Airsoft vs Paintball – What’s the Difference?

Fun fact: I used to paintball regularly before starting airsoft. For a good 5 years or so I actually participated in both hobbies. In fact, our local field accommodates both sports – often we’d play airsoft on the paintball fields. 

Ask any airsoft player, they usually hate playing on a paintball field since it gets their gear dirty. 

So, I’m in a unique position to tell you the pros and cons of each sport, and which one you might want to consider starting.

So, airsoft vs paintball. First, let’s define each sport.

Paintball Overview

paintball players play with inflatable terrain

In general, this is the more popular sport of the two, with far more fields and far more players. Paintball is a competitive game where players, armed with “markers”, will shoot at each in an attempt to tag each other. The markers utilize compress gas or air to launch projectiles known as paintballs. 

The projectiles they fling at each other are plastic pellets that have colored paint. The intent is that the plastic shell will crack and the paint will smear on the opposed player, indicating a hit. When that player is hit, they will then need to disengage and leave the field. 

For those playing airsoft, this sounds very familiar.

Paintball can be played in multiple ways, with the most common way being on small arenas with predefined inflatable obstacles used as cover and concealment. You can also play paintball in the woods – in a more MILSIM style. This is also known as “woodsball”. 

I usually preferred woodsball myself, but the more competitive fastball can be a fun distraction from time to time. 

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Airsoft Overview

airsoft player up close

Airsoft is similar to paintball in the way that it is a competitive game where players, now armed with airsoft guns, will attempt to shoot at opposing players with 6mm plastic BBs

Unlike paintball, there’s no method to determine if a player has been hit, so it requires players to use the “honor system”. This game requires player integrity, otherwise it doesn’t work. 

Airsoft is often played in an environment more designed to simulate a battlefield with both natural and man-made obstacles. Additionally, the airsoft guns used are often made to look and feel like real firearms. 

At a glance, you’d have a hard time differentiating a Colt 5.56mm AR-15 / M4 from a VFC M4 AEG. 

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Paintball Markers vs Airsoft Guns

Airsoft Gun: JG M4

Airsoft Gun: JG M4 w/ Rail S-System


paintball marker to compare to an airsoft gun

Paintball Marker: Spyder TL-R

This table should help describe the differences between a paintball marker from an airsoft gun.

 

Paintball Marker

Airsoft Gun

Ammunition Type

.50 cal Paintball

6mm Plastic BB

Power Source

Co2 / High Pressure Air

Battery, Gas, Co2, HPA

Projectile Energy

2 – 10 Joules

1 – 2 Joules

Muzzle Velocity

250 – 300 FPS

300 – 450 FPS

General Accuracy

100 – 150 feet

100 – 300 feet

General Cost 

$100 – $400

$125 – $350

Realism Levels

Typically Low (but realistic models exist)

Usually Very High

Magazine / Hopper Capacity

200 Rounds

50 – 350 Rounds

Upgradability 

High

High

General Durability

High

Medium

Types Available

Standard, Pistol

Rifle, Pistol, Shotgun, SMG

In general, you’ll find that a paintball marker and airsoft gun are actually quite similar at first glance. However, the variation in airsoft guns is far higher, especially because they are effectively firearm replicas. This means that there are variants of airsoft guns that look and function like rifles, sub machine guns, pistols, shotguns, and sniper rifles.

Paintball markers typically aren’t made to look realistic, although there are models designed to maximize realism.

Accuracy & Ammunition

How far can airsoft guns shoot?  Well, airsoft guns also have an advantage in general accuracy. You can expect to hit a man sized target with much greater ease with an airsoft gun vs a paintball marker. This is partly because airsoft guns utilized a hop up – which provides a backspin to the BB, creating the magnus effect allowing it to travel further. The other part is because it is far easier to ensure that the 6mm BB is as perfectly spherical as it can be. 

Paintball pellets unfortunately can be susceptible to moisture and other elements, which can affect just how spherical the paintball can be. 

Some paintball guns are capable of creating the magnus effect by curving the barrel of the gun (this is seen in the Tippman models mostly). 

Another large difference is how ammunition is fed into an airsoft gun or a paintball marker. Most paintball markers utilize a “hopper”, which is a tank that contains paintballs that can be electronically or gravity fed into the gun. Some magazine style paintball guns do exist, increasing the realism and reducing the capacity. 

paintball player in competitive setting

Airsoft guns typically will use either a spring loaded or tension loaded magazine that pushes BB’s into the gun. They’re design to look like real magazines in the firearms industry. 

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Airsoft Gear vs Paintball Gear

This is a make or break factor for a number of players. Airsoft gear is typically, much like the airsoft guns, airsoft tactical gear is a replica of the real firearms industry gear. So, you’ll find players with plate carriers, knee pads, tactical pants, shooting gloves, battle belts, and everything needed to look like a real life military operator. 

Check out our list of the best battle belts for airsoft.

This is in part to facilitate the types of battlefields airsoft skirmishes take place in.

