Paintball splatter 2

Airsoft vs. Paintball: Know the Difference

“Oh, that’s like paintball, right?” 

Airsofters everywhere are met with these words from curious family and friends every time the topic of hobbies comes up.

eye roll gif
Yeah, we know…

While the two sports may seem similar to outsiders, we know that they aren’t the same thing, and there are definitely some key differences. 

So for all you airsofters who are tired of answering the same question–send your loved ones this article. For those who are new to airsoft, welcome! Keep reading, and you’ll know just what you’re talking about, too.

Wait–Aren’t Paintball and Airsoft the Same Thing?

We see how it can be easy to confuse the two. They both involve gun-like devices that fire safe ammunition at other players, often using pressurized gas to do so.

Paintball player
Paintball player

So, yeah, in a broad way they are pretty similar. But where the real difference lies is in the details, and that’s what we’re going to get into below.

Paintball vs. Airsoft: The Differences

Okay, now let’s take a look at the differences between airsoft and paintball so you can pick which one is right for you (or explain just what it is that you do every weekend). We’re a little biased around here, but we’re pretty sure you’ll see just why we love airsoft so much!


First up–the cost. Airsoft and paintball can both cost about the same to get into, but even then, there’s still some major differences. Beginner airsoft guns can scale up to more advanced playstyles as you improve, while beginner airsoft guns tend to be only good for beginners. You might find yourself using your first airsoft gun for a far longer time than you would your first paintball gun.

Paintball players
Paintball players

Ammo costs are another consideration. 2,000 paintballs can cost you about $40, while 2,000 airsoft BBs will cost you about $7. There’s a really big cost savings there, so it’s important to consider if you’re trying to decide which sport you want to pick.

Field fees also tend to be cheaper for airsoft fields over paintball fields, so it costs less to play each time. It’s not a big deal if you have access to a place where you can play for free, but field fees add up really quickly otherwise.

Airsoft players

Many fields also won’t let you use your own paintballs for safety reasons, so you will need to pay their fees to purchase ammo for your game. Airsoft fields tend to be more lax about ammo, but make sure that your field of choice doesn’t have any rules about what ammo you’re allowed to go before you show up with a crate of BBs you can’t use.


Technically, paintball guns are called “markers” and they don’t necessarily resemble a real firearm. There are some models that do, but usually, they are very distinctive. Airsoft guns, on the other hand, are often very close replicas of real firearms–albeit with an orange tip to mark them as a non-weapon.

This means that airsoft games often revolve around realistic tactical action or historical reenactment. If you ever wanted to take your Call of Duty match off the screen and into the real world, airsoft is how you do it.

call of duty gif
You know you so want to do this…

Airsoft also offers a much bigger variety when it comes to gun types and upgrades. You can find anything from airsoft revolvers to highly-tuned sniper rifles. With paintball guns, you have a lot fewer choices of marker type, and the upgrades market is also a bit more limited.

Paintball marker
Paintball marker

You can spend plenty of money upgrading your gun for either sport, though!

However, it isn’t just the styling that differs between airsoft guns and paintball markers. Because paintballs aren’t hard like airsoft BBs, spring-loaded magazines generally can’t be used to hold paintballs. Instead, players fill a hopper that uses gravity to feed rounds into a bolt-action chamber.

An example of a magazine-fed paintball gun.

As the bolt cycles, a paintball is allowed to drop into the chamber. The bolt is powered by a connected, refillable air tank. This design works pretty well for the soft ammunition, but it does also pave the way for a pretty painful-sounding malfunction–chopped balls. 

Different types of paintball malfunctions

This happens when a paintball fails to feed into the chamber correctly, and is smashed by the bolt as it cycles, coating the inside of your action and barrel with oily paint. Yuck. It’s not hard to fix it with a quick pass od a barrel snake, but it’s annoying

Airsoft BBs can use a spring-loaded magazine, which makes them much more similar to the function of real firearms. They also are less prone to breaking their own ammo. There are three types of airsoft action types: spring-powered, electric, and gas-powered.

Gas-powered airsoft pistol internals.

You can learn more about the different types of airsoft guns here!


So, as we mentioned, the ammunition used by paintball markers is quite different from that used by airsoft guns, and it makes a big difference in the way you play either sport.

Paintballs are larger–about 17-18mm in diameter. This means that carrying around spare ammunition requires a large hopper, which increases the bulk of the airsoft marker considerably. Paintballs are made of a gelatin skin and are filled with oil-based paint, which means a few things.

Paintballs: the forbidden bubblegum.

For one, it means that this ammo is fragile, and you’ll have to be careful with it, unless you want to end up covered in paint. It also means that paintballs can’t be subjected to high FPS rates due to their size and composition, so paintballs travel much more slowly than BBs, and that they have less range.

Multicolor Aisoft BBs
Multicolor Airsoft BBs

Airsoft BBs, on the other hand, are made of plastic. Specifically, either ABS plastic or PLA plastic. They’re also commonly 6mm in diameter, though some guns use 8mm BBs. This means that they’re smaller, lighter, stronger, and faster than paintballs, which means airsoft games can take place over longer distances.

