Paintball Vs. Airsoft: What Are The Similarities & Differences?

For someone who isn’t familiar with the two sports, airsoft and paintball may seem impressively similar in nature. With several people dressed in military-style clothing shooting at each other, it’s easy to believe they are the same sport. However, there are several areas of which the two are extremely different.

Down to their very beginnings, airsoft and paintball can be as different as night and day. We’ve compared some of their similarities and differences, allowing you to judge which you feel best suits you.

Definition

Airsoft

Airsoft began in Japan for two reasons; target shooting was remarkably cheaper, and the plastic bbs didn’t hurt humans, thus making it perfect for military-style training. Airsoft guns tend to be manufactured to the exact specifications of actual, real-steal firearms. In fact, the weapons look so realistic that federal law now mandates that airsoft guns have a bright-orange tip on the end of the barrel so that anyone can identify it as an airsoft gun.

Airsoft guns fire little plastic bbs at upwards of 300 feet per second using either spring, gas, or electric power. How the gun shoots the ammo is a determining factor to how expensive the guns are. Cheaper airsoft guns tend to be spring-powered while the more expensive guns tend to use a combination of gas and electric power.

Paintball

Though now considered a military-style sport, paintball had many different purposes when first invented. Charles Nelson created the paintball as a way to easy mark livestock without having to get close the animal. While the paintball might sting a little, it allowed the farmer to mark livestock quickly and at a distance.

The first game of paintball wasn’t played until around 1981. Paintball guns either use a gas (CO2 or nitrogen are most common), compressed air, or electric power. Additionally, since paintballs are considerably larger than airsoft bbs, paintball participants tend to dress in thicker clothing and wear many pieces of protective gear.

Cost

Airsoft

As far as the price of the guns is concerned, you can get a cheap spring-powered airsoft gun from any big-box retailer for $20-30. However, for the guns that are built to resemble the real guns in both looks and feel, you can spend anywhere from $100-500, depending on the weapon. Simply put, the more features and better quality guns do tend to run considerably more.

The ammunition for airsoft, 6mm plastic bbs, tends to be cheaper than paint balls as well. You can get a box of 5,000 bbs for as little as $4, while the higher-quality rounds tend to run between $20-40. The higher quality ammo tends to be consistently more accurate than the cheaper rounds.

Requirements for gear to play airsoft, other than the gun and ammunition, tend only to be a pair of safety glassed, though you want to check with your range to see what they require. For extra protection, you can purchase a full mask. However, a player doesn’t need as much protective clothing as the more clothes you have on, the less likely you are to feel the shot.

Paintball

Paintball guns are comparable in price to that of airsoft guns. Big-box retailers such as Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods will usually have package deals that include a cheap paintball gun and everything needed to play. These combo packages may range from $50-60 for a cheap gun. However, for increased playing ability and features, you can spend anywhere from $100-500 or more for a high-quality gun.

Ammunition for paintball tends to be more expensive, with a case of 2000 rounds costing at least $30 for the low-quality paint. However, the high-quality ammo tends to be very expensive, averaging $50-60 for 2000 rounds.

What tends to make paintball more expensive than airsoft, however, is the fact that you will need increased protective gear since the ammo tends to hurt more. While you can get away with a simple pair of safety glasses in airsoft, paintball requires a full mask. Additionally, we recommend thick protective clothing as a paintball hitting exposed skin tends to be extremely painful.

How much do they hurt?

When deciding on which sport to participate in, some make the decision based on the pain in which one feels when getting shot. This pain is perhaps the easiest factor to compare between the two; paintball hurts worse than airsoft. When a 6mm plastic bb flying through the air at roughly 300 feet per second hits you, you barely feel a thing. In fact, most arenas will prohibit thick clothing for airsoft play for that reason; if you can’t feel the shot, you can’t call the hit.

Paintball, however, can hurt. The paintball is a little bigger than a half-inch in diameter coming towards you at roughly 300 feet per second. The size, alone, makes getting shot in paintball hurt much worse. How much pain you feel, though, is entirely dependent on you.