Paintball is different in that professional paintball players will wear colorful jerseys and gear designed to maximize performance. Placing a paintball player next to an airsoft player, and you’ll find they look vastly different.

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Which Hurts More? Airsoft or Paintball?

Take it from someone who has been hit routinely by both 6mm BB’s and paintballs, they are very comparable, but still different. Both paintball and airsoft hurt to some degree.

I would describe being hit by an airsoft pellet similar to taking a hard pinch, which can make welts but more often just stings for a moment. Being hit by a paintball feels more like getting whipped by a wet towel.

The amount of energy that goes into getting struck by a paintball is higher than airsoft because, even though the paintball is traveling much slower, it has more overall mass, and so it hits with more kinetic energy. 

Does airsoft hurt more than paintball? No, it doesn't

However, one trend I’ve seen is that airsoft players have a tendency to overshoot their opponent. This means that they often will hit you with more BB’s than needed. This is partly because airsoft guns can fire in full-auto, and partly because your opponents wants to ensure that you call the hit (remember how I said that airsoft uses the “honor system”?)

So, you have a tendency to be hit way more in airsoft than in paintball. 

Either way, getting shot by a marker or an airsoft gun sucks. 

Having some of the essential airsoft safety gear when you start will help reduce the potential pain.

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Which Costs More? Airsoft or Paintball?

This is a very common question and it really depends on how often you play and how deep you fall into the hobby.

A well made paintball marker plus hopper & tank is comparable to a well made AEG. For more info you can check here for how much airsoft guns cost. Where the difference lies is in the ammunition & gear. 

The ammunition for paintball is far more pricey than airsoft. It often costs between $50 – $80 dollars per case of 2,000 rounds of paintball. 2000 rounds of the same 6mm plastic BB will run you closer to $10 – $12 dollars. You’ll start feeling the costs after several days of playing.

However, the tactical gear for airsoft can be quite pricey. Especially if you choose to opt for the higher end brands, you can expect your plate carrier, face mask, BDU’s, and other airsoft clothing to cost you just as much as the airsoft gun. You can double or triple the cost from tactical gear if you want to blend in with various environments as well. 

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Paintball: Pros and Cons

PROS:

  • Paint clearly marking when an opponent is hit will remove a lot of ambiguity in the game. 
  • Paintballs are heavier and less affected by wind.
  • Paintball markers typically provide more feedback to the player making them fun to shoot.
  • It is a more popular sport and has a higher player base and more fields

CONS:

  • It is quite messy – paintball fields are pretty gross.
  • Limited support for MILSIM.
  • Ammunition costs are very high.
  • Maintenance costs can be high.

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Airsoft: Pros and Cons

PROS:

  • Less messy.
  • High support for MILSIM play.
  • Tactical gear and airsoft gun realism is fun.
  • Airsoft BBs are far more accurate.
  • Low maintenance costs.

CONS:

  • Airsoft players cheating is more common than we’d like.
  • AEG’s can feel underwhelming to shoot.
  • Tactical gear gets pricey.
  • Airsoft guns can look too real – you must be more careful with them in public.

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Conclusion: Airsoft & Paintball are both fun and valid ways to spend your time

The fact is, airsoft and paintball are similar enough that the skills gained in both can transfer (and the fact is, each sport can learn a lot from each other). I might recommend paintball for those who want to ensure that they get games in seeing how paintball is more widely accepted.

I’d recommend airsoft to those looking to maximize the realism in both look and feel of the experience. Just, keep in mind that the “honor system” in airsoft is often violated. 

See you on the field.

Woodsball-arena-paintball-player

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is airsoft more dangerous than paintball?

In terms of actual danger from the projectiles, both sports are equally dangerous. Both sports require facial protection to ensure that the pellets do not penetrate or injure your eyes or ears. However, we’d rate airsoft as slightly more dangerous than paintball only because the airsoft guns can be mistaken for real firearms. Law Enforcement are not able, at a glance, to determine if an airsoft gun is a replica or a real firearm (this is how realistic airsoft guns can look). 

Maximize your protection by following these 14 airsoft safety tips.

What’s faster paintball or airsoft?

In terms of pure muzzle velocity, airsoft guns fire 6mm BB’s at a higher speed than markers firing paintballs. This is because airsoft BB’s are more lightweight and smaller, thus reducing the energy needed to propel them as well as the air drag they have. 

Is airsoft better than paintball?

Airsoft Core has a bias for airsoft, so we’d say yes. However, there are merits for playing paintball or airsoft, so it comes down to personal preference in many ways. We do think that the high cost of paintball ammunition is rather restrictive. 

We actually compiled a list of the best airsoft guns here (don’t worry – we factor in the cost so they’re all great value):

Tim has been playing airsoft since 1994. With over a thousand (no lie) airsoft games under his belt he has spent countless hours testing various airsoft guns and tactical gear. He's gotten hundreds (still no lie) of people into the airsoft hobby and is more than willing to spread the love of slinging 6mm plastic to any new player.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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