There’s one downfall to airsoft, though–because hits aren’t leaving big paint splotches, it’s a lot easier to cheat.

paintball splatter
Tag–you’re it.


Anyways, now that we’ve hinted at how the differences in ammo could affect your accuracy, let’s actually talk about that.

Paintballs, as we mentioned, travel slower and for less distance than airsoft BBs. Due to the way they’re manufactured, they are never completely smooth–unlike high-quality BBs.

They also are significantly larger than airsoft BBs, which means that they experience more wind resistance and are easier to blow off course. These factors impact the accuracy of a paintball.

Airsoft BBs
Airsoft BBs

Airsoft BBs tend to fly farther and straighter than paintballs, as well as faster–which means it’s a lot easier to get them on target. Adverse weather conditions and wind affect BBs a lot less, however, all projectiles will be somewhat affected.

Because airsoft guns handle and aim much more like real firearms, they also are just more accurate by their nature. Not to mention, there’s an absolutely huge upgrade market for scopes, sights, red dots, lasers, and just about anything else you need to help you hit your target.

Pain and Injuries

Both sports involve being shot with a small projectile with a velocity in the hundreds of feet per second. There will be some level of pain and some threat of injury, no matter which sport you choose. Wearing appropriate safety gear and clothing can minimize the risk and pain, but airsoft BBs do not feel the same as paintballs.

Due to their larger size and heavier weight, paintballs tend to have greater kinetic energy upon impact, which translates to more ouch and more bruising. It’s not uncommon to leave the field covered in quarter-sized welts.

Paintball welts
This… this is why you wear the armor, folks.

They can even knock the wind out of you at close ranges if you’re under-protected, so many players wear heavy clothing or padded armor to help absorb the kinetic energy.

Airsoft BBs are a lot smaller, which means that they don’t tend to whump you as much (technical term, there), but they can really sting because their surface area is so much smaller. That being said, they don’t tend to leave nearly the same amount of bruises and welts as paintballs, and most of the pain can be mitigated through clothing.

Airsoft BBs can also raise welts, but usually not as badly as paintball.

Both airsoft BBs and paintballs can cause injuries, though, particularly to the eyes, face, and throat, so be sure to protect yourself well.

Clean Up

Obviously, paintball is going to leave you dealing with spatters of oily paint on everything, but it does wash out of clothing and off gear quite easily.

Paintball splatter 2
Imagine this… everywhere.

If you’re playing in a designated field, you won’t have to worry so much about cleaning up stray splatters, but if you’re playing in say, your backyard… Dad’s going to be pretty pissed you didn’t clean the neon paint off his newly painted fence. Fair warning.

Airsoft BBs don’t tend to splatter or shatter, but they can make their own unique kind of mess. Most outdoor fields require players to use biodegradable PLA BBs, because they will break down over time and not leave (as much) waste behind.

Even if BBs are harder to see than splashes of paint, stray BBs that aren’t cleaned up can introduce microplastics into the environment or leech harmful chemicals. They still need to be cleaned up, too.

Tournaments, Games, and Rules

Airsoft is growing in popularity, which means that it’s becoming easier and easier to find fields, casual games, tournaments, and events. Paintball still is the prime contender though, since there are some pretty well-established paintball tournaments that attract upwards of 400 players… in a single game.

Paintball player behind a tree
Paintball player behind a tree

Paintball games tend to focus less on tactics and more on speed, while airsoft really shines when it comes time to create a milsim event that pits insurgent forces against military squads in realistic combat. 

Tactical airsoft game

There’s been a bit of a decline in the paintball world as airsoft catches up in popularity, but whichever sport you choose, you’re sure to find plenty of other players, teams, leagues, tournaments, and events.

Which One Do I Choose?

Look–we’ll be honest here, we’re really, really biased, being an airsoft blog. Sure, there’s pros and cons to each, but for us, airsoft wins out every time.

It’s cheaper to maintain in the long run, even if the starting costs are about the same as paintball. We love having a ton of variety when it comes to the guns we use–we have everything from revolvers and semi-auto pistols to bolt-action sniper rifles and automatic machine guns.

Fun with friends!

We also are big fans of the realistic combat, though we also do love ourselves a casual pickup game where the only rule is “Don’t get shot.”

Not to mention, airsoft is growing by leaps and bounds each year, so you can look forward to being involved in this hobby for years and years to come.

Have you ever played airsoft or paintball? Which did you like better, and why? Have you switched from one to the other? Leave us a comment and tell us all about it–and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook!

Milo Harrison

Milo's a desert rat by birth and grew up in the shadow of Nellis AFB. He first discovered paintball in high school, but quickly switched to the world of airsoft when he found out how much less it stung. He still loves a pickup game in the backyard, but these days, you'll usually find him at airsoft LARP events.

View all posts by Milo Harrison →

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