The Ultimate Guide To Paintball: Everything You Need To Know

  • Updated February 15th, 2023

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There’s something to be said about a sport that lets you go out into a big field and shoot your friends, yet nobody gets hurt. For many, that game has become paintball. For someone on the outside looking in, it seems like a bunch of grown men and women pretending to be warriors, but this couldn’t be any further than the truth.

While paintball has some military-simulation style of playing, its purpose is not to create soldiers. Instead, paintball is intended to be a way that friends can enjoy working as a team to achieve victory. Still, for someone who has never played, it can be daunting to get started.

There are many different aspects to the sport of paintball and, for someone looking to start playing, figuring the game out can be stressful. If you’ve been asked to tag along on the weekend round, you’re probably going crazy trying to research as much as you can to prepare yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in having to buy the finest gear to impress your friends, even though you’ve never played. That’s where we come in.

We’ve taken the time to bring everything you need to know about the great sport of paintball into one place. In this guide, we’ll discuss everything from what are must haves before your first outing to what you can expect, pain wise, and everything in between.

Perhaps you’re a parent whose child has asked to play the sport, and you’re wondering what exactly they are dragging you into; we’ve got you covered, too. Once we are done with you, you’ll be able to make the most informed decision possible on whether you allow them to play or not.

The Laymans Ultimate Paintball Guide
The Laymans Ultimate Paintball Guide

Paintball In General

How Did Paintball Get Started?

The idea of paintball, in its conception, wasn’t anything near what it has grown to today. Charles Nelson was the inventor of the paintball gun concept in the mid-1960’s as a way to effortlessly mark trees and livestock from a distance. His invention didn’t fare too well with animal right’s activists who felt it was putting an unnecessary amount of pain on the animal. Therefore, that portion of the paintball’s history was soon forgotten.

However, in 1981, the first game of paintball, as it’s played today, was played in New Hampshire with 12 participants. These 12 came from different walks of lives; there was a stockbroker, writer, and surgeon amongst them. These 12 played an arousing game of capture the flag and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now, nearly forty years after the first game happened, paintball is a worldwide sport. Much like extreme sports, such as snowboarding, paintball has a World Cup, where countries from all over the world compete to be the best. Additional, the National Professional Paintball League (NPPL) holds tournaments around the globe. In fact, there are even International organizations that set rules and guidelines for the sport.

The Difference Between Paintball & Airsoft

Many times, these two sports are thought to be the same. We have, however, taken the time to break down the differences and similarities of the two. You can read that analysis by going here. In short, the main difference between the two would be the projectiles.

In paintball, you’ll be shooting projectiles that are either .68 or .50 caliber. Simply, these paintballs are a little over a half of an inch in diameter and are a gelled paint substance in a thin, wax-like coating. Airsoft projectiles, on the other hand, are 6mm in diameter and are simply made of plastic.

Additionally, the look of the guns is a stark contrast. While paintball guns can resemble actual real-steel guns, airsoft guns are usually exact replicas. This distinction makes the manufacturing of airsoft guns extremely controlled by law.

What You Need To Know About Playing

Age Requirements

If your child has asked for your permission to play, the first question that popped into your mind was most likely “How old do you have to be?” And that’s a valid question, considering the roughness of the sport. Though this question is answered in depth here, let me give you a brief answer.

Different countries may have different age restrictions, but in the United States, there aren’t any laws restricting minors from participating. With that in mind, most paintball venues do have age restrictions. Most will have the age set at ten being the youngest they will allow and then, only if they have parental consent.

The age most venues cease to require parental consent is usually 16 years of age. Nonetheless, the younger player should be able to follow directions and rules while operating the paintball marker maturely before being allowed to play.

Possible injuries

If you are still on the fence about whether you will be participating or not, chances are the one subject that causes you to remain apprehensive is the fear of getting hurt. In all actuality, paintball is a highly safe sport. The only chance to get severely injured is entirely dependent on how roughly you move through the field. And, seeing as you’ll be a beginner, chances are you won’t be diving until you get your feet wet.

