paintball marker

Markers 101: A Guide to Paintball Guns for Beginners


The first sanctioned paintball game was played on June 27, 1981 in a forest near Henniker, New Hampshire. In the 40 years since, countless players have joined in on this adrenaline-inducing action sport. If you're a fan of first-person shooter video games, paintball could be a great way for you to get off the couch and into the action. However, many would-be paintball players find the sport intimidating, especially when it comes to paintball guns.

Fortunately, all paintball guns, also called markers, are composed of the same basic parts and work on the same principle. A hopper holds the paintballs, a tank of compressed gas provides the propulsion, and the barrel controls the accuracy and speed of your shot. Read on for an in-depth look at how all the components of a paintball gun work together. 

How Does a Paintball Gun Work?

A paintball gun is a relatively simple piece of machinery. Beginner paintball guns like the Tippmann A5 have very few moving parts and are totally mechanical. Beginner aintball guns work by using gravity to feed paintballs into the chamber and compressed gasses to send the paintballs down range. More advanced paintball guns will use electric hoppers to help feed the paintballs into the breach for a higher rate of fire.

The air tanks, many of which can hold compressed air up to 4500 PSI, hold more than enough air to last for several games. The hopper holds a couple of hundred paintballs so that players don’t have to reload, though many players choose to carry pod packs that store additional ammunition.

The trigger unit and the barrel control the rate of fire as well as the accuracy of the shot. Some paintball guns are semi-automatic and others can be fully automatic. Unlike most traditional firearms (with the exception of shotguns), paintball guns aren’t rifled so the shots can often be inconsistent. To help with accuracy, many players opt for using fluted barrels and barrel inserts which can mimic the effects of rifling to make the paintball’s flight more true.

How Does a Paintball Gun Shoot a Paintball?

When holding the paintball gun, the paintballs are fed from the hopper into the chamber with gravity. When a player pulls the trigger, a small amount of gas stored in the air tank escapes and expands rapidly as it heats up after depressurization. The compressed air propels the paintball down the barrel. While the paintball is traveling down the barrel, some of the pressurized gas drives the bolt back, opening the breach and allowing another paintball to fall into the chamber from the hopper. This automatic reloading process is characteristic of a semi-automatic paintball marker. It allows for a higher rate of fire so that one trigger pull releases one paintball with no manual reloading processes required between shots. 

Fully automatic paintball guns are more advanced and have electronic triggers and circuitry that control the rate of fire. These paintball guns are often more advanced and can sustain high rates of fire with a single trigger pull. These types of paintball guns are most frequently used in speedball scenarios. For more information on how to hold and aim a paintball marker, take a look at our tutorial video below:


paintball marker breakdown


Marker is simply another name for a paintball gun. The term harkens back to the first-ever paintball guns. In the 1960s, cattle ranchers and forest workers used paint guns to "mark" choice livestock or trees due for felling. Markers come in all different sizes, shapes and specifications. Let’s take a look at the different types and components of markers to build a better understanding.

Mechanical and Electric Markers

Markers basically come in two different classes: mechanical markers and electric markers. While one offers distinct advantages over the other, it's important to understand the difference.

Mechanical markers are semi-automatic guns. When you pull the trigger, a bolt forces the paintball into the barrel. One trigger pull fires one paintball.

With electric paintball guns, the firing process is governed by a circuit board. The circuit board connects to solenoid valves, which allow the gun to fire automatically. Electric markers can be programmed to fire at different rates, which isn't possible with a mechanical marker.

Many players will argue that electric markers are simply superior to mechanical markers. The trigger is easier to pull, they're more accurate, and they can fire at a much quicker rate. However, other paintballers feel a certain nostalgia for mechanical markers, especially autocockers.

Paintball Gun Body

The body of your paintball gun houses the bolt, trigger frame, and valve. These are the most important components when it comes to firing your marker. The bolt pushes the paintball into the firing position, the valve seals it in place, and the trigger causes the gun to fire.

Most marker bodies are made of aluminum and other composite materials, due to their lightweight but durable nature.


The hopper or loader holds your paintball rounds, and most hoppers can hold around 200 rounds. There are three common types of hoppers.


As their name suggests, gravity-fed hoppers rely on gravity to feed paintballs into the marker through a feed neck at the bottom of the hopper. They're always fastened to the top of the marker. Gravity-fed hoppers are some of the most inexpensive hoppers and work best when paired with a mechanical marker. They are, however, prone to jamming, but proper maintenance can help so it doesn’t jam as often. 


Agitating hoppers make use of a battery-powered propeller to prevent jamming. This allows the paintballs to enter the marker more rapidly, improving your rate of fire and reducing the likelihood of your gun jamming at an important point in the game.


Force-fed hoppers are even more efficient than agitating hoppers. A spring-loaded valve or a belt pushes the rounds into the marker. Electric markers should always be paired with a force-fed hopper, as these hoppers are the only ones capable of keeping up with an electric marker's rate of fire.

Air Tank

The air tank holds the compressed air or gas that fires the round out of the paintball gun. You'll have the choice between high-pressure air (HPA) or carbon dioxide. HPA is preferred by professionals and anyone who takes paintball seriously. Nitrogen, the gas that most HPA air tanks use, is much more stable than carbon dioxide. This helps keep your shooting rate and performance consistent. 

Air tanks range in size from just 13 cubic inches (cu in) to 90 cu in, with 50 cu in and 68 cu in being the most common sizes. Shorter players will want a tank on the smaller end of the spectrum. Tanks also have a pressure rating, which denotes how much HPA you can fit in them. The more gas a tank can hold, the more rounds it can fire. Pressure is measured in pounds per square inch (PSI), and 3000 PSI and 4500 PSI tanks are the most popular. 


Your marker's barrel directs your shots. Barrels can be short or long and have different bore and threading.  Short barrels are excellent when it comes to close-range shooting. They're also lighter, which makes it easier to traverse the field. They tend to use less gas than longer barrels. However, they are loud and less accurate for longer distance shots.

On the other hand, long barrels are better for precision shooting. They are relatively accurate and can fire more quietly quietly, though they often come across as more cumbersome and difficult for close-range encounters.

Bore refers to the diameter of the opening of the barrel. You'll need to match the bore with the size of your paintball. Most paintballs are .68, however .50 and even .43 are becoming even more popular.

Threading is the final factor to consider when looking at barrels. It's what allows you to screw your barrel into your marker. Make sure to research the threading on your marker before purchasing a barrel.

Barrels aren't universal, and each marker is designed to accommodate different threading. However, thread adapter kits allow you to use any barrel on any marker. They're relatively inexpensive and don't affect your shooting abilities.

Where to Buy Paintball Guns

Paintball guns can seem complex and intimidating to a new player, but breaking them down piece by piece makes it simple to understand how each component fits together. Now that you understand the anatomy of a paintball gun, buying a paintball gun should be at least a little easier. At Lone Wolf Paintball, we’ve also created these Beginner Gun Paintball Packages to help make your decision a little easier. These beginner marker packages are a great place to start, and give you the basics you’d need to start playing paintball. For more information on picking the right paintball gun to buy, take a look at our helpful YouTube video tutorial below:

 This video and many of our review videos will be helpful as you go to make your decision. Last, check out Lone Wolf Paintball's catalog of products for beginners. From markers to barrels, they have everything you need. Contact us at any point to ask any questions you may have, our experts are here to help!