Airsoft and paintball are two sports that rely on tactical prowess and the firing of air-powered guns to play. Given their similarity, the question of which type of gun is more powerful is a fair one.
Airsoft guns fire their projectiles at a higher velocity and usually with a greater range than paintball guns, thus, to that extent, making them more powerful. However, at close range, you should not blindly discount the impact power of larger paintball projectiles.
This article will help you determine whether an airsoft or paintball gun is more powerful on multiple levels, not merely velocity. If you are new to either sport or are considering one over the other, read on and discover where the power lies.
Does It Matter Whether Airsoft or Paintball Guns Are More Powerful?
Airsoft and paintball are both tactical shooting and tagging sports. They both simulate field-level tactical engagement, usually between two opposing teams.
Some people may see no reason for measuring or comparing the types of guns used for each sport in terms of power. However, there are tactical and practical reasons why it is beneficial to know how powerful each gun type is.
Pain on Impact
When someone considers playing airsoft or paintball for the first time, one of the first questions they ponder is, “will it hurt when I get hit?”
That is a legitimate concern. After all, if you observe both sports, you will notice that the players are always wearing protective gear; there must be a reason.
The reason is that both sports require projectiles to be shot purposefully at opposing players. Of course, these projectiles are non-lethal. However, they can still injure or cause pain when precautions are not taken. Read more about lethality and how much damage can paintball guns do in this article.
The projectiles used in each sport are vastly different. Understanding these differences will provide you with better context to understand why the guns used in each sport are different and how this affects their overall power. In turn, you will have a notion of what to expect when struck by one of those projectiles.
Airsoft projectiles are small plastic spherical pellets—the majority measure 6 mm (0.236 inches) in diameter. Most guns and game rules are designed for that caliber of projectile. However, you can also find 8 mm (0.315 inches) pellets.
If you are familiar with BB pellets—or birdshot pellets from a shotgun shell—those measure 4.5 mm (0.177 inches). That will give you an idea of the size of an airsoft pellet. Of course, one huge difference is that airsoft pellets are made of plastic as opposed to metal.
Airsoft pellets in the 6 mm variety can have a mass between 0.11 g (0.004 oz) to 0.43 g (0.015 oz). This range in mass is because airsoft pellets are manufactured to meet the different needs of different players. They are also manufactured to accommodate the specifications and requirements of different airsoft gun models.
Since the pellet’s mass determines multiple aspects of the projectile’s performance when fired, such as velocity, energy, and trajectory, it is an essential variable in the formula to calculate overall power.
The lighter the pellet, the greater velocity that it will have. However, lighter pellets will also lose their velocity faster than heavier pellets. The added momentum from heavier pellets means that they will impact harder.
For the most part, being impacted by an airsoft pellet fired at less than 250 fps in an unprotected area of your body will not produce significant pain. You will feel it, but it would not be too uncomfortable.
Being impacted by an airsoft pellet fired at more than 250 fps, especially at a range of 50 feet (15.3 meters) or less, will result in stinging pain.
If the impact is directly on the skin or over light clothing, it might leave a welt. Keep in mind that pain tolerance levels are very subjective. Read more on healing your welts faster here.
Paintball projectiles are noticeably larger than airsoft pellets. The most common size is .68 (17.3 mm) caliber. However, you can also find .43 (10.9 mm) and .71 (18 mm) calibers.
Paintballs are gelatin capsules containing a water-soluble dye that is non-toxic. The gelatin breaks on impact, splattering the dye.
Compared to airsoft pellets, the projectile’s larger size can result in more stinging pain when hit by a paintball. Impacts from a paintball shot at a distance of 20 feet or less can be very painful and leave a severe bruise on an unprotected part of the body.
Staying Within Game Rules and Limitations
Another reason for being aware of your airsoft or paintball gun’s power is to be compliant with specific game rules or those established by the place you play.
In airsoft, there are maximum velocity limitations based on the caliber and mass of the pellet. These ensure that your gun is below what is considered the “lethality threshold” under the National Firearms Act.
