Although there are three main types of airsoft guns, gas and electric are the most widely available ones today. Both types of airsoft guns perform the same primary function of firing BBs. However, they are vastly different in operation, and understanding these differences can help you make the right choice.
The main difference between electric and gas airsoft guns is the way each one propels BBs. Electric airsoft guns use a battery-powered spring and piston to move BBs out of the barrel, while gas guns use compressed gas as a propellant. Other differences are in costs, performance, and realisticness.
The rest of this article explores electric and gas airsoft guns and explains the differences in greater detail. It also discusses the pros and cons of the two airsoft guns and gives some pointers for choosing the right one.
In the table below you the first gun is electric and second one is CO2 powered Airsoft gun. Note that for CO2 you still need to purchase CO2 cartridges, while with this specific electric gun you already get the battery and the charger:
Electric Airsoft Guns: Basic Overview
Electric airsoft guns, commonly referred to as AEGs (automatic electric guns) by players, are the most common type of airsoft guns today. They were first introduced in 1992 by the Japanese airsoft manufacturer Tokyo Marui, and different manufacturers have since reproduced the design.
In a way, AEGs are upgrades of springer guns, as they both use the same spring and piston mechanism to propel the BB out of the gun.
But while springer guns are manually operated, AEGs use a battery-powered electric motor that drives a set of gears to pull back the piston and compress the spring. The spring is released when the gun is fired, pushing the BB out of the barrel.
AEGs are available in multiple forms, shapes, sizes, and designs. And there is likely to be an AEG replica for any real firearm you can think of.
All electric airsoft guns operate on the same basic principle. Still, the more expensive, higher-end models are made with premium materials like full metal gears, intricate hop-up units, lithium polymer batteries, and polycarbonate casing.
All these give the higher models a better accuracy range and power when compared with entry-level AEGs. But don’t write off the cheaper entry-level AEGs, as they perform reasonably well, especially for new airsoft players testing the waters.
Because of the way they’re powered, AEGs have a high ROF (rate of fire), and most can switch between fully automatic, semi-automatic, and single fire modes. But understand that as battery power decreases, the rate of fire also decreases, at which point it might be best to switch from fully automatic to semi-automatic firing mode.
Pros of Electric Airsoft Guns
- They are widely available in the market and come in multiple designs and models
- Entry-level models are affordable and perform satisfactorily, allowing new players to get the hang of the game before investing in more expensive guns
- They’re not affected by the weather since they’re battery-powered
- They have a high ROF and can switch between fully automatic and semi-automatic firing modes
- The rechargeable batteries allow you to save money. Compare this to gas guns, where you constantly have to buy gas to power your gun
- Components can be upgraded and fine-tuned
Cons of Electric Airsoft Guns
- They don’t feel nearly as realistic as actual guns when fired. And this is because they’re electrically powered, so there’s no recoil or kickback. Some models attempt to replicate the recoil, but it doesn’t feel as realistic as an actual firearm.
- Batteries can take up to eight hours to charge. Additionally, they will eventually become weak and need a replacement, and that’s assuming it doesn’t get destroyed from overcharging and other issues first.
- AEGs tend to malfunction in wet conditions due to moisture interfering with the electric motor and battery. Although water-resistant, airsoft guns are not waterproof. And wetness is a bigger issue for AEGs than other airsoft guns because of their internal workings. As such, your electric gun might not function appropriately in a heavy downpour.
- Field stripping an electric airsoft gun is a complicated process. The motor and gearbox are sophisticated and may require an expert to take them apart for cleaning and maintenance safely.
Gas Airsoft Guns: Basic Overview
Gas guns use gas to propel the BBs, unlike electric (and springer) guns that use springs.
A canister filled with pressurized gas is stored inside the rifle’s body. The canister is fitted with a valve on top to prevent the gas from escaping. When you pull the trigger, a bolt pushes against the valve, allowing a small amount of pressurized gas to escape into the barrel, where it forces the BB out of the barrel.
Several gases are used for airsoft rifles, but the most widely used are propane (commonly referred to as green gas) and CO2. Most people prefer propane, as it’s less expensive. But CO2 gas is stronger and results in higher FPS (feet per second) when used.
Additionally, CO2 works better in cold weather than propane. With pressurized gases, a drop in temperature will result in a corresponding drop in pressure and vice versa. Since CO2 is stored at a much higher pressure than propane, drops in temperature won’t affect it much. However, at extremely cold temperatures, both gases can freeze up.
Gas guns can be automatic and semi-automatic, but it’s more common to see the semi-automatic types. There are two main types of gas airsoft guns:
- Gas blowback
Gas Blowback (GBB) Gun
Gas blowback guns are the most widely used gas airsoft guns. Their popularity comes from their ability to imitate the recoil of a real firearm.
When you press the trigger and release the gas into the barrel, not all of it propels the BB. A part of the gas pushes back the slide (or bolt, if it’s a rifle) rapidly, generating a blowback that simulates recoil on an actual gun and loading the next shot at the same time.
GBBs aren’t the most affordable airsoft guns, and entry-level models usually have the same price tag as the mid-range AEGs. The higher prices are attributed to the more realistic look and feel of the premium materials used in the construction and the blowback feature.
