When it comes to spending time with friends, there aren’t too many options that sound as fun as paintball. This exhilarating activity makes use of colorful spheres that burst upon contact. Invented in the 1930s, these fun-filled gelatin globes have become synonymous with fun and adventure.
However, these processed balls can pose a threat to the health and well-being of many. Or perhaps, you are just curious as to what goes into the paint that comes directly in contact with your skin. Thus, we have summarized the process to get you up to date on how paintballs are made.
In this article, we will be looking at the ingredients used to make paintballs and the process is undertaken. We will also be learning what makes a paintball perfect and how to choose the best ones in the market. Without further ado, let us dive right into it!
What Are Paintballs?
Paintballs are the result of simple chemical and mechanical processes. These small gelatin spheres contain dye with which opposing players or teams can “shoot” each other, with the help of a “marker” or “paintball gun.”
The marker propels the paintball, and when it comes into contact with surfaces at high volume, it explodes, leaving behind a stain of paint. With increasing paint splatters on your opponent, your chances of winning get bigger!
Did you know that paintballs did not originate as the fun pastime that we know today? It was originally used by brothers Charles and Evan Nelson, both forestry engineers, to mark trees. Eventually, cattle farmers started to use paintballs to mark trees too. Back then, the balls were made of glass as opposed to gelatin!
The game of paintball originated in 1981 by Charles Gaines and Hayes Noel. Together, they introduced the tactical experience of paintball, which then took off in 1989 and became the fun activity we know today.
With the shift from paintballs being used to mark trees to them being used for fun and games, glass got replaced by gelatin, and a mixture of oil and paint moved out in favor of an edible—yes, edible—mixture of ingredients to make non-toxic paintballs.
An incredible characteristic of paintballs is the fact that they are all non-toxic and biodegradable. The most common ingredients used in paintballs are food-grade coloring, mineral oils, ethylene glycol, calcium, and iodine. A sphere made of gelatin holds these ingredients to result in what we know as paintballs.
Health and Safety
As mentioned before, paintballs are completely non-toxic and biodegradable. Not only are they safe for your skin, but players will also be safe from health hazards even if they swallow the contents on accident.
Furthermore, they are soluble in water. This makes them easy to wash away from your skin, clothes, and surrounding areas. Since they are non-toxic, you do not run the risk of having your drainage systems contaminated with highly toxic chemicals.
You can also use them around lawns and gardens without worrying about killing plants.
Now, let us take a look at the process undertaken to produce paintballs. From processing the dye to packing, this simple process is what makes hours of fun possible for us!
Typically, the paints used in paintballs are made in separate facilities that specialize in making the dye. As discussed before, the dye is made to be completely water-soluble, non-toxic, and biodegradable. Once the paint is prepared, it is shipped to designated encapsulation plants for completion of the process.
This is the part of the process where the dye gets filled into spheres. The capsules are made from ingredients that mimic those of capsule medicines. Gelatin makes up a large portion of the formula. Thus, it is not just the paint that is safe for health and the environment – the capsule joins the list too.
Why use gelatin?
Gelatin is used mainly because it hits the perfect balance between strong and brittle. Strong, so the paintball can be shot from the gun in one piece and brittle, so it explodes when it comes into contact with your opponent.
If it were not brittle enough, the objective of a game of paintball game would be rather difficult to achieve!
This perfect balance is achieved by incorporating a precise and perfect ratio of plasticizer into the gelatin derived from, more often than not, pigskin. The plasticizer makes the gelatin perfectly brittle when dried as well as more stable.
The process of encapsulation is very similar to that of encapsulating medicine. A fun fact is that this process originated in pharmaceutical companies when paintballs first started becoming popular. Over time, paintball companies took the matter into their own hands.
Encapsulation plants run 24×7 since it is a simple but continuous process. There are two inputs in the encapsulation machine – one that feeds the pre-made dye and another that forms the gelatin capsules that hold the dye.
A filled tank at the top of the machine holds the dye and a fill pump pushes it in measured amounts through a pipe.
In the second input, workers insert slabs of softened gelatin. The gelatin then moves around drums and oil rolls. Together, these two components of the machine transform the thick gelatin into thin sheets.
Shaping the gelatin
Once the gelatin has been thinned out, it moves onto two counter-rotating dimpled drums. As the gelatin comes into contact with the pockets in the drums, it takes up the spherical form of a paintball. This is why the drums are also referred to as die.
Injecting the Dye
Then, with great precision, the pre-made dye is fed into the sphere through the pump and injection wedge. After injecting the paint into the sphere, the die pushes the edges of the half-spheres together, sealing them and completing the encapsulation process.
Now that the paint has been encapsulated, it falls onto the chute from where it is picked up for tumbling and drying.
Tumbling is an incredibly important part of the process. In order to use paintballs properly, they must all be uniformly round. When the paintball comes out of the encapsulation machine, the gelatin is still warm and moldable.
