Back when this blog first start, we posted up a pretty cool YouTube video that explained how paintballs are made. In case you missed it, here it is again below.
But I wanted to go into more detail about the humble paintball and explain a few more secrets to its success. Today, paintballs are soft enough to break open on impact yet hard enough to be fired at almost 200 mph without rupturing – and it is this vital balance between efficiency and stability that makes them so darn good. Back in the old days, circa the 1950s, it was the Nelson Paint Company that originally created paintballs – little balls of hard paint for the U.S Forestry Service to mark dead trees with. Unsurprisingly farmers decided that, if they were good enough for trees then, they were good enough for cattle too. So this lead the Nelson Paint Company to develop a more accurate long-range gun to fire them from, as cows don’t really like people coming right up to them and firing paintballs at them.
As the industry started to grow, the first paintballs were actually little glass balls filled with an oil-based paint, and these had to be bought from pharmaceutical stores. However thanks to the good thinking of Hayes Noel, Bob Gurnsey and Charles Gaines, the farming practice took off as a pastime and a viable paintball leisure industry soon started to grow. Today that are many paintball manufacturers, but the big names tend to be the likes of the Brass Eagle Company and ZAP Inc. and, thankfully, they are no longer made of glass and oil-based paint! As you might know from playing paintball, today’s projectiles are filled with a water-based solution which is largely made up of food dyes, colourings and mineral oils and, similarly, the ball itself is a simple, squidgy gelatine compound – which isn’t too different from the stuff used to make jelly! I wouldn’t try eating them though, even if bears love gorging on paintballs.
Because of their relatively straightforward components, there is really only one way to make paintballs – despite the several different brands available. Basically the hot gelatine is rolled into thin, flat strips and then they are formed into a half-shell shape by running over two counter-rotating drums in what is called the ‘capsulating machine’. As the gelatine cools, the drum heads push the two created halves together and, just before they touch, quickly injects the paint into the cavity. Simple really. I always imagined they made Maltesers in the same way, but they probably don’t.
To cool them down and get a uniform and consistent roundness, the balls are then dropped into a tumbling machine – like a tumble dryer but without the heat – which allows them to cool and shapes them to be perfectly round.
And that’s about it. Obviously each brand has its own different out colours (which, annoyingly, often don’t match up with the colour of paint inside) but that’s all there is to making a paintball.