Besides airsoft, GBBs are also used for training purposes. The premium design and especially the recoil feature provide an almost identical experience to carrying and operating a real firearm.
Non-Blowback (NBB) Gun
This variant is usually found on handguns, and as the name suggests, it doesn’t generate a blowback. Here, the slide is fixed rather than reciprocating, and all the gas propels the BB. Consequently, non-blowback gas airsoft guns produce higher FPS ratings than GBBs.
Pros of Gas Airsoft Guns
- Realistic weight and feel
- High FPS with good range and accuracy
- Realistic blowback feature
- Easy to fieldstrip
- There is no “wait time” for batteries to charge up before use
Cons of Gas Airsoft Guns
- Gas airsoft guns can be quite expensive when compared to similar spring and AEG airsoft guns. Additionally, you will need to get a propane adapter if you choose to use propane instead of CO2
- Not as many firearms have gas airsoft gun replicas. As such, players might not get the models they’d prefer, having to settle for something else or get an AEG replica of their preferred gun
- Gases are affected by cold (propane more so than CO2), so playing in cold weather or rain may be a bit of a struggle
- Players need to carry additional gas canisters for longer games
- Recurring cost of buying gas. Even the less expensive green gas will add up to a considerable amount after a few months
- They require regular cleaning and maintenance like real guns. However, some folks might enjoy doing this, as it makes the airsoft gun even more real to them
Differences Between Electric and Gas Airsoft Guns
The differences between electric and gas airsoft guns are explained below.
Electric airsoft guns propel BBs using a spring and piston mechanism. A battery-powered electric motor drives a set of gears that compress the spring to push out the BBs.
Gas guns use the power of compressed gas to propel BBs. A small amount of gas is released from a canister (stored within the gun) into the barrel to push out the ammo.
Price and Expenses
Gas airsoft guns are more expensive than electric guns. Entry-level gas guns can cost as much as mid-range electric airsoft guns.
Additionally, there’s a recurring cost of constantly buying more gas canisters to power the gun. While the batteries on AEGs have to be charged periodically and there’s an associated electricity cost, it’s not as much as the recurring cost of buying gas.
Gas airsoft guns, especially the blowback types, tend to be more realistic than electrical airsoft guns. Many folks appreciate GBBs because of the blowback feature that imitates the recoil of actual firearms. Additionally, gas airsoft guns are frequently made with steel and have a similar weight and feel as real firearms.
While some AEGs can replicate the blowback effect, it isn’t a true “blowback” and usually doesn’t feel or sound as authentic as the real deal.
Reliability and Consistency
In the right conditions, the two types of airsoft guns have comparable accuracy, FPS, and range. However, the performance of gas guns tends to be less consistent and reliable because temperature changes can affect the gas, which affects the performance.
Further changes in the concentration of the green gas can also affect the performance.
Your GBB may have great accuracy and range one day, and another day acts differently, either because it’s cold outside or you’re using gas with a slightly different composition.
AEGs are not as affected by temperature changes. And as long as the batteries are in good condition, these guns will deliver the same results each time.
Here’s a table summarising the main differences between electric and gas airsoft guns:
|Battery-powered spring and piston propels the BBs||Compressed gas is what propel BBs|
|Low initial and operating cost||High initial and recurring cost|
|The lack of an actual blowback feature makes these guns less realistic.||The weight, feel, and blowback feature closely resembles and imitates real firearms|
|Reliable and consistent performance||Performance is not always consistent|
Electric vs. Gas: Which Works Best for You?
Both electric and gas airsoft guns are great alternatives to spring guns. Having said that, AEGs are the best choice in almost all cases. They’re less expensive, more widely available, and perform just as well as gas guns in terms of accuracy and range.
The only real advantage gas guns have over electric airsoft guns is the blowback feature, which can simulate the recoil of an actual firearm. However, this is not much of an advantage, as some electric airsoft guns can reproduce a similar effect.
One instance when gas guns might be the better choice is for tactical and weapons training. Gas airsoft replicas have nearly identical weight, feel, look and recoil to actual guns. They’re undoubtedly better at replicating real firearms than electric guns (even the ones with blowback).
Even military organizations use airsoft guns to train recruits, as they’re cheaper, safer, and more practical than real firearms.
Ultimately the choice comes down to the individual. Do you want a highly efficient airsoft gun that will help you “beat” your opponents and win the day? Or do you prefer realism even if you won’t play efficiently or win?
If you’re primarily interested in playing airsoft games, then an electric gun will serve you just right, as, on the playing field, FPS, accuracy, and range are the primary considerations. On the other hand, if you want some realism or handgun training, your best bet is to go with a blowback gas airsoft gun, as it will give the most realistic experience.
However, if affordable for you, you can get both types of airsoft guns. Gas airsoft pistols and revolvers make very good sidearms/secondary weapons to supplement a primary AEGs rifle.
The most significant difference between electric and gas airsoft guns is how they operate and shoot out the BBs.
Electric airsoft guns use rechargeable batteries to power electric motors that drive gears that compress springs and propel the BB when released. On the other hand, gas airsoft guns employ compressed gases to push the pellets through and out of the barrel.
Another critical difference is the blowback feature on gas airsoft guns. This feature imitates the recoil of real firearms, making gas airsoft guns more realistic than their electric counterparts.