What is the Best Paintball Gun?

For those familiar with the sport, this question may seem ridiculous. Picking the “best” paintball gun out of the hundreds available is daunting, to say the least, and determining which is superior to the rest seems like it is completely up to the user. However, it’s not hard to see differences in the many markers out there, and, with help from this guide, you can hopefully find the perfect paintball gun for you.

Below is a table that includes a selection of paintball guns that span all the price ranges and play styles and many of the common factors that are used to judge a paintball marker, as well as some that can only come with experience in the sport.

2016 Ultimate Paintball Gun Comparison Table

Marker Name
Price RangeMarket EndMarker
System
Play Style
Modability
Player
Experience
Summary
Tippmann 98 CustomCheapLowMechanicalRecreational
/Woodsball
HighBeginnerThe 98 is legendary, renowned for its reliability, ease-of-use, and simplicity. The classic beginner's marker, you really can't go wrong starting with this. Mods for this gun are easy to find, making the 98 Custom a real contender. Full review.
Tippmann X7 PhenomMedium
Low
/Middle
Mechanical
/Electro-Pneumatic
Woodsball
/Mil-Sim
HighIntermediateThis is a solid marker for any woodsball or scenario game. Easy field-stripping pins make this gun a breeze to maintain, and there are hundreds of customizations to make your X7 look just the way you like. Full review.
GOG eNVyCheapLowElectro-PneumaticRecreational
/Speedball
LowBeginnerAn ideal entry-level speedball gun for those who want to compete in faster-paced paintball games without shelling out hundreds. Easy to clean, and includes several features present on high-end markers. Full review.
Dangerous Power G5MediumMiddleElectro-PneumaticSpeedballLowBeginner
/Intermediate
A great choice for those just entering the world of competitive, ranked paintball. Reliable, compact, and cheap, it's a good starting point for any tournament player. Full review.
Dye Proto RailMediumMiddleElectro-PneumaticSpeedballMediumIntermediateAn entry-level Dye gun, with excellent control and value, another awesome gun for tournament beginners or those who want an edge over any rental gun out there. Full review.
Empire SniperMediumMiddleMechanical
(Pump)
Scenario
/Woodsball
MediumIntermediate
/Advanced
A mid-range price tag with high-end performance! The Sniper gives you classic pump excitement with modern precision and feel. Includes an auto trigger as well as a three-piece bored barrel kit for a closer fit on your paint. Full review.
Empire AxeMediumMiddleElectro-PneumaticSpeedballHighIntermediateUsed by pros and beginners alike, the Empire Axe is an awesome choice for speedball on any level. The Axe sports high reliability and accuracy, and has many aftermarket parts available to upgrade it. Full review.
Tiberius Arms T9.1 Elite RifleMediumMiddle
/High
Electro-PneumaticScenario
/Mil-Sim
HighIntermediate
/Advanced
A more 'military' model of paintball marker, the Tiberius T9.1 is perfect for those who love the art of stalking and striking from afar. Multiple mods and a high degree of accuracy make this gun a sniper's first choice.
Planet Eclipse Ego 11ExpensiveHighElectro-PneumaticSpeedballMediumAdvancedA workhorse of tournament paintball, Planet Eclipse's Ego line has proven itself worthy of the professional fields. Great accuracy, reliability, and quality. The newest model after the 11, the LV1, is Planet Eclipse's latest, high-end, incarnation of the Ego model.
Planet Eclipse Geo 3.5ExpensiveHighElectro-PneumaticSpeedballMediumAdvancedThe Ego's cousin, the Geo is Planet Eclipse's "spoolie" marker, which provides exceptional control, accuracy, and consistency. This is a true paintballer's marker.
DLX Luxe Very ExpensiveVery HighElectro-PneumaticSpeedballMedium
/High
AdvancedThe Luxe is a pinnacle in paintball marker technology, and that high price tag is justified the moment you use one. Smooth cycling, high reliability, easy programming, and prestige are all included with this astonishing gun. Its' newest edition is the Luxe OLED, which includes a LED control screen on the grip for even easier programming.
Dye DAMVery ExpensiveHighElectro-PneumaticScenario
/Mil-Sim
HighAdvancedOne of the most advanced Mil-Sim guns out there, The DAM's innovative feed-switching system allows you to switch between magazine-fed and traditional hopper feeding at any time. This is the gun that paintball generals carry into battle.
Dye DM15ExpensiveVery HighElectro-PneumaticSpeedballLowAdvancedThe Dye Matrix (DM) line of markers has been around for years, and is famous for their extremely smooth and quiet operation. This latest model is truly a masterpiece of and a real engineering feat, easy to maintain, program, and shoot. You'll be the envy of the field with this marker.
Empire VanquishVery ExpensiveVery HighElectro-PneumaticSpeedballMediumAdvancedEmpire's attempt at a high-end tournament marker has become a resounding success. Comfortable, accurate, and sleek, the Vanquish will help you dominate any field you step onto.