The main point that people who don’t play paintball believe hurt the most is getting hit with a paintball. To see where we’ve discussed this topic in-depth, click here. The short version is that getting shot by a paintball sounds much worse than it is. In fact, once you get shot the first time, you realize your adrenaline is so high that you can’t wait to get paybacks.

Now, if you’re like me, you may want to get that first shot over with as soon as possible. While you don’t want the first shot to be in the middle of a game, as that would make you be out, we all have that one friend who is eager to shoot you. With that in mind, have them stand at a safe distance away from you while you have your safety gear, i.e. your mask, on and let them shoot you. You’ll see that the anticipation is the worst part of getting shot with a paintball.

Yes, after your game is over and you begin to take off your gear and clothes, you may see some minor bruising and welts in the spots where your opponent hit you with paintballs. After all, the paintballs are flying at roughly 300 feet per second; more if your particular paintball field allows it. To find out how to treat, and prevent, these types of injuries, click here.

What do paintballers wear?

Talking about how much paintballs hurt usually causes beginners to begin to question what you’re supposed to wear. Don’t worry; it is a natural progression of thought. As your resident paintball expert, we’ve talked about that, too. Click here for an exhaustive article on what you are to wear when paintballing.

Simply put, the goal is to cover as much of your skin as possible. Any skin left exposed will only hurt worse when hit. Therefore, gloves and a mask are the two pieces of gear, in addition to your actual clothing, that you will need to make sure you have. (We’ll talk about cost and what to buy or rent in a little bit.) Beyond that, thick clothing works best to avoid feeling too much pain from the shot.

Most teams do wear specially made jerseys to make themselves stand out. However, if you’re just beginning, chances are you don’t have a team yet, though you can purchase clothes specifically designed for paintballing. There’s really no need to buy this type of clothing until you know this is something you want to do regularly.

What to expect in Cost

Another reason most people usually remain apprehensive about partaking in paintball is that they have heard their friends talking, and bragging, about how much they have spent on different guns, accessories, and overall gear. Trust me. Those that like to brag about how much they paid are usually the ones who get shot the quickest in a match. Don’t let your friends lead you to believe you have to spend a small fortune to participate as a beginner.

Is paintball expensive? Yes, it can be, but it all depends on what you want to do with it. Starting out, however, it doesn’t have to be very costly. View our articles on it here if you want a detailed rundown of just how much playing paintball can cost.

Starting out, the only items you may have to purchase yourself, besides the paintballs, would be the gloves, though one of your friends may have an extra set you can borrow. The rest of the equipment you will use can be rented from the venue where you’ll be playing.

On a side note, before you buy your paintballs, check with the field where you will be playing and see if they require you to buy your paint from them. Some fields do this to keep players from altering their paintballs to do more harm, such as freezing them.

Standard Equipment

Now, chances are you don’t know what equipment players use for paintball. Don’t worry; most beginners don’t. Let’s run through that list quickly.

  • Paintball Gun, sometimes referred to as a marker.
  • Paintball Hopper
  • Air Tank (it will either be CO2, nitrogen, or compressed air powered)
  • Mask (and a visor if the mask you have doesn’t have one built-in.
  • Paintball tubes, to hold extra rounds
  • Gear belt or Vest, to hold your accessories.

Now, you may be the type of person that just wants to buy your own equipment but need to keep it on a budget. We’ve done that research for you, too. For a list of cheap, but effective, paintball guns, go to this article Perhaps you’re the type of person that goes all in and wants the best of everything from the start. No, we won’t judge you. In fact, we’ve done that work for you. Click here for a listing of the best paintball guns on the market today and here for a listing of the best paintball masks.

Types of Play

Before embarking on your first paintball adventure, you should have a basic understanding of the different types of paintball play. There are two basic styles of play, each having an unlimited number of revisions that can be made to enhance play. These two types are woodsball and speedball.


