Intro to Composition, Size, and Experience

When diving into the adrenaline-fueled world of paintball, a question often arises: “What are paintballs?” This seemingly simple query opens the door to understanding a crucial aspect of a sport and recreational activity beloved by many.

As a long-time paintball enthusiast, I’ve seen the evolution of the game and the paintballs themselves, which play a pivotal role in the experience. From their composition to the sensations they produce upon impact, paintballs are fascinating elements that define the dynamics of the game.

what are paintballs made of

Paintball, with its blend of strategy, physical exertion, and camaraderie, has captured the hearts of countless individuals worldwide.

However, to truly appreciate and excel in this sport, a deeper knowledge of its fundamental component – the paintball – is essential. This guide aims to explore the intricacies of paintballs, including what they are made of, their size variations, how they feel during gameplay, and even questions around their edibility and shelf life.

For both newcomers and seasoned players, understanding the makeup and characteristics of paintballs is key to a safe and enjoyable paintball experience.

Composition of Paintballs

The curiosity about “What are paintballs made of?” and “What is in paintballs?” is common among newcomers and seasoned players alike in the paintball community. Having delved into various aspects of the game over the years, I can shed some light on the materials that constitute a paintball, a core element that makes this sport so unique and vibrant.

The Gelatin Shell

Edible-Grade Gelatin: The outer shell of a paintball is made from the same type of gelatin used in food products. This edible-grade material is chosen for its biodegradable properties and its ability to break upon impact, which is essential for the game’s mechanics.
Flexibility and Durability: The gelatin shell is designed to be flexible enough to withstand the pressure of a paintball marker but brittle enough to break upon hitting a target. This balance ensures safety for players and the environmental friendliness of the game.

Water-Soluble, Non-Toxic Fill

Composition: Inside the gelatin shell is a fill made of a water-soluble, non-toxic, and biodegradable substance. The fill typically consists of polyethylene glycol, a common ingredient in personal care products, combined with dye for color.
Safety and Environmentally Friendly: This composition ensures that the paint is safe for players and has minimal impact on the environment. The non-toxic nature of the fill means it’s harmless on skin contact and won’t cause lasting damage to clothing or natural surroundings.

Colorful and Bright

Variety of Colors: Paintballs come in a wide array of bright and vivid colors. This variety not only adds to the visual appeal of the game but also helps players confirm hits during gameplay.
Visibility: The brightness of paintball colors is crucial for visibility, ensuring that players can easily see where their shots land and referees can accurately judge hits.

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Understanding the composition of paintballs – from their edible-grade gelatin shell to the water-soluble, non-toxic fill – is key to appreciating their role in the sport. This knowledge reassures players about the safety and environmental aspects of paintball, allowing them to fully immerse in the excitement and strategy of the game. The colorful nature of paintballs not only adds vibrancy to the experience but also plays a practical role in the gameplay mechanics.

Size and Variations

In the realm of paintball, size matters – especially when it comes to the ammunition used. The questions “Paintball size – what are the standard dimensions?” and “Size of a paintball – are there different sizes available?” are crucial for players to ensure compatibility with their markers and to strategize effectively in various game formats.

Standard Paintball Size

.68 Caliber – The Norm: The most common size for paintballs is .68 caliber, which equates to a diameter of approximately 17.3 millimeters. This size is considered the industry standard and is widely used in recreational and competitive paintball.
Compatibility: The majority of paintball markers (guns) are designed to use .68 caliber paintballs, making this size universally accepted across most fields and events.

Variations in Paintball Size

Smaller Sizes – .50 Caliber: Smaller .50 caliber paintballs, measuring about 12.7 millimeters in diameter, are also available. These are often used in low-impact paintball games, making them a popular choice for younger players or those looking for a less intense experience.
Specialized Games and Markers: Certain markers and game types might use these smaller-sized paintballs. They are favored for their reduced impact and lighter weight, offering a different style of play.

Impact of Size on Gameplay

Impact Force: The size of the paintball directly affects the impact force. A .68 caliber paintball will have a more significant impact compared to a .50 caliber.
Range and Accuracy: Larger paintballs, like the .68 caliber, tend to have a longer range and better accuracy due to their size and weight. Smaller paintballs might offer a different trajectory and less force upon impact.

Choosing the Right Size

Marker Specifications: Always check your paintball marker’s specifications to determine the correct size of paintballs to use. Using the wrong size can lead to malfunctions and decreased performance.
Game Type Considerations: Depending on the type of game you’re playing, whether it’s recreational, competitive, or low-impact, the preferred paintball size may vary.


In paintball, understanding the size of the paintballs and their variations is crucial for optimal gameplay and marker performance. The standard .68 caliber paintballs are most common, but the smaller .50 caliber offers an alternative for different styles of play. Each size brings its unique characteristics in terms of impact, range, and gameplay experience, allowing players to choose based on their preferences and requirements of the game.

