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There are many articles on the web comparing airsoft and paintball. Most of them are opinionated. The bottom line is a preference; a matter of which you prefer. This article approaches this subject differently. This article will present facts with side-by-side comparison between the two sports, so that you can decide what you prefer for yourself.
Airsoft gun (photo on the left) resemble real guns. Paintball guns, generally, resembles the photo on the right. As matter of a fact, paintball guns are usually called paintball markers. In addition, a bottle for the paintballs at the top of the gun isn't shown. Also not shown is the CO2 bottle attached to the back of the marker at the bottom of the grip.
There are some paintball markers that resemble real guns. However, they are made for military training. You generally won't find them on a basic paintball field. Some less expensive replicas do exist, but they still have paintball bottles on top and have a CO2 attachment, either via the gas bottle directly or a tube to a off marker gas chamber.
Airsoft guns uses either gas or electricity. But in either case, there are no elements protruding from the gun to support these two types of propellents.
The photo on the left shows an airsoft pistol. The photo on the right shows a paintball pistol. Both pistol resemble real firearms. There are also many paintball pistols that have paint tubes that protude on top of the gun.
Airsoft BB's (in the left photo) are usually 6mm in size, composed of hard plastic, and weights around 0.2 grams. A pack of 5000 BB's costs around $15 at this writing.
Paintballs (in the right photo) are usually 0.68 caliber (17.3 mm). A box of 2000 paintballs cost around $40 as of this writing.
Paintball leaves a mark upon a hit, whereas airsoft doesn't. Although many players claim that airsoft is an honor system while paintball is not, the truth is that they are both honor systems. Sure, you can check yourself if you are hit with paint, but you are the one that is going to call yourself out.
Most competitive airsoft guns shoot between 300 to 500 feet-per-second (FPS). That translates to an effective engagement distance of 100 to 200 feet. Some airsoft sniper gun can hit 350 feet accurately.
Paintball markers generally shoots 300 FPS, with a paintball that is ten times heavier than airsoft BB's. It effective engagement distance of 80 to 100 feet. You can shoot them a little further by arching the bullet upward; the maximum distance is about 300 feet.
Airsoft BB's are dangerous to soft tissues. Therefore, to play airsoft safely, you have to wear impact resistant goggles and facemask. On bare skin, airsoft BB's will sting and cause welts. Airsoft BB's are not safe to use inside a house. The BB's will penetrate or recochet the walls. They will shatter glass and ceramic.
Paintball can damage soft tissues. It's heavy mass also create welts on bare skins. You have to wear impact resistant goggles and facemasks to prevent hurting sensitive areas from paint splashes. Paintball will also shatter windows and fine china in your home. It's also no fun to clean your house after playing paintball, therefore, its unwise to do so.
Airsoft guns uses three types of propellant. The spring version does not use any consumables, other than the plastic 6mm BB's. You manually cock the spring back to shoot the BB's. The electric version uses rechargeable batteries. The gas version uses some form of gas.
Paintball markers uses compressed air to propel the paintballs. So there is an air tank attached to every paintball marker. Some low-end paintball markers will use spring, but they are not competitive and are for younger players.
In addition to the ammunition being consumables, both airsoft and paintballs uses gas that requires refilling. Paintball markers tends to use compressed air. Airsoft, on the other hand, uses all sorts of gas: green gas, red gas, propane, CO2, and compressed air.
In addition to using gas, airsoft has an additional power source: rechargeable batteries. Rechargeable batteries allows you to power your airsoft gun over and over, without having to worry about the recurring cost. Sure, batteries will have to be eventually replaced, but the cost is far lower than having to pay for gas for every game session.
Airsoft and paintball audience overlap greatly. Usually it's targeting a demographic that is over 14 years old. There are MilSim operations that target older audiences (over 18 years old).
Both airsoft and paintball are used to have fun, train for combat, or enjoy MilSim (military simulation). Many law enforcement and military personnel train using both types of equipment.