Woodsball play is the ultimate “scenario” style of the game, usually taking place in the woods; hence the name woodsball. The typical woodsball match takes place in a large area, usually anywhere between a quarter of an acre to two acres; more if there are a multitude of players converging on the field at once. Woodsball teams can have as many players on them as the scenario requires. The scenario and team sizes are usually determined before play starts.

Within the field of play, there will be the natural cover found in trees and bushes, as well as objects specifically placed to enhance the game. The additional objects can be anything from an older car to a building specially constructed for the match. These objects are often changed around as not to allow familiarity with the field.

Gameplay in woodsball style of paintball closely relates to military simulation style of play. Different styles of woodsball play include:

Two-Flag Capture the Flag

In this style, each team has a flag placed on the prospective base. The objective is to not only capture your enemy’s flag but to then bring that flag back to your base without getting hit. This extra objective adds another component to typical capture the flag because, if the person carrying the enemy’s flag gets shot, the enemy is then able to take their flag back.

One-Flag Capture the Flag

The difference with this gameplay is that there is only one flag placed in the center of the field and the objective is to capture that flag and march it through enemy territory to their side of the field.

Attack and Defend

This gameplay entails one team having the tasks of defending a flag at their base while the other team must attack the enemy’s base, capture the flag, and return it to their own base.


This is a simple shoot-out; the team with the last member standing wins.

More About Woodsball

Typically the organizers of the venue set the time that is allowed for play. The length of play can range anywhere from 15-30 minutes or more. Often, hundreds of players will converge onto a single field of play. Games involving that many people usually take place on larger pieces of land, often 10 acres or more, and can last all day.

Scenarios, an intensely large version of woodsball, tend to have hundreds, sometimes thousands, of participants and can span an entire week. These all-day, or week long battles have many different rules, including the chance to be “healed” by members of the team that are considered medics. This “healing” allows players to continue, instead of being called out after a single hit.

The sky is truly the limit with woodsball. Want to act out the invasion of Normandy? Go for it. Want to simulate the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s house? Go for it. Use your imagination and have fun with it.


Speedball is the ultimate tournament style of play. Teams in speedball can consist of anywhere from 3 to 10 players, depending on the size of the field. Speedball games take place on a small piece of land, around 150 feet by 125 feet, which contains no natural obstacles. Instead, inflatable bunkers are erected to provide coverage and make the game safer.

Two teams start off on separate sides of the field, and the primary goal is to eliminate the other team’s members. Whichever team has the last remaining members wins. Speedball games, true to their name, tend to progress rapidly. Where aiming and strategy is key in woodsball, speedball strategy hinges on being fast, moving in and around the obstacles, while sending as many balls towards the enemy as possible.

The structure of the speedball field is considerably more uniform than woodsball play. In speedball, the inflatable obstacles are placed evenly, with the same number of obstacles placed on either side of the field. Therefore, each team has just as much cover as the other, making the game fair.

Paintball Guns

How a Paintball marker works

Before you can be productive on the field, it’s wise to have a working knowledge of how a paintball gun, or marker, works. Simply put, there are three basic types of airsoft guns. These include:

  • Spring Loaded
  • Electric, a.k.a. AEGS
  • Gas/pneumatic Powered
  • Pump

The basic explanation for how these paintball guns work is a little bit more involved than saying “you pull the trigger and the paintball shoots out.” Each type of gun operates a bit differently than the others. We have an article that breaks down how each of these particular guns works; you can read that article here.