These are the maximum velocity limitations for airsoft.
|0.18 grams (0.0063 oz)||547 fps (166.71 mps)||394 fps (120.09 mps)|
|0.20 grams (0.0071 oz)||519 fps (158.19 mps)||374 fps (114 mps)|
|0.25 grams (0.0088 oz)||464 fps (141.43 mps)||334 fps (101.80 mps)|
|0.30 grams (0.0106 oz)||423 fps (128.93 mps)||305 fps (92.96 mps)|
|0.35 grams (0.0123 oz)||392 fps (119.48 mps)||283 fps (86.26 mps)|
|0.40 grams (0.0141 oz)||367 fps (111.86 mps)||265 fps (80.77 mps)|
It is also important to note that different game rules or location rules may apply limits below those in the chart above. Additionally, there may also be limitations regarding how close you may be to your target when firing.
With paintball, most leagues and playing venues will apply velocity limitations of 280 fps (85.34 mps) or lower. Due to the larger size and mass of a paintball, there will also be rules that prohibit shooting your opponent at a distance less than 15 feet (4.57 meters).
Read more about the paintball guns FPS and accuracy in this detailed article.
Determining Game Strategy and Tactical Advantage
In sports such as airsoft and paintball, strategy and the tactics to carry out that strategy are crucial.
Individual players on a team may be assigned different roles. You can have those in long-distance sniping positions. Others may be assigned close-range assault roles. The game’s dynamic may have your team take on a defensive strategy one moment and an offensive one the next.
To be as effective as possible, players assigned specific roles should be aware of their gun’s power. The reason being, that a player being relied upon in a sniping role should be equipped with a weapon that has the velocity and muzzle energy to be accurate at longer ranges. Those in assault roles would likely want a gun that can be relied upon for rapid-fire situations and short-distance accuracy.
How To Measure the Power of an Airsoft vs. a Paintball Gun
When it comes to an air-powered gun or firearm, ballistics determine the power of the projectiles fired. There are four main methods for measuring how powerful an airsoft or paintball gun is. These are velocity, muzzle energy, range, and accuracy.
Velocity and muzzle energy are simple to grasp. Simple mathematical calculations are used to provide you with a quantifiable measurement. Range and accuracy, however, can be more nuanced and require more subjective considerations to understand.
It is not difficult to overcomplicate the calculation of a projectile’s velocity. To keep things understandable, referring to the simplest definition of velocity is best.
In this regard, we will be looking at muzzle velocity. At its most basic, this is the speed at which the projectile leaves a gun’s barrel. This speed is customarily measured in feet per second (fps) or meters per second (mps).
Velocity and muzzle energy are often confused. Muzzle energy refers to the projectile’s kinetic energy as it is expelled from the gun’s muzzle. It is measured in foot-pounds of energy (FPE) in the United States and joules in other countries.
Speaking strictly about the power that a projectile has when hitting its target, muzzle energy would be the closest to offering that answer.
Understanding how range can affect a particular airsoft or paintball gun’s effectiveness requires distinguishing between the maximum range of an airsoft or paintball gun to its effective range.
When talking about range in general, whatever the type of gun, you are referring to the maximum range that a projectile will travel before falling back to the ground. In short, the maximum ballistic path for the projectile.
Effective range refers to the maximum distance that a projectile will travel from the gun while still having the desired effect on the target.
When it comes to firearms or air guns intended for hunting or personal protection, the difference between maximum range and effective range is more distinct. The maximum range would indicate the longest ballistic distance that a projectile would travel when fired. In contrast, the effective range indicates the longest distance where the gun would effectively bring down an animal or stop an aggressor.
How To Make This Distinction With Airsoft and Paintball Guns?
With airsoft and paintball guns being intended for sport and not to cause injury, you might think that their maximum and effective ranges would be the same. However, due to the dynamic of play and airsoft and paintball rules, you can still make a distinction.
With paintball, the effective range would be defined as the distance at which your paintball can impact the target with enough force to splatter the paint.
With airsoft, the effective range would be that which hits a target with enough force so that the target can sense that they have been hit. Remember, airsoft relies heavily on the honor system when it comes to knowing who has been hit and tagged out. If a target can’t feel the impact, they may not declare themselves as being hit.
You should also consider the accuracy of an airsoft or paintball gun in the calculus of how powerful an individual gun is.
In a sport that emulates tactical combat, accuracy has significant importance. If you are in the role of a sniper, shot placement and stealth are paramount. If you need to eliminate an immediate threat placed by a fast oncoming attacker while in a defensive position, the more accurate your weapon, the more effective you will be at the game.
Measuring accuracy, however, is not as clear-cut as measuring velocity, range, or muzzle energy. In many ways, accuracy can be more subjective.
Accuracy is subjective to the shooter’s skill and other factors such as the type of pellet or paintball being used, ambient conditions, type of gun, type of propellent, or trigger mechanism that is being used.