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Shelf Life and Storage

When stocking up on paintballs for the season, two pertinent questions often crop up: “Do paintballs expire?” and “How long do paintballs last?” As someone who’s had their fair share of paintballs stored away, I’ve learned a thing or two about their shelf life and the best practices for storage to ensure they remain in top condition for as long as possible.

Do Paintballs Expire?

Degradation Over Time: Paintballs don’t have an explicit expiration date, but they do degrade over time. The gelatin shell can become brittle, and the fill can separate if they’re not stored properly.
Typical Shelf Life: Generally, paintballs can last for about six months to a year under optimal storage conditions. Beyond this timeframe, their quality may start to decline, affecting their performance during gameplay.

Maximizing Longevity

  • Temperature Control: Store paintballs in a cool, dry place. Extreme temperatures, both hot and cold, can damage the gelatin shell and affect the paint’s consistency.
  • Avoid Direct Sunlight: Keep paintballs away from direct sunlight. UV rays can degrade the gelatin shell and cause the color of the paint to fade.
  • Proper Container: Store paintballs in their original container or a sealed bag to protect them from moisture and dirt. Exposure to air can cause the shells to dry out or swell.
  • Rotation: Periodically rotate the paintballs. This prevents them from settling and sticking together, which can happen if they’re in the same position for too long.
  • Humidity Considerations: In areas with high humidity, consider using a dehumidifier or storing paintballs in a climate-controlled environment to prevent them from swelling.

Recognizing Old Paintballs

Visual Inspection: Look for signs like a misshapen or brittle shell, or separation of the fill, which indicate that the paintballs are past their prime.
Performance Check: If you’re unsure, test a few paintballs by shooting them. Old paintballs may not break consistently or may fly erratically.


While paintballs don’t have a fixed expiry date, they do have a finite shelf life, with their quality diminishing over time if not stored correctly. By following these storage tips – keeping them in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight, and properly sealed – you can extend their usability. Regularly checking their condition and rotating them in storage will also help maintain their quality, ensuring that when the time comes to hit the field, your paintballs will be as ready for action as you are.

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What Does a Paintball Feel Like

A common curiosity among those new to the sport of paintball is centered around the tactile experience: “What does a paintball feel like?” and “What do paintballs feel like when you handle them?” As someone who’s picked up thousands of these little spheres over the years, I can describe the unique physical sensation they offer.

Texture and Consistency

Smooth and Slightly Squishy: Paintballs have a distinctive feel. To the touch, they are smooth and slightly squishy, owing to their gelatin shell. This pliability is crucial for ensuring they break upon impact during the game.
Firm but Not Hard: While paintballs are resilient enough to be shot from a marker at high speeds, they are not hard like marbles. Instead, they have a certain firmness that gives under pressure, which is a key aspect of their design.

Handling Paintballs

Slightly Sticky Surface: Fresh paintballs often have a bit of stickiness to their surface. This is from the fill material and is normal. It’s part of what makes them adhere slightly to targets upon impact.
Size and Weight: In your hand, a standard .68 caliber paintball feels small and light, easily rolling between your fingers. Their size and weight contribute to the ease of loading them into a marker.

Sensation of Quality

Indicators of Quality: The feel of a paintball can also be an indicator of its quality. A good paintball should have a uniform shape and a consistent texture. Any irregularities in shape or a brittle feel might indicate a lower quality paintball, which can affect its performance in the game.


The physical sensation of handling a paintball is quite distinctive – smooth, slightly squishy, with a bit of stickiness. These characteristics are essential for their function in the sport, allowing them to fly straight, break upon impact, and leave that satisfying splatter of color. Understanding and appreciating these tactile qualities can enhance a player’s interaction with the game, whether it’s in the excitement of loading a hopper or the anticipation of landing the perfect shot.

Safety and Consumption Queries

In the paintball community, a question that occasionally surfaces, especially among those new to the sport or parents of younger players, is: “Are paintballs edible?” While it may sound amusing to seasoned players, it’s a valid safety concern, particularly in scenarios involving accidental ingestion or curiosity about the non-toxic nature of paintballs.

Are Paintballs Edible?

Not Made for Consumption: Paintballs are not designed for eating. Despite being made of non-toxic, water-soluble substances, they are not food items and should not be consumed intentionally.
Non-Toxic Composition: The contents of a paintball, including the gelatin shell and the inner fill, are generally non-toxic. This means that accidental ingestion, while not advised, is unlikely to cause serious harm.

Accidental Ingestion

Minor Risk: In cases of accidental ingestion, the risk is typically minor due to the non-toxic nature of the paintballs. However, it’s always prudent to monitor for any adverse reactions.
Consult a Professional: If a paintball is swallowed, especially in the case of children, it’s wise to consult a healthcare professional for advice, particularly if any discomfort or unusual symptoms arise.