Most paintballers compare getting shot to the feeling of having a rubber band snapped on your skin. The level of thickness of your clothing will greatly help in the area of pain. Just be careful not to wear so much clothing that you began to get hydrated. Additionally, be sure to wear every piece of protective gear as required by your range.

Who can play?

There aren’t any age limitations for either sport, though younger players tend to gravitate to airsoft. However, certain ranges do have an age limit strictly because kids younger than ten years old tend not to be able to follow the rules while playing.

While there isn’t an age limit on playing, most of the gear does require someone older than eighteen to purchase. This age limit is particularly the case when it comes to buying the gun and gas, such as CO2 and nitrogen. If children show an interest in playing either airsoft or paintball, they should start out small and work their way up to higher levels of play.

Styles of play

Both sports have very different methods of gameplay. While some tournament play has similar characteristics between the two, each sport has variations unique to that game.

Playing airsoft

Airsoft is the supreme military simulation game. Imagine war games where armies train in different scenarios, and you have the exact picture of airsoft’s gameplay. Airsoft can be played on any terrain, whether it be in a densely-wooded area or urban setting such as a makeshift building or neighborhood. The emphasis in playing airsoft is remaining hidden while quietly moving through the battlefield.

The main rule in airsoft is to call out when the opponent hits you. Since the airsoft pellet doesn’t leave a mark, this is the only way to know if you are out. If a referee or other player finds out that a player did not call out when they are hit, then it could mean suspension from that round or removed from the game entirely.

Playing Paintball

While there are many variations on how people play paintball, they all tend to revolve around two main styles; woodsball and speedball are the most common. Speedball is usually set up in a flat field about the size of a soccer field. Teams start at either end and move their way across the field. Inflatable obstacles are set up randomly on the field and are switched up between rounds to give a different feel to the field. The last man or team standing determines the winner.

Woodsball doesn’t necessarily have to be played in the woods but denotes a game over uneven terrain. Woodsball fields will have a variety of natural obstacles and buildings to be used as cover, making it easier to conceal. Woodsball play is intended to simulate military combat while speedball promotes speed and accuracy.

AirsoftPaintball
DefineUses exact replicas of real guns to fire 6mm plastic bbs. Played by using military-like simulations and operations.Uses futuristic-looking guns powered by gas or air to fire round paintballs at the enemy. Play in games types called speedball and woodsball.
CostGuns can be as cheap as $20-30 for a spring-powered plastic. More expensive, realistic looking guns can cost from $100-500 depending on features.
A box of 5000 bbs can be as cheap as $4 a box while the high-quality ammo can be between $20-40.
Similar to the cost of airsoft guns. Can be as cheap as $40 and as expensive as $500, depending on your level of play and features you want.
Paintball rounds can cost anywhere from $30-60 or more for a box of 2000. Cost dependent on the quality of the paint.
Pain levelAirsoft is rarely painful if the right eye protection is worn.Paintball varies in pain depending on how thick your clothes are and where you get it. Can range from feeling like a snap from a rubber band to getting stung by a bee.
Difficulty levelAirsoft tends to be a more technical and skill game as it simulates special forces style play. The magazines tend to be harder to load, and the guns require more skill to aim and shoot.Paintball guns use “pods” or “hoppers” to feed the paintball into the gun and are incredibly easy to use. Though there is aiming involve, paintball tends to be easier to play as far as the guns are concerned.
AgeUsually, anyone above ten years old can play. Check with the range to see what they require.Usually, any person above ten years of age can play. Check with the range to see what they require.
Types of gunsAirsoft guns are typically spring, CO2, or electric powered.Paintball guns can use cO2, nitrogen, compressed air, or electric motors to fire their rounds.

Conclusion

As you can see, though airsoft and paintball seem related on the outside, the actual playing of both are entirely different. You don’t have to choose just one, though. Many players have decided to partake in both sports. Though different in nature, these players have discovered that playing one helps to prepare you for the other, seeing as they are both active, physical sports.

2 Comments
  1. Nathan says

    Thanks for your article. I found it helpful.. As a note, most paintball sites cap their FPS at 300. Therefore your 400 fps range is too high and 250-300 is more accurate.

    1. Secured Flanks says

      Nathan, thanks for the heads up. You’re absolutely correct. We’ve fixed that typo.

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