Which one is right for me?

First, what’s your budget? Paintball is expensive, and, understandably, most people don’t want to spend all their cash on a gun only to be left with nothing left for paint or gear.  So carefully set a limit on how much you’re willing to spend, and look for a gun that fits under it. Also, never rule out buying a used or older model, as gun prices decrease significantly as you move back in model years.

Next, What kind of paintball do you play? Are you a “rec-baller” who goes out into their backyard to play with friends, maybe going to a field every once in a while? Or are you an aspiring tournament player who demands the absolute best from their gun, who plays and practices every week? This decision is as important as the price, because you don’t want to be stuck on a speedball field with a long, mil-sim marker, and you don’t want your $1400 trophy gun out in the mud.

Finally, which gun fits you? There’s two parts to this; the looks and the feel. It may sound vain to pick a gun based on looks, and indeed, many players could not care less, but the marker has to make you happy. You have to smile when you look at it, or else it’ll end up in the closet collecting dust. Then, it has to feel right in your hands. Different people have different tastes in guns, whether it’s the length, width, trigger size, etc. This means it’s important to physically hold the gun you plan on purchasing beforehand, so you know if it’s a good fit for you.

Take all these points into consideration, with one final bit of advice; choose the gun that you like, and don’t simply buy a gun because you saw another player using it.

On that second point, play style, there is room for explanation to help you further define what paintball gun you need, not just want.

The Different Shapes and Styles of Paintball

Woodsball

Image Credit West Point

Image Credit West Point

Pretty self-explanatory. Woodsball is paintball played in the woods, or more specifically, anywhere but an organized or speedball field. There are boundaries, obviously, but the fields tend to be large, several acres on average, and any cover is either natural (trees, rocks, and such) or is made of plywood, sticks, or dirt. This type of play is generally asymmetrical and requires teamwork to get around the field.

Good woodsball guns are big, simple, and mechanical. They have good efficiency and accuracy for long play times and long shots, and can stand up to any conditions. Tippmann has been the go-to woodsball gun manufacturer since 1986, but any solidly built gun will do the job.

Scenario/Mil-Sim

These two categories are often used interchangeably, as scenario games often require a degree of military-esque flavor to make them interesting. The name comes from the team-based objectives, or scenarios, that are often part of the game mechanics (capture control points, secure a hostage, “destroy” an enemy HQ, etc.). Famous examples are the Oklahoma D-Day game and CPX Sports’ Living Legends. Scenario games can last days, even up to a week, with set play times, and resting periods before and after. These often include thousands of players, and can be both exhilarating and frightening to the inexperienced.

At scenario games you’ll see a wide range of guns, but die-hard mil-sim players will choose guns that resemble real military weapons but function as reliably as woodsball markers. Tippmann’s A-5 and X7, Dye’s DAM, most Tiberius Arms guns, and Empire’s Battle Tested (BT) line are good choices for this game style.

Speedball

Image Credit Niels Veeneman

Image Credit Niels Veeneman

Speedball lives up to its name, as games are fast-paced, rarely extending over three minutes. That’s not to say nothing happens in them, of course. During speedball games, players move quickly up a symmetrical field, trying to get angles on their opponents behind inflatable bunkers. Thousands of paintballs are shot during a single round, and it’s common to see over ten points played in under ten minutes.

Speedball guns must be as fast as possible. This is where most of your top-of-the-line guns are found. Planet Eclipse, Empire, DLX, Machine, DyeMacDev, and Bob Long all make guns specifically designed for speedball, but the choice of which one is best should be left up to you; serious speedball players use guns they love, not guns they like.

Top Picks

Let’s take a moment to acknowledge three guns from the chart above that excel in their given price point. These three markers will give you, quite literally, the best bang for your buck, and are truly special paintball guns.

