Can You Shoot a Paintball Without CO2 or Compressed Air?

If you are new to the sport of paintball, you may be wondering what mechanism is used to fire paintballs. Is there a way to shoot a paintball without CO2 or compressed air?

You cannot shoot a paintball without CO2 or compressed air. Whether the marker used is mechanically or electro-pneumatically operated, it will use propellant to propel the paintball out of the barrel.

If you are curious about why CO2 or compressed air is needed to propel a paintball, read on. This article will cover the different propellants used and the basic operation involved in firing a paintball.

The Role of Compressed Gas in Shooting a Paintball

Regardless of the type of paintball marker—the common terminology for what colloquially known as a paintball gun—the propellant used to power the paintball out of the barrel is a compressed gas. It can take the form of carbon dioxide (CO2), high-pressure air, nitrogen, and even propane.

Regardless of the gas used, it is stored in a pressurized container and released into the expansion chamber as part of the firing process. A paintball marker without a compressed gas to create the expansive wave will not be able to expel a paintball. It would be akin to a firearm attempting to fire a slug without powder.

shooting paintballs without  co2 or compressed air is not possible.
Compressed air or CO2 is needed to shoot paintballs.

The Firing Process of a Paintball Marker

To develop a clearer understanding of why a gaseous propellant is required to fire a paintball, you need to look at a paintball marker’s firing process.

Although there are different types of paintball markers, the overall firing process remains the same. It involves a paintball being pushed or guided into the barrel. At the same time, the ball is sealed in the barrel. A valve releases compressed gas into the barrel at this point, creating the expansion that forces the ball out.

Different Types of Paintball Markers

As we mentioned, there are different types of paintball markers. Most of their differences reside in how they accomplish the individual steps of the firing process described above. The basic mechanics of the firing process, however, remain the same.


Mechanical paintball guns rely on a spring and bolt mechanism that is activated when the trigger is pulled. The bolt is moved forward and pushes an individual paintball into the barrel.

The bolt then strikes a pin. This action causes the valve to open, which in turn allows the air to enter the barrel. The bolt then returns to its original position by the same force of expanding air that propels the paintball out of the barrel. 

In other words, in mechanical paintball markers, the expanding does two things. It expels the paintball, and it also returns the bolt into position to be fired again. This type of mechanism is commonly known as a “blowback” action.

With mechanical guns, you get the benefit of semi-automatic firing. In other words, for each pull of the trigger, a paintball is fired. Something else to consider with mechanical guns is that they will require a higher level of air pressure to fire effectively. The exact amount of pressure will vary, of course, by model but will usually range between 600 to 800 psi.

When you consider that other types of paintball markers, such as electronic models, can effectively fire with as little as 200 to 300 psi of pressure, the drawback of mechanical guns is clear. You will get a lower yield in terms of the number of shots you can fire with each air tank.


Unlike mechanical models that rely on bolts and springs to engage the firing mechanism, electronic guns, also known as electro-pneumatic guns, engage their firing mechanism through battery-powered circuits. These circuits control solenoids that are responsible for the actual firing of the paintball.

An electronic paintball marker’s trigger serves to send a message to the circuit boards to engage the firing action.

The electronic type of trigger allows you to program different modes of firing. For example, you can program a trigger to fire automatically, semi-automatically, or in a predetermined burst.

With electronic paintball markers, air pressure regulators are usually incorporated into the design. These regulators are mechanical but are controlled by the same circuitry as the triggers. 

The presence of regulators allows for varying amounts of air pressure to be drawn in from the tank. As a result, the air can be released at a lower and more constant pressure, resulting in more shots fired from the air tank and greater consistency with accuracy.

I have a very extensive buyer guide on the best fully automatic paintball guns. Check it out on this link.


An electromechanical gun combines the bolt and spring firing mechanism of a mechanical paintball marker with an electronic trigger’s convenience. In these types of paintball markers, the electronic trigger does not control a series of solenoids for the firing action. The circuitry is connected to the bolt. It releases it when it’s time to fire.

Since the firing action is almost identical to the mechanical paintball marker, electromechanical markers suffer from the same issue regarding their need for higher air pressure.

The most significant advantage of this type of paintball gun is that it provides you with the simplicity of maintaining a mechanical gun with the ability to program the trigger for fully automatic or burst firing mode.


Pump style paintball markers are the most traditional of the bunch. The original paintball guns used this pump style mechanism. Similar to a pump-action shotgun, each pumping action places the paintball into the barrel.

In terms of the firing speed, since each firing sequence requires a shooter to perform the pump action, it is the slowest type of available marker. That being said, it is also reported as being the most accurate. Another advantage to pump paintball guns is that they tend to be the most economical.

Interested in pump paintball guns? Here is the complete guide on how pump paintball guns work.

Video: Great presentation on how a Tippmann A5 Works.

Different Types of Propellants

As we have already stated, to fire a paintball, compressed gas is required to act as a propellant. However, there is more than just one type of propellant.

High-Pressure Air

High-pressure air is atmospheric air that is stored at high pressure. This pressure will range from 3,000 to 4,500 psi. When using high-pressure air for paintball markers, a regulator is usually required to regulate the pressure to 250 to 860 psi. The regulated pressure allows you to fire the paintball within an acceptable velocity for safety.

High-pressure air tanks tend to be costlier than other types of tanks. However, using high-pressure air in a paintball marker allows for greater consistency in pressure and temperature, which allows for greater efficiency in the number of shots fired per tank and the accuracy that you achieve with your shots.

Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide was one of the most prevalent propellants used in paintball. However, many of its inherent disadvantages, especially those related to temperature, have made many paintball enthusiasts switch to high-pressure air.

The problem with carbon dioxide is that it must be vaporized into a gaseous form before you can use it. In cold weather, the reduced vapor pressure can cause a liquefied gas to be drawn into the marker’s chamber. As such, inconsistency in the number of shots obtained from a tank, accuracy, and velocity are common with carbon dioxide propellant.


You can fill most high-pressure air with nitrogen. Normal air consists of roughly 75 percent nitrogen. The reason for choosing 100 percent nitrogen is that it ensures no water vapor is held within it. It allows for more stability and consistent pressure. It is similar to why nitrogen is sometimes used to fill tires.


The very nature of a paintball marker’s firing process makes it impossible to fire a paintball without some compressed gas to act as a propellant.

High-pressure air, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen are the most commonly used propellants. Regardless of your preferred choice of paintball marker type, be it mechanical, electronic, electromechanical, or pump-action, they all rely on some sort of compressed gas to shoot a paintball.

Related Articles