Technical Aspects of a Paintball – its construction and makeup
Paintballs are completely biodegradable and will wash away from most surfaces with water or will vanish after rain. Paintballs are gelatin capsules filled with polyethylene glycol (the base of cough syrups) and food-coloring dye mixture. Both the shells and the fill will naturally biodegrade and will not leave lasting marks on the environment.
The paint used for paintballs is soluble in water, so that it washes easily out of players’ clothes. It is nontoxic, in case a player is hit in the mouth and accidentally swallows the paint. The basic materials for the paint are food coloring, calcium, ethylene glycol, and iodine. The paint is encapsulated in a bubble made from gelatin. This is the same material used in encapsulated medicines, such as many pain killers and cold treatments, and in liquid vitamins, such as vitamin E capsules.
The Manufacturing Process
Making the paint
The paint for paintballs is a specialized product because it is both water-soluble and biodegradable, and has been developed for optimum characteristics in flight and impact. Typically, the paint is made at a specialty paint facility, and then shipped to the encapsulating plant. A very large manufacturer may combine the two operations.
Encapsulating the paint is done with specialized equipment. To make the capsules, workers load two wide strips of softened gelatin into the encapsulating machine. The strips move through two counter-rotating drums. These drums are lined with pockets or dimples that form the paintball casing. As the gelatin is pushed into the dimple, the machine automatically injects a precisely measured amount of paint into the cavity. It also automatically seals the two strips together, encapsulating the paint.
Tumbling and drying
The gelatin is soft and warm at this point. The balls must be cooled and hardened in a tumbling machine. This machine gently shakes the paintballs around. The rotating action of the tumbler spins the paintballs, so as they dry, they end up uniformly round.
Next, workers empty the tumblers and place the paintballs on shelves. The shelves are stacked on wheeled racks, and the paintballs are left to air dry. The amount of time the balls dry varies from factory to factory, and this, along with the exact formula of the gelatin, time in the tumbler, and many other aspects of paintball manufacturing, is regarded as a trade secret.
Inspection and packaging
When the balls are thoroughly dried, they are ready for packaging. Workers move the balls to the packaging area. They visually inspect them for obvious flaws. A more rigorous quality check is performed on some of the batch. Workers load the balls into hoppers, and a machine automatically packages them by weight. Paintballs are sold by the case, which is supposed to hold 2,000 balls. But because the machine makes up the case by weight, the actual number in the case usually varies.
A large paintball facility makes paintballs in a continuous process, but the process is still broken up into numbered lots, so that the manufacturers can perform an exact quality control process. A certain percentage of each lot is set aside for inspection and testing. After drying, a worker performs a visual check to find any obvious abnormalities. Then the balls are tested further. Workers place them in testing machines that measure the balls’ weight and diameter. A drop test is done to test for brittleness. A properly manufactured paintball should burst on impact, but not sooner, so this is a very important step. After the paintballs have passed all these tests, some are taken to a target range and shot out of paintball guns as a final all-around field test.
Because paintballs are, for the most part, used outside in open areas, they are specifically manufactured to be biodegradable. Both the paint and the gelatin dissolve in water, so the waste from spent paintballs washes way in the rain.
Points to note
In order to make the gelatin sheet which becomes the actual capsule of the paintball holding the paint inside, there are a few variations mostly due to cost and performance.
These are the different materials used to make up the gelatin sheet:
- Pig bone/skin – this is the best performing raw material to make the gelatin shell. Most very high end tournament paintballs are made using this type of raw material as the paintball will not break in the marker but upon impact. This is a concern for Muslim players and the majority of these paintballs are found in the USA and Europe.
- Bovine gelatin – made from Cow bone/skin. This is the next alternative which also performs as good as pig gelatin. We only import beef gelatin paintballs due to Halal issues with Muslim players.
- Combination with vegetable, soy and other materials: these paintballs are usually unable to hold their shape, deform over time, break in the marker when shot and do not fly straight. The only reason they are sold is because they are much cheaper to make.
The fill of the paintball
The fill of the paintball is also very important. Know as the actual “paint” that is inside the paintball.
As mentioned above, good quality paintballs are made using PEG – which costs more but makes the paintball shoot better, straighter, no breakage in the markers and stores better longer.
The other alternative instead of using PEG which is cheaper is to use oil, vegetable/corn/soy oil as a replacement. By using these oils, they stain the equipment and do not biodegrade at all. We choose does not import these paintballs. They do not store well as the oil will separate from the paintball and will not fly straight, do not store well, stain and is bad for the environment.
We’ll try to get a video up of an encapsulation plant soon!