Parts of a gun

Generally speaking, there are a few essential components that every paintball gun is going to have. There are several other internal elements of a paintball gun, but these are the ones a beginner will need to know. These include:

  • Grip
  • Bolt
  • Hammer
  • ASA (Air Source Adapter)
  • Air Regulator
  • Gas line

To give you a short explanation, here is the basic order of operations of a paintball gun:

  1. The paintball loads into the chamber. At the same time, a small amount of air is stored, or a spring is compressed, depending on the style of gun.
  2. The trigger is pulled, releasing the stored air. That air then pushes a bolt forward.
  3. The bolt then hits the paintball, sending it flying out of the barrel.
  4. In a semi-automatic or full-auto gun, the cycle is repeating automatically until all of the air in the tank has been exhausted. In a spring-loaded, or single-fire gun, the shooter must pull back the slide to start the process over.

There are many different ways that different guns complete this process. It’s always best to read the user manual, especially if it’s a gun you’ve purchased to see how your particular gun works.

What paintballs are made of

Part of knowing how to use a paintball gun is knowing what the materials that actually make paintballs. For that detailed explanation, go here. The short version is that each paintball manufacturer has their own recipe, as well as different qualities, of paint.

Generally speaking, the contents of the ball is made up of various mineral oils and food coloring while the outer shell consists of a wax-like substance. The materials usually dictate the quality of the paintball. Cheaper balls tend to easily break when shot while the higher quality paint is made to stay intact until it hits the enemy.

Also, while we are on the topic of the actual paintballs, many people believe that, if a paintball doesn’t break and simply falls to the ground, that they can pick it up, wash it with water, and reuse it. I can’t stress enough how bad that is. Besides the ball now having deformities that would cause it not to fly straight, most outer layers of paintballs will break down with it comes into contact with water. If you did try and fire it again, you’re going to be spending the next half an hour or more cleaning paint out of your gun.


In general, there are two sets of rules paintballers live by. One is safety rules while the other is general playing rules. If you follow these rules, you will not only be safe but a productive member of the squad. And no, these rules weren’t meant to be broken.

Safety Rules

Before embarking on your maiden paintball game, it’s good that you know what will be expected of you before, during, and after the game, as far as safety is concerned. While Paintball is a relatively safe sport, that’s only true when everybody follows the basic safety rules. Additionally, each venue tends to have their own set of rules. We’ve covered these safety rules in depth here. However, here are a few of the basic rules that everyone needs to adhere by

  • Always wear your mask! This rule cannot be stressed enough. Every player should have their mask on at all times, even when in the safe zones as to not get hit by an accidental discharge.
  • Always attach the barrel blocking device when you are not going to fire the gun. Attach this whenever you aren’t firing your weapon. This rule applies to before the game starts, while in the safe zones and staging areas, as well as after you’ve been shot and are walking out.
  • Never put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to shoot! You should treat the paintball marker with the same care, and respect, that you would treat a real firearm. If handled incorrectly, you, or your friends, could get severely injured.

While the rules we just went over are rules every paintball should live by, there are a few items that most fields will have rules about, but not everyone. It’s good to ask if your particular venue requires these before playing.

  • Don’t fire shots closer than 10 feet. This rule is meant to protect players from a painful shot as any shot closer than 10 feet can hurt considerably more. Therefore, most venues require that, if you can get within 10 feet of an opposing player, give them the chance to surrender before shooting.
  • One hit is enough. The term used for hitting a player more than once is called a bonus ball. One shot is all it takes to eliminate an opponent; any more is too much.
  • Listen to the Referees: Each field and game will have designated referees for each round. Not listening could result in being kicked from the game or the field completely

Rules of play

While the safety rules mentioned above help keep you, and the other players, safe at all times, the rules of play are meant to maintain a competitive and fair match. While breaking these rules may not hurt anybody, it will cause the other players not to want you participating.

