Wednesday, April 7, 2010


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How Are Paintballs Made?

By Doug Brinlee

Anyone who has ever played a game of paintball can tell you how fun and exciting the radical sport can be. Running through the course with paintballs splatting around you and your enemy in your sights can be thrilling. But have you ever wondered how paintballs are made? They are supposed to be soft enough to break open without causing you any serious harm. But if you don’t wear the proper padding and equipment, they can still hurt. Many paintball players show off their bruises like trophies. So what materials are used in making paintballs? How are paintballs made? Are the materials environmentally safe? If you have ever been hit by a paintball, here is some information that will make you appreciate that colorful splat a little more.

Old School Paintball

Paintball got its start way back in the 1950’s and was first developed by the Nelson Paint Company. The original device was designed for the U.S. Forestry service to mark trees. Later, the company devised a way to shoot a ball of paint for use in the cattle industry. Cattle owners used chalk to mark cows but this grew problematic when the cattle were out in the pasture. Owners could not always get up close to the cows to mark them. The paintball gun made this much easier because it allowed cattle owners to mark the desired cattle from a short distance. The earliest forms of paintballs were made of glass and filled with oil-based paint but later were manufactured by pharmaceutical companies using the same methods as making medicinal capsules, vitamins, and bath beads.

Modern Paintball Materials

Although most paintballs were originally manufactured by pharmaceutical companies because they were already set up for the process, the growth of the sport of paintball has since changed most of that. There are now many manufacturers that specialize in making paintballs as well as other equipment specific to the sport. There are now many top paintball brands such as the Brass Eagle Company and ZAP Paintballs, Inc. The paint used in paintballs is also no longer oil-based. Instead, it is a water-soluble paint and washes out of clothing easily. The materials that make up paintballs are mostly found in food and are actually edible even though they don’t taste like it. The basic materials that make up the paint are mineral oils, food coloring, calcium, polyethylene glycol, sorbitol, and iodine. The paint is enclosed in a ball that is made from a semi-soft gelatin, the same material used to coat medicines. But don’t let the color of the ball fool you because the color of the outside shell may not be the same as the color of the paint inside.

Most modern paintballs are described as .68 caliber. This is the common caliber used in most paintball games and tournaments in the U.S. Because of the gelatin shell, paintballs are very susceptible to heat and moisture and may warp. An especially hot or humid day may cause the paint to swell inside the shell. If you are playing outdoors and in the sun, proper storage is key. Many players use insulated coolers to keep the paintballs cool and dry.

How Modern Paintballs Are Made

The process for making paintballs is pretty universal, despite brand variation. The first thing to get manufactured is the paint. The type of paint used in the sport of paintball is specially mixed at a paint manufacturing plant and then shipped to the encapsulating plant. At the encapsulation plant, the shells are crafted out of gel strips. To make the shells, workers pour water into a massive heating bowl where sorbitol and various sweeteners are added. Next, so that the mixture can be transformed into a round hollow ball, gelatin is added. All of the ingredients are allowed to melt and mix for around 30 to 40 minutes. Once the gelatin mix is alowed to cool, it is rolled onto a drum to create a thin strip.

The next step in the process is to load up the gel strips and the paint into a capsulation machine. The gel strips move through two counter-rotating drums. These drums have half round indentions that mold the gel into half a round paintball shell. As the gel is molded, the machine lines up both halves of the ball and as it closes them together, injects an amount of paint into the hollow cavity. The two halves are then sealed together.

At this point the paintballs are still warm and soft so the gel needs to cool so it can harden. To accomplish this, the balls are dropped into a tumbling machine. The machine gently shakes the balls which cools them down. Also, the shaking allows the balls to harden to a uniform roundness. Once the paintballs are cool, they are placed in trays where they can finish drying and curing.

Once the balls are completely dry, they are ready to be packaged up and shipped out. The balls are visually inspected for any obvious flaws before being loaded into a hopper. Hoppers are large, funnel-like containers that fill the packages according to weight. A case of paintballs is advertised as holding 2, 500 balls but since the hopper uses weight to determine when a package is full, the actual number may vary.

