Airsoft is a popular combat simulation game where participants are eliminated when hit by pellets launched from guns that resemble real firearms. In paintball participants try to hit each other with paintballs launched from a special paintball marker/gun. While airsoft is cheaper and provides a more realistic warfare experience, paintball is more popular, more organized and has larger events.

Comparison chart

Airsoft versus Paintball comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartAirsoftPaintball
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AirsoftPaintball
Definition Airsoft is a sport in which participants shoot round non-metallic pellets launched via replica firearms. Games don't have a standard definition as all sites choose to play their games differently. Paintball is a sport in which players compete, in teams or individually, to eliminate opponents by tagging them with capsules containing water soluble dye and gelatin shell outside (paintballs) propelled from a device called a paintball marker.
Equipment Airsoft Gun, Eye Protection (Some sites may make you wear a full face mask) and BBs. Everything else is optional. Required equipment consists of a paintball mask, usually paintball marker (tags with barrel, etc may replace marker), tank, and hopper.
Guns Full imitation firearms or 51% brightly colored 2-tone guns. The 2-tones are used to offer cheap practice guns to get people interested and due to law (See UK Airsoft laws). Guns are powered by rechargeable batteries, CO2 or spring. Guns consisting of a tank and hopper. Aiming with a paintball gun is done by lining up ones nose with the barrel of the gun as "sights" on paintball guns are virtually useless. The gun can be powered by CO2 or HPA, although HPA is preferred.
Accessories Magazines, BB-bullet (See revolvers) Paintballs and hopper. Hoppers contain paintballs and all do so at different amounts. Different guns place the hopper either on top and in the middle or off to the side. Hoppers operate at different speeds, and many are available on the market.
Usability Slightly more difficult to load due to magazines having to constantly be winded. Easy maneuver and carry around. Extremely easy to load through the use of pods, pods are carried by pod packs and may have elastics to aid in ejecting pods faster.
Cost Cheaper than Paintball. $10-20 per 5,000 bbs. Paintballs are usually sold in "cases" consisting of 2000 paintballs. Prices may go as low as $30 for average consumer.
Contact Some sites include 'Bang' and 'Knife' rules. The bang rule means that instead of shooting someone a meter away from you, you can shout Bang! in order to not cause them harm. Toy knives made of foam or plastic. Most fields allow physical contact consisting of tagging opponents with barrel, fake sword, light saber etc. Mercy rule usually for players 5 feet away from one another.
Venue Can be played anywhere. e.g. RAF bases, shopping malls, woodland areas. Can be played anywhere, usually on a speedball field or in woodland areas with a few farmyard buildings.
Pyrotechnics BB grenades, flashbangs and smoke grenades yet their usage differs by site. Paint grenade, rockets, and smoke grenade; usage varies by site.
Realism Players can either rent a gun, BBs, eye protection and a camo jacket or spend money buying their own equipment. MIL-SIM events include realistic equipment, loadouts, clothing and behaviour. Game scenarios have a realistic objective but anyone may play due to the many different types of paintball.
Events for hardcore players? Yes; tournaments & prizes, and large scale (300+ player) operations. Yes; tournaments & prizes, as well as record breaking extreme sports events drafting upwards of 5000 people
Player age Airsoft usually includes players from all ages. 10+ 10+ (most players are 16 - 30)
Hardware Airsoft guns usually need to be upgraded to be good, and airsoft guns break a lot easier. Paintball guns are basically good once bought, paintball guns are a lot more durable and last a lot longer with no maitenence.
At an airsoft game..
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At an airsoft game..

Difference in equipment

Paintball airsoft are similar in that they are combat simulation games that use replica guns. In both the games the aim is to eliminate opponents by hitting them. The rules, equipment and gear used are different.

Guns

In airsoft, the gun is made to look like real-world firearms. The plastic pellets resemble the bullets and are loaded as magazines just like with real guns. In paintball, the marker is loaded with paintballs through a bulky hopper. The gun has to be held upright for proper loading of the paintballs while it is easier to reload an airsoft gun.

Ammunition

The ammunition for airsoft can fit into a regular sized magazine. The small size makes it easier to carry around. Paintballs are large and the hopper is bulky making it difficult to carry around. The small size of the ammunition enables easy maneuverability of an airsoft gun. It is easier to single-out an opponent hit by a paintball as it marks the target with colorful paint. For this reason, it is easier to cheat in airsoft where there is no visual indication to mark a hit target.

Goggles and Masks

An airsoft player has to wear goggles to protect his eyes from injury while playing. A paintball player has to wear face mask while playing to avoid serious injury.

Cost of the equipment

Apart from the size of the ammunition, paintballs are more costly than airsoft ammunition. Most airsoft guns use rechargeable batteries or are spring-loaded. Hence, they are cheaper when compared to paintball markers that utilize CO2.

Roles of the players

The roles of airsoft players are based on type of weaponry. Depending on the nature of the gun, there are many additional roles that are not found in paintball. Long rifles are used by snipers, rifles and grenades are used by assault troops, shotguns are used to breach doors and close corners. Auto cannons are used by heavy weapons specialist. There are team medics in longer scenario battles.

The roles of paintball players are based on their experience and preferences. The players have the same weaponry. Paintball technology is used by military forces, law enforcement, para-military and security organizations to supplement military training, riot response and non-lethal suppression of dangerous suspects.

Cheating

This is a good discussion thread about cheating in paintball and airsoft. It's harder to cheat at Paintball because hits are very visible. Hits in airsoft are harder to detect not just for the person shooting but also the person getting hit. Airsoft relies a lot more on the honor system. The perception is that there is less cheating in paintball than airsoft but that could also be because cheating is easily detected.

Cost

People who switch from paintball to airsoft usually do so because of cost. Airsoft gear and guns (Amazon link) are much less expensive than paintball and it costs less to play.

References

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