Types of Airsoft and Paintball Guns
Airsoft and paintball guns do not come in a single model. Each class of gun also comes in different types related to the mechanics of how they operate. This differentiation in operational mechanics can also create differences in power performance between airsoft and paintball guns and the different types within each class.
To properly gauge how powerful a gun is, it is therefore also essential to be familiar with the different types of airsoft and paintball guns in existence.
Types of Airsoft Guns
The primary method for classifying airsoft guns is by how they are powered. To be more precise, how their firing mechanism is powered. Under this classification methodology, there are three main categories of airsoft guns; spring-powered, battery-powered, and gas-powered.
Spring-Powered Airsoft guns
Spring-powered airsoft guns rely on elastic energy from a coiled spring to drive a piston air pump. The spring is released when the trigger is pulled, pressurizing the air in the pump cylinder. The pressurized air is used to propel the airsoft pellets out of the barrel of the gun.
This type of mechanism is very similar to that used in spring-piston air BB and pellet guns. Once the trigger is pulled to fire the gun, you must manually compress the spring to fire another pellet.
Battery-Powered airsoft guns
Battery-powered airsoft guns—sometimes also referred to as “electric airsoft guns”—rely on a spring-powered piston to generate the air pressurization required to propel a pellet out of the barrel, much as the manual spring-powered guns described above. However, instead of requiring a manual action to compress the pump spring, battery-powered airsoft guns use a rechargeable battery to operate internal motors to complete this task.
By being powered in this fashion, you can fire these airsoft guns in semi-automatic or automatic mode, resulting in fire rates ranging from 100 to 1,500 pellets per minute.
Gas-Powered airsoft guns
Gas-powered airsoft guns rely on a canister of compressed gas to generate pneumatic energy. Pulling the trigger on one of these types of guns releases enough gas to act as the pellet’s propellant. This action also creates blowback that is used to load the next pellet to be fired. As such, gas-powered airsoft guns usually offer semi-automatic and automatic modes of fire.
Types of Paintball Guns
Paintball markers are classified by the type of firing mechanism they use to initiate firing a paintball from the marker’s barrel.
Mechanical paintball guns have a spring that is activated when the trigger is pulled. The released energy from the spring causes a bolt to move forward and strike a pin. This action opens a valve that allows the compressed air to enter the barrel. The same action also creates the blowback to return the bolt to its original position, waiting to be fired.
Electronic paintball markers are also known as electro-pneumatic markers. This type of paintball marker’s primary characteristic is that the trigger system is operated entirely by battery-powered circuits. There is no mechanical link between the trigger and the marker—it is all electronic. Solenoids inside the gun are the ones engaging the firing action of the marker.
Electronic paintball markers usually offer multiple modes of fire. These can be automatic, semi-automatic, and burst modes.
An electromechanical paintball marker relies on battery-powered circuits—similar to an electronic model—except the circuits control the bolt directly. In essence, these markers’ firing mechanism is the same as mechanical versions with the advantage of a programmable trigger.
Pump-action paintball markers require the shooter to manually pump the gun to load the paintball into the barrel. The projectile is fired via a spring and bolt trigger similar to a mechanical model.
Power Performance of Airsoft and Paintball Guns
Using the four ballistic metrics described above in combination with the knowledge of how each of the different types of airsoft and paintball guns functions, you can now analyze airsoft and paintball guns to arrive at a more parsed determination as to which is more powerful.
- Airsoft velocity. Airsoft guns have velocities ranging from 150 to 600 fps (45.72 to 182.88 mps). The velocity will depend on the type and model of the gun. Also, as mentioned earlier, due to game and venue rules, high-velocity airsoft guns are not the norm. Most will have limitations of 500 fps (152.4 mps) for sniper rifles and 400 fps (121.92 mps) for close-range and assault guns.
- Paintball velocity. Paintball guns, also known as paintball markers, have a velocity of 250 to 300 fps (76.2 to 91.44 mps). Most league and venue rules use 280 fps (85.34) as the limit for muzzle velocity.
Airsoft guns can achieve greater velocity and have a longer effective range than paintball markers. Based on this, you could accurately claim that airsoft guns are more powerful.
However, you also need to properly define what you mean by “power” to apply a more definitive answer to the power question. To do so, you need to take into account the ballistic traits of airsoft and paintball projectiles. It would help if you also considered the use case scenario of the guns, tactics, and game rule limitations.