During tumbling, the paintballs are shaken around gently in a tumbling machine. This action, the gentle spinning of paintballs from all sides, ensures that the gelatin gets shaped into perfect, uniform spheres. A fun fact about the tumbling process is that the duration, temperature, and overall process still remain a trade secret!
Once the tumbling process is complete, and gelatin has hardened significantly, the tumblers are emptied, and the paintballs are placed on shelves to air dry. The duration needed to air dry them depends on the manufacturer’s unique formula.
Before being packed into cases, the paintballs are inspected for flaws by the workers. Paintballs that pass the test are loaded into a machine called ‘hopper,’ which intelligently packs paintballs into cases according to weight. A case of paintballs contains approximately 2500 balls.
Finished paintballs are regularly checked at random for faults and defects. Several tests, such as drop tests for brittleness, temperature resistant checks, and solubility tests, as well as weight and dimension tests, are done to ensure you are getting the best quality products.
For those who are conscious of the environment, it is great news that the process of manufacturing paintballs does not produce any harmful residue or byproducts. Just like the finished product, the ingredients and byproducts of the process are all safe for health as well as the environment.
What Makes a Great Paintball?
Paintballs, admittedly, seem like fairly mindless products. Not much thought should go into purchasing them, right? Well, we disagree. Everything you love about paintballs starting from their non-hazardous nature to their easy solubility can backfire terribly if you do not pick your products perfectly.
Thus, we will be telling you pointers to look for in the perfect paintball.
As mentioned before, one of the most important features of a good paintball is the perfect uniform spherical shape. Without this feature, the paintball can get stuck inside your gun or marker. Even if they make it past the nozzle, they may not shoot straight or at the correct velocity, leading to missed shots.
Furthermore, deformed paintballs can lead to the target being injured. If it hits the skin at the wrong velocity, it can lead to tissue damage or severe stinging. Thus, not only is a uniform ball important for your gun it is also important for your health.
Brittle and Strong
The main reason gelatin is used for encapsulation, besides it is safe for health, is that it is perfectly brittle and perfectly strong. The capsule needs to be brittle, so it explodes upon contact. However, it also needs to be strong enough to survive transportation, loading onto the marker, and being propelled at a high velocity.
Thus, we highly recommend double-checking if the paintballs you are considering are encapsulated with gelatin. With any other material, you may be risking health hazards, injuries, or simply a case of shattered paintballs that are no longer of any use.
The dye in the paintball should be water-based. Oil-based dyes, though widely available, are not as safe or convenient as their water-based counterpart. They are not safe for consumption, may potentially be harmful to the skin, and are not water-soluble like water-based dyes.
Due to this, your health may be jeopardized, and you may end up staining your skin, clothes, and surroundings. Water-soluble, polyethylene glycol dye is the safest and most convenient type of dye to have in your paintball.
Closely linked to solubility is the matter of environmental friendliness. Oil-based dyes are not biodegradable as they do not simply ‘wash out.’ Thus, they are likely to remain in your drain, gardens, or surroundings more.
Want to Make Your Own?
Sure, store-bought paintballs are great, but what if I wanted to try my own hand at making them? Well, in that case, we have the perfect little ‘recipe’ for you. Just like store-bought variants, these DIY paintballs will also be made from ingredients that are safe for your health and the environment.
Step 1: Mixing the Ingredients
First, mix oil, flour, and gelatin in a bowl of very hot water. Keep mixing it till you see all the ingredients disappearing and leaving absolutely no clumps. This will take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Strain the mixture to get rid of any possible clumps, no matter how small.
Step 2: Molding the Mix
Next, pour the liquid into molds of standard paintball sizes. Remember that your DIY paintballs need to pass through the barrel and nozzle of the paintball gun. Thus, the size must be standard and regular too. Next, place the molds in the refrigerator to solidify.
Step 3: Forming the Sphere
Once they have solidified, use a sealant to merge and seal two half spheres together to make a spherical ball.
Step 4: Filling up with Dye
Next, use a syringe to push the paint into the sphere. For the paint, you can use any non-toxic paint available, preferably polyethylene glycol-based paints. Do not use oil-based paint or toxic paint that can cause health problems.
And that’s it! You have made your own paintballs! Now, you can store them in a cool and dry area and use them just like regular store-bought paintballs in a game!
As promised, that was our article on how paintballs are made. We hope to have cleared any questions and queries you may have had regarding the production and manufacturing of paintballs. With this informative article, we hope you have been reassured of the fun, safety, and non-hazardous nature of paintballs.
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Meet Leo Roman, a dedicated paintball enthusiast hailing from the United States. He started as a casual player but quickly became a fierce competitor known for his strategic prowess and precision shooting. Beyond the thrill of the game, Leo values the camaraderie and sense of community in paintball.
He’s a respected figure who not only excels on the field but also volunteers to introduce newcomers to the sport. Follow Leo on our paintball blog for insights and stories from the world of this high-adrenaline adventure. Learn more