  • Call your hits. Much of paintball relies on the honor system. While the player that shot you may know they hit you, it is still up to you to call your shot. Not calling the hit is one of the worse crimes a paintballer can commit.
  • Don’t Wipe the hit off! There’s no quicker way to get kicked out of a game, or expelled from a field than to wipe the paint off after a hit. It’s not worth being able to play a few extra minutes but lose the rest of the day’s play. Not to mention you will also lose respect from the other players.
  • Stay in the boundaries. Whether it be woodsball or speedball, there are designated boundaries of play to keep the game fair. Crossing these boundary lines will most often result in an automatic out.
  • Don’t turn your velocity too high. Most fields require that the velocity on your gun be at 300 feet per second or less. However, there are many paintball guns capable of shooting upwards of 500 feet per second.

Strategies and Tips


Let’s face it. Your first paintball outing will certainly not be your best. Don’t worry; nobody expects you to be a pro your first time. However, you still want to be a productive member of your team. That’s why we’ve gathered some of the best strategies for beginners in our article “strategy guide for Beginners.” Here are the top 3 strategies beginner paintballers should keep in mind.

  1. Aim from the side of your gun instead of directly on top. Shooting like this helps to decrease the how much you expose your body from behind the barrier.
  2. Shoot and move. Never stay in one place too long. Doing so will allow the opposing players to locate and pin you down. Once you’re pinned down, it’s difficult to be effective.
  3. Use all of your senses! Many times, when a beginner is scanning the field for a target, they use their eyes and form a tunnel vision effect. This lack of awareness allows an opponent to sneak around you because you weren’t listening for their movement.


If you were to ask those on the field with you, chances are they will tell you that there are some tips for the game they wished someone had shared before they started. Well, here’s your chance to pick up some pointers.

  • Plan your move before the game starts, especially your first sheltering place. Remember, when the game starts, lots of rounds will be shot at first, find a place close by where you can get some shelter but also be a productive member.
  • If you can see the person you are aiming at, they can see you, too. Be quick and efficient in your shooting before they spot you.
  • Keep your movements simple. Sure, dives, flips, and rolls look good when big-time Hollywood actors do it. You don’t have a stunt double. Doing these will only make you look silly, especially if they are the reason you get hit.
  • Communicate with your team. Before the game is to commence, work out your team’s strategy. Decide which player is going where and who has which responsibilities. Then, when on the field, don’t forget to continue to communicate. Paintball games, especially speedball games, can be loud. If stealth is your team’s strategy, mainly in woodsball, work out hand signals or calls to be used while in play.

Shooting the Paintball gun

Most people are familiar with how you aim a gun, even if you’ve never owned a firearm in your life, you know the basic principal; line up the sights and pull the trigger. When you’re shooting a paintball gun, forget everything you’ve ever learned about shooting technique. You’ll see, trying to aim and shoot a paintball gun is entirely different than a regular firearm.

Preparing the Marker to shoot

Before you fire your first round, there are some important steps to follow in putting on the tank and hopper of your gun. Put on the hopper first. Each gun is different, but this usually entails screwing it in or securing a clamp around the feed neck.

Secondly, before attaching the air tank put a couple of drops of oil in the ASA (usually as the base of the grip.) Then, holding the marker vertically with the barrel facing towards the ground, easily screw in the air tank. BE careful not to cross thread the tank by forcing it in; it should screw in with no problems. Once the tank catches, turn the marker back to the horizontal position and finish screwing in the tank. Doing it this way prevents the liquid CO2 from reaching the internal components and damaging them.

Holding the Marker

The first thing you need to know is how you handle a paintball gun is never to hold it at your waist. Even when you are running from one obstacle to another, never drop the weapon down because, in the time it takes you to pull it back up and aim, another player, who is holding their gun correctly, could have shot you.

The configuration of the paintball marker is not much different than an actual firearm. However, instead of having a stock, of the butt, of the gun, you will most likely have an air tank at the end of yours. (Some paintball guns resemble actual firearms but, as a beginner, it is unlikely you will be shooting on of those.)

The proper way to hold the paintball gun is to put the rounded end of the air tank firmly on your shoulder. The key, though, is not to have to turn your head sideways to accommodate the gun. Instead, hold your marker so that you can look towards the end of the barrel and keep your neck straight at the same time. Holding it this way will help in keeping you comfortable in your shooting position for extended periods.


