherds used air guns to fire balls filled with non-washable colours to mark their sheep. It is thought that later on, the American military began to use paintballs in realistic gun fight simulations. It wasn't until 1981 though that the very first paintball tournament took place in the USA.

Did you know? Paintball is though to have originated in Australia where shepherds used balls filled with paint to mark sheep.

Making the Paintball's Shell

No matter how paintballs have been used over the years, none of it would be possible without the actual paintballs themselves. Paintballs are made entirely of non-toxic, food-grade ingredients. The shell is made by adding a sweetener, a preservative, gelatin and a secret combination of food ingredients that companies won't tell us.

Although this is beginning to sound like a tasty treat, the result is far from it. First, they heat and mix all the ingredients then set it up for "The Drop" - a process which transfers the melted gel from the mixer into a vat called the "gel tote". At the "gel tote" step, they remove any parts that didn't melt and add the colour of their choice.

Did you know? Paintball shells' main ingredient is gelatin - the same ingredient used in gummy bears.

Making the "Paint"

In another section of the factory, they prepare "the fill" - this is the "paint" that goes inside the shell. This "paint" (which is really not paint at all), is made from polyethylene glycol - the same liquid used for cough syrup - and wax - the same kind used in Crayola Crayons (suddenly this doesn't sound so tasty).

Putting it all Together

The shell and fill are then combined to form the actual paintball in "the feed room". Here the gel and fill vats are fed into a soft-gel encapsulation machine (the same kind of machine used by drug companies to make soft gel-cap pills).

The machine first spreads the gel into a thin sheet and allows it to slightly cool. This allows the gel to then be pressed into a mold and shaped into a half-shell. Then the machine aligns two half shells together to form a hollow ball, injects the fill, and seals the two half shells together - all in one step!

These newly made paintballs are then dried by rolling down to a conveyor, and to a bakery-style rack until they are completely dry and... voila! - they're ready to be shot at your opponents!

How Paintball Guns Work

But wait, just how are these paintballs shot? The answer to that is with paintball guns of course! No matter what the shape or cost of the gun, they all work with the same basic principles: Compressed gas expands rapidly to shoot out the paintball at high speeds. This compressed gas is usually carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (N2), or sometimes even regular air.

Did you know? A paintball can be shot at speeds of 91 m/s or more!

CO2 gives the best results for shooting paintballs because it is easily stored in small metal containers as a liquid. As soon as the liquid CO2 is released from the metal container, it instantly forms a gas, then expands and creates such a strong pressure that it pushes out the paintball at speeds up to or even higher than 91 m/s!

Although technically the paintballs can be shot out of the barrel of the gun at much higher speeds than 91 m/s, regulations keep the speeds at or below this level to avoid serious injury. Not to say that a paintball traveling at 91 m/s won't cause injury - it can bruise your skin and even cause severe eye damage. But not to worry, that's what safety gear is for.

So now that you've got your paintballs, a way to shoot them, and your safety gear, all that's left is a team and you're all set to play one of the fastest growing sports in the world! So have fun and more importantly, be safe!

Learn More!

For a more in depth explanation of how paintball guns work

Discovery Channels "How it's Made"

References:

Gretschmer, Martin. "About Paintball." Paintball Club Brno. 2007. 9 November 2007.

"How to make Paintballs." Mad Paint Baller. 9 November 2007.

Harris, Tom. "How Paintball Works." Howstuffworks. 2001. 9 November 2007.

Mohamed is a second year Chemistry and Mathematics student at the University of Toronto. In his spare time, he loves reading and watching movies, traveling and going to car shows.

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