Testing and Quality Control

As paintballs are manufactured, they are placed into numbered lots. This makes it easier for inspectors to perform their quality control. A percentage of each numbered lot is set aside for inspection and testing. After a visual inspection for any obvious signs of defects, the paintballs are placed in a machine that measures the weight and diameter of the balls. To determine if a ball is brittle, a drop test in conducted. This involves simply taking a paintball and dropping it from a predetermined height. A paintball that has been manufactured properly should crack open upon impact. The final test involves taking the batch to a target range for field testing. Better quality paintballs use a higher quality of materials, thinner shells, and go through more rigorous testing to make sure they are accurate.

Are Paintballs Environmentally Safe

Modern paintballs are safe for both the environment and for one’s health. The paint is non-toxic so if you get it in your mouth and accidentally swallow it, it won’t affect you. The paint dissolves in water so it won’t remain on your clothes or all over the outdoors where you play. Also, the shells are biodegradable, too. All those broken paintballs will soon dissolve with enough rain and weather.

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What is a paintball?

A paintball is a round ball with a caliber of .68. The shell, or outside, is a hard gelatin, very similar to a liquid filled pill and is usually comprised of Pig Gelatin. Inside a paintball is a special paint, so when a player is "tagged", the paintball will break and the player will have a small amount of paint on his/her clothes. Paintballs are filled with a bright color, so that it can be easily seen if a player has been "tagged" usually a red, pink, orange, yellow, or blue, etc. The fill in a paintball is generally washable, when playing on a recreational field non washable paint is frowned upon and usually illegal to use. Almost all big paintball companies produce their own line of paint. A great paintball manufacturer is TC Paintball. (

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Chemistry of Paintballs

Who can guess what mild hypnotic medication, a cardiac drug, cough and cold preparations, stage blood, Easter egg colouring kits and PAINTBALLS all have in common? One common feature in a gelatin shell, and the other is some of the most demanding chemistry in the health, beauty and recreation industries.

You see, all of the above products are enclosed in soft elastic gelatin capsules. They are called softgels. A company called Accucaps in Windsor, Ontario has chemists working on development and improvement of these gelatin capsules for many different applications, one of which is the sport of paintball.

Now for a little history about the sport of paintball: the first use of paintballs was to mark livestock and tress for slaughter or harvest with oil-based paint. Well of course it did not take long for one yahoo to shoot another and the game of paintball was born. It turned out that many clothes were ruined due to the oil-based paint.

This new-found sport was just too good to give up, so word got back to the manufacturer of the paintballs that there was a demand for water-soluble paint for recreational use. Because gelatin (the capsule material) dissolves in water (which is water-soluble paint) this request would prove to be very challenging. The fill material would have to be water-soluble, but containing no water, and it would need to be capable of carrying dyes or pigments, but non-staining and thick enough to not run off its target. Furthermore, it needed to be compatible with the gelatin capsule. The formulators in this case were the Production Chemists, Quality Control Manager, and Quality Control/Product Development Chemist. These were the people who knew the most about what could or could not work for this project.

After making a compatible fill material the chemist knew that the gelatin shell of the paintball would require special attention, too. The gelatin shell had to withstand the sudden acceleration from zero to 90 metres per second in a span of 35 centimeters then hit a relatively soft body at 30 metres and break. So, the shell had to be strong yet brittle. After adjusting the plasticizer-to-gelatin ration, a more brittle shell was accomplished. Secondly, using gelatin derived from pig skins (rather than the usual source, connective tissue of cows) made for much better paintballs.

At one point all the paintballs in the world were being produced in Windsor, Ontario because this is where the sport of Painball as we know it today was invented. That was eleven years ago and billions of paintballs have been produced. The paintball fad is still growing and Accucaps in Windsor, Ontario is now concentrating on softgels in the cosmetic industry…but that may be another story in itself.

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1 comment:

Rahim Minhas said...

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