The Budget-Baller

Gun: Tippmann 98 Custom (Full Review)

Tippmann98Custom

Price: $119.00

You really can’t get more famous than the good ol’ 98. This gun, originally introduced in 1998, has been the go-to rental and beginner’s gun for over 10 years. Visit any local field and it’s guaranteed there will be at least one 98 still kicking. While it doesn’t have the highest accuracy or efficiency, this workhorse will keep going through mud, snow, and paint alike, and will always put a smile on your face. With Tippmann’s commitment to customization, the 98 Custom can be modified with everything from electronic triggers to collapsable stocks and barrel kits.

The Middle of the Pack

Gun: Empire Axe (Full Review)

EmpireAxe

Price: $459.95*

With a price tag that sits neatly in between high-end guns and beginners’ choices, the Empire Axe will fit most budgets. On top of that, it’s a spectacular gun, suited to any level of speedball, or even woodsball if you so choose. With break-beam “eyes” in the chamber and a hybrid spoolie/poppet bolt providing smooth cycling and high efficiency, the Axe will leave you satisfied, and yet it delivers even more! As well as easy access to all internal parts, there are dozens of aftermarket manufacturers that make different body kits, bolts, triggers, and feed necks for the Axe, so you can feel free to soup yours up way past stock!

The Standard Bearer

Gun: DLX Luxe OLED

DLX-Luxe-2.0

Price: $1375.00*

First off, just to be clear, choosing the best high-end gun is nearly impossible. Players will always defend their own choice, no matter the manufacturer. That being said, the Luxe is a truly amazing marker. Tool-less core removal, a highly programmable board (that speaks!), hundreds of color options, excellent customer service, buttery-smooth and whisper quiet spoolie action, and extreme reliability are just some of the services this gun brings to you. And this gun really is a service; in the right hands, it dominates any scenario.

Now that you’ve seen some of the best paintball guns out there today, let’s take a minute to discuss what makes two markers different on the inside.

What’s the difference between Mechanical and Electro-Pneumatic?

A mechanical firing-style marker uses no electronics, and each shot is controlled directly from the trigger. Each time you pull it, there will be one, and only one, shot. This group includes pump guns, as the cocking mechanism is the player pulling the pump handle back and forth.

Mechanical markers are usually very simple and cheap. They make good beginner’s guns, and are easy to maintain.

Electro-pneumatic guns, on the other hand, rely on electricity flowing through a solenoid to fire. They almost always include some basic programming, usually fire mode (semi-auto, burst, ramping, etc.) and balls-per-second, and will need some sort of battery, either a built-in rechargeable or a standard 9-volt.

These guns are inherently complex (notice their higher prices), and generally need more care and maintenance than their mechanical cousins. However, they provide more options, and are much, much faster and smaller than standard mechanical markers.

What about CO2 and HPA?

PaintballGunHPAC02

Let’s make something clear right off the start here; any gun can use HPA (compressed air), but only mechanical guns can (or more accurately, should) use CO2. Here’s why:

Carbon dioxide and compressed air are, obviously, different gases, and, therefore, behave differently under various conditions. At low temperatures, CO2’s consistency drops considerably, with accuracy and efficiency differing per shot. However, at normal temperatures, CO2 stabilizes. Another problem is that CO2 is stored as a liquid, which can leak into the internals of the marker, collecting dirt and paint, and causing later malfunctions and lowered accuracy.

This is one reason why mechanical guns can use it. Their large, simple, and open bodies allow for a higher tolerance of grime on the inside, and they are easy to clean out before it becomes a problem. Electro-pneumatic guns, on the other hand, are meant to be have small profiles, and be thin and precise on the inside. They need a propellent that works consistently at all temperatures, is clean, and can support a high rate-of-fire.

Another point to consider is price and how common each source is. CO2 is cheap, all around. The tanks, usually 12oz., 20oz., or 9-gram for some pump guns, are all cheaper than HPA tanks, and the cost to fill one is between $5-$10. Also, every field, and even some sporting goods stores, will have the ability to fill your CO2 tanks, allowing you to keep playing all day.

HPA, on the other hand, is more expensive. Due to the expense of compressors (~$10,000), some fields do not support compressed air. The tanks that hold it are also much more expensive, and can cost as much as $150. However, if you plan on using any high or mid-rang electric gun, HPA is far more cost effective, as the price of modifying your electric marker to work on CO2 is about the same as just buying an HPA air system.

Just remember; mechanical guns can handle any propellant, while electro-pneumatic are mainly HPA.

So there you go! Hopefully this guide helps you choose a gun to conquer the field and bring you joy every time you pick it up. Remember, there are hundreds of guns out there, and this guide only covers a fraction of them. So get out there and talk to the store owners and players who use these markers every day, and do your research before every purchase! A good gun will last you a life time, so make it count!