The History Of Paintball Guns

Three decades later, paintball guns are becoming popular gifts for the extreme sport fan.

At the heart of paintball is the paintball gun, also knows as paintguns or markers. The game of paintball was started when simple paintball-shooting pistols were used as part of a “survival” game in Henniker, New Hampshire in 1981. Paintball markers continue to evolve by leaps and bounds as the sport grows.

Before Paintball

The first paintball guns were made by the Nelson Paint Company and were called Nel-Spots. These used a 12-gram carbon dioxide (CO2) cartridge and held up to 10 paintballs internally. Nel-Spots were used in the first paintball game ever played.

Early Paintball Pistols

In addition to the Nel-Spot, the earliest paintball guns were pistols like the PMI-Sheridan PG and PGP and the NSG Splatmaster. These pistols also used 12-gram CO2 cartridges and held 10 rounds internally. These pistols appeared in the early 1980s and were the standard for paintball guns for a few years.

Paintball Grows Up

By the mid-1980s, players were looking for ways around the limitations of the original paintball pistols. Players wanted to shoot more, faster, and with improved accuracy. Inventive players started taking their original pistols and adding extensions to barrels, longer feed tubes for more paint, and devices to allow faster changes for CO2 cartridges. Soon, manufacturers and aftermarket companies started offering paintguns that had these features built in, such as the PMI-I (a larger version of the PGP) or kits that allowed easy modifications to existing pistols.

“Comp” Guns, Direct Feed, and Constant Air

The improved paintball pistols led to an explosion in paintball technology in the late 1980s. Internal feed tubes and 12-gram CO2 cartridges gave way to direct feed and constant air. Direct feed was a way to feed a paintball from an ammo box to the gun. Constant air replaced the small CO2 cartridges with a bulk CO2 bottle. Both of these improvements allowed players to stay in the fight for much longer than before. In addition, improvements such as the “autotrigger” and longer barrels meant that players could shoot faster and more accurately. These were often referred to as “comp” guns, as in “competition ready”, and included the PMI-II Piranha LB, the WGP Sniper, the CCI Phantom, and many more. Most paintball guns, however, were still based on either the Nel-Spot or the PGP internal design.

The Advent of Semi-Auto

The next step was the development of semi-automatic paintguns that did not require to be manually cocked for each shot. Two types of semi-auto design appeared in the late 1980s and early 1990s: blowback and “auto-cocking”. Blowback semi-autos used some of the CO2 gas from each shot to “blow” the hammer back onto the sear, readying the gun to fire again. Early blowbacks included the FAST F1 Illustrator and the Tippmann 68 Special. “Auto-cocking” paintguns were originally pump-action paintguns that had a separate mechanism added that performed the action of pumping the paintball gun when the trigger was pulled. The most common of this type was the WGP Autococker.

Electronics Enter Paintball

The next revolution was the introduction of electronic triggers in paintball in the mid-1990s. Commonly called “electros,” these paintguns disconnected the trigger from the actual firing mechanism and enabled trigger pulls to be as short and effortless as clicking a mouse button. These guns also made very high rates of fire easy to achieve by most players. Early electros included the WGP Angel and Smart Parts Shocker Sport.