Aiming isn’t as easy as looking down the barrel and shooting for the mere fact that you’ve got your hopper in your line of sight. There are optics that you can buy to put on your gun to enhance your aiming abilities but, chances are, you won’t have those optics on the marker you rent. This restriction won’t make you less efficient; you just need to have an idea of how to aim it.

Simply put, you want to look down the side of the gun and imagine there is a line drawn on your weapon. You point that imaginary line towards the target and shoot. Sounds silly, yes, but until you fire the gun for your first time, this is the best way to aim.

A tip to you to help your muscle memory and shot alignment is to, instead of using your pointer finger to pull the trigger, use your middle finger. Then, put your point finger along the body of your gun as if you were pointing down the field. Doing this helps make your aiming as easy as pointing and shooting.

What to do before the game

During the days leading up to, and including the day of, your first paintball game, there are some things you can do to make your first outing a better experience. These steps are in addition to getting your gear lined up and knowing what you are going to wear.

  • Drink lots of water. This tip is more than just drinking water during the game. Starting a couple of days before, if you don’t already, drink water as your primary liquid. Doing this will ensure that your body is completely hydrated before the big day. And, of course, during play, remember to stay hydrated. With the adrenaline that is sure to be flowing, you won’t feel the effects of dehydration until it’s too late.
  • Stretch. When you do finally get home after a full day’s worth of paintball, you will feel like you’ve run a marathon. Your muscles and joints will appreciate any amount of stretching you do before, and during, the game.
  • Check the weather: Though most games play on, regardless of the weather conditions, it’s still a good idea to keep an eye on the weather. This information allows you to dress appropriately and bring any extra gear you may need.

Typical day of paintball

If you’ve never even watched a game of paintball before, then it might be good to know what to expect your first game. Though not all fields will follow this schedule, this is the simple run down of how that first day will unfold.

Arrival and Check-in.

    Checking in usually happens as soon as you walk into the main building on the field. Check in will require you to show your form of ID, or your parents if you are underage, as well as sign an accident waiver. Also, always arrive 15-20 minutes before your allotted time to ensure you have plenty of time to get checked in.

  • Rent/Purchase Equipment and accessories: Since you will be a beginner, it is likely that you need to rent an entire playing package. You will also buy your paint at this time. Once all of your gear is lined up, you can move on and suit up.
  • Orientation: Once every player has had a chance to get their equipment and suit up, orientation will begin. This short primer usually entails a safety briefing by the lead referee or field supervisor. You will hear all of the rules of the field as well as see a layout of the field of play.
  • Go to the Staging area: This is where the teams will be when they are not on the field. Though this can be a building with air conditioning, it usually consists of several canopies near the playing field.
  • Morning Games: If your day of paintballing is a full day, it will often start with 2-4 games in the morning. These games will be broken up between the teams and most likely occur on different fields. The number of games you play will depend on how quickly the teams progress.
  • Lunch: This will be at a previously appointed time, usually around noon. Here’s a tip for lunch; bring your own. Though most fields will have a snack/concession area, it’s best to bring your own cooler field with snacks and drinks so that you can eat hardily.
  • Afternoon Games: This will be the remaining portion of allotted games. The exact number could be anywhere from 4 to 8 games, depending on how many happened during the morning games.

Have Fun!

As a beginner, you will make mistakes. You may zig when you should have zagged. Regardless, paintball is meant to be a fun sport. There will come a time when you will take the game as serious as most veteran paintballers do. Enjoy the time where the game is nothing but fun and don’t worry about the mistakes. There will always be another round, or another game, where you can fix your mistakes.

As you progress, try out new things. Rent a different gun the next time you play. Once you are comfortable, try the dives and jumps. Try different styles of paintball games and different scenarios. Experiment but always remember; have fun!!