Why Are Paintball Guns Called ‘Markers’?

Paintball is one of the most popular sports in the world today. And one of the most important pieces of equipment you’ll need to play is a paintball gun – also known as a “marker.”

So, why are paintball guns called markets? Paintball guns are called ‘markers’ because they were initially used to mark trees (from a distance) that were to be cut down by the US Forestry Department. 

paintball guns called markers

In this post, you will learn why some people refer to the equipment as a paintball gun, while others call it a paintball marker. We’ll also be taking you through the history of the paintball marker and the first paintball game. 

Why Paintball Guns are Called Markers

To help you understand how the term ‘marker’ was coined, we’ll take you back to 1970, where a man named Charles Nelson became popular because of his paint-related product business. 

One of his inventions, a paint squirt device, was used by the US Forestry Department to mark trees that were to be cut down. The US Forestry Officials asked Nelson to come up with a product that will allow them to mark trees with a dash of paint

This was very important because the Forestry Officials did not like the idea of walking right up to a tree to mark it, as they were likely to encounter uneven terrain, thick bushes, and rivers. Instead, they wanted to mark the trees from a distance

marking trees with paintball gun
First paintball guns were actually used to mark the trees. From here the name ‘paintball marker’.

Using his innovation skills and extensive knowledge in the paint business, Nelson was able to invent a product that he named the paintball marker.

The name was simple, just like the product itself. Nelson’s product included paint encapsulated in a thin gelatine film that exploded upon impact and a paintball marker that would be used to shoot the ball.

Nelson is specifically credited for the invention of the gelatinous ball of paint. To get the ball of paint to hit the target, Nelson had to seek the help of a company known as Crosman. The company created the first-ever paintball marker, a gun they named the Crosman 707.

The paintball marker did its job well, but its demand was very low. After all, there were only a few US Forestry officials who wanted to use the marker. 

Nelson didn’t allow the idea of a paintball marker to die, even after Crossman stopped manufacturing the markers. He went into a partnership with an airgun manufacturing company called Daisy and developed a gun they named the Splotchmarker in 1972

Although the idea of making paintball a sport was not conceived until 1981, the Splotchmarker was being used by small groups of people that wanted to mark things by shooting them with paint. Later on, Splotchmarker was renamed Nel-Spot 007.

using paintball guns to mark cattles
Cattle ranchers used paintball markers to mark their livestock.

It’s believed the name Splotchmarker was dropped because it wasn’t a great name, and was quite a mouthful. Other than the US Forestry Department, cattle ranchers also bought Nelson’s markers as it enabled them to mark their cattle from a distance, a feature that allowed them to save time. 

After a few years, the paintball marker had developed into the modern paintball marker, also referred to as a paintball gun.

Paintball as a Sport: The First Paintball Game

The thought of playing paintball as a sport was first conceived by drunk guys. It might sound ridiculous, but the initial stages of paintball becoming a sport have been well documented. 

The drunkards, Charles Gaines (a stockbroker) and Hayes Noel (a writer) had the paintball game conversation in 1977. The initial idea was to use paintball as a test of human survival. So, they wanted the players to have equipment that would not harm others, and with which they would know who outlasted the other out there.

They thought of getting players from all walks of life to play with someone who had excellent survival skills, such as a soldier or hunter

However, the idea of making paintball a game was put on a halt as Charles went back to writing and Hayes to stock trading. 

first paintball match
The first paintball match had 2 teams, 6 players in each. One with 6 hunters and another one with people with no survival skills.

In 1981, Charles and Hayes renewed their interest in paintball. This time, they brought in another paintball enthusiast in Bob Gurnsley, who owned a ski shop. After several discussions, they decided Nel-Spot 007 would be their preferred paintball marker, as it was the only paintball marker you could find. 

To ensure the Nel-Spot 007 was safe and couldn’t kill anyone with paint, they experimented with the gun on a human target. The son of Charles Gaines, Shelby Gaines, was chosen as the test subject. Shelby said he did not feel any pain, or perhaps that the pain was bearable. These conclusions were apparent in his own words “it didn’t hurt much!”

The three then invited people to play their game. Luckily, nine players were interested. Together with the three founders, there were 12 players in total who wanted to play the first paintball game in Henniker, New Hampshire.

After putting together a package, all the players had a kit that included a Nel-sport 007, supplies, food, and alcohol. The whole package went for $175, which was quite expensive at that time.

To maintain the original idea of playing people from different walks of life against ultimate outdoor survivors, they chose the teams very carefully. One team had a writer, stockbroker, ski shop owner, and a venture capitalist. This was meant to ensure they didn’t have any experience in the outdoor department. They also added a forester and boxer.

The other team had six hunters, which basically meant they were used to aiming and shooting. The game was played in an 80-acre ski area with forest. The playing field had four flag stations, with 12 flags in each station. 

At each flag station, there was a referee whose role was to blow the whistle every 15 minutes. This move was meant to help paintballers locate the stations if, by any chance, they couldn’t find them in their maps. 

The game turned out to be intense, with many shots fired at each other. After all the firing, a player by the name Ritchie White was last man standing. The most interesting thing is that he was a Forester. Perhaps his familiarity with marking trees from a distance using the Nel-Spot 700 played a critical role in helping him to outsmart his opponents. 

The idea of making paintball a sport, which was conceptualized by 12 players in 1981, is what has become today paintball, a game with more than 3.4 million American players as of 2017. 

Paintball markers, paintball masks, paint, accessories, gear, clothing, and other associated products recorded a total sales of $158 million in 2017

Before you take that shot, take a few seconds to think about the 12 players who tried the game for the very first time in New Hampshire without knowing the game would become very popular.

Paintball is the fifteenth most popular extreme sport in the world. 


Paintball markers have come a long way. They were originally created to mark trees that were to be cut down by the forest depart. The use of paintball markers has grown, at some point, being used by cattle ranchers to mark their cattle with paint from afar. Then came the two drunk guys, who invented the paintball game even without knowing. 

Their goal was to play people who didn’t have any outdoor experience against people who had excellent outdoor survival skills. To their utter surprise, a Forester outlasted all the others. Paintball is a popular game today and is expected to grow even more in the near future.