Safety Precautions

Storage and Supervision: Paintballs should be stored out of reach of young children and pets. When playing in family environments or where younger players are involved, supervision is key to preventing accidental ingestion.
Awareness and Education: Players, especially younger ones, should be educated about the safety aspects of paintballs, including the importance of not putting them in their mouths or attempting to eat them.


To address the common query, paintballs are not edible and should not be consumed. While they are made from non-toxic materials, they are intended solely for the sport of paintball. The risks associated with accidental ingestion are generally low, but caution and supervision are essential, especially around children. Understanding these safety aspects of paintballs can ensure a secure and enjoyable experience for players of all ages, keeping the focus on the fun and strategic elements of the game.

Exploring Alternatives: Gelly Ball

As the world of tactical sports continues to evolve, new alternatives to traditional paintball emerge, sparking interest among enthusiasts. A question that’s been making the rounds lately is: “What is gelly ball?” As a long-time paintball player, I’ve been intrigued by this new entrant and its distinct approach to the tactical shooting game genre.

Introduction to Gelly Ball

A Newer Tactical Game: Gelly ball is a relatively new tactical shooting sport, similar in concept to paintball and airsoft. It’s gaining popularity for its unique gameplay and equipment.
Low-Impact Alternative: One of the most significant appeals of gelly ball is its low-impact nature. The projectiles used are softer and less dense compared to traditional paintballs, making the game more accessible, especially for younger players or those apprehensive about the sting of a paintball.

Equipment Used in Gelly Ball

Gelly Ball Blasters: Instead of paintball markers, players use specially designed blasters that shoot small, water-filled gel balls, commonly referred to as ‘gelly balls’.
Gelly Balls: These gel balls are tiny, absorbent beads that expand in water. Once hydrated, they become soft, squishy, and biodegradable, making them safe and environmentally friendly.

Pain Level and Gameplay Experience

Minimal Pain on Impact: Gelly ball offers a significantly reduced pain level compared to traditional paintball. The gel balls break upon impact, but due to their softness, the sensation is much less intense.
Family-Friendly and Inclusive: This lower impact makes gelly ball a more family-friendly option, suitable for a wider range of ages and pain tolerances. It opens up the tactical sport experience to those who might be hesitant about the more intense hit of a paintball.

Game Dynamics

Rapid-Fire, High-Capacity Blasters: Gelly ball blasters often allow for rapid-fire and high-capacity magazines, leading to a fast-paced, action-packed gameplay.
Strategic and Fun: While the tactics and strategies can be similar to paintball, the gameplay in gelly ball tends to be more focused on movement and volume of fire, given the lower risk associated with being hit.


Gelly ball represents an exciting development in the world of tactical sports, offering an alternative that’s more accessible and less intimidating than traditional paintball. Its low-impact nature, combined with unique equipment and gameplay dynamics, makes it an appealing option for a wide range of players. Whether you’re a seasoned paintball veteran or new to tactical games, gelly ball offers a fresh and enjoyable way to engage in strategic, team-based action.

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Final Conclusion to What are Paintballs Made of

It’s clear that a deeper understanding of paintballs themselves – their composition, size, shelf life, and the physical experience they offer is essential for anyone engaged in this thrilling sport.

From the non-toxic, water-soluble materials that make up their structure to the standard .68 caliber size and their varying shelf life, each aspect plays a critical role in shaping the paintball experience.

Handling paintballs, feeling their smooth, slightly squishy texture, and understanding their behavior during gameplay adds another layer to the strategic depth of paintball. Whether it’s the sting of a hit, the tactics of avoiding it, or the care in storing and maintaining your paintballs, these elements collectively contribute to the unique allure of the sport.

For both newcomers venturing into their first match and veterans with countless games under their belt, appreciating these nuances can greatly enhance the paintball experience. Knowledge of paintball composition helps in selecting the right ammo, understanding size variations aids in choosing the correct equipment, and awareness of shelf life ensures optimal performance.

Similarly, recognizing the physical sensations associated with paintball, whether it’s the impact of a hit or the feel of the paintballs in your loader, enriches the overall engagement with the sport. As we continue to enjoy the evolving world of paintball, let’s keep these fundamentals in mind, ensuring safe, enjoyable, and competitive gameplay for all involved.


Playing regularly since 1997. Competed in local, regional, national and international paintball series. Founded and lead Long Beach State to a National Collegiate Championship victory. Proudly banned from the NPPL after legitimately winning a 5 on 1. Have since made it a hobby to promote paintball and at the same time make a point to call out paintball industry shenanigans and those that intentionally impede the growth of paintball. Welcome to