Quality of Paintballs

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Having just read a guide from someone with a grudge it is obvious a more bias independent opinion may be required. As a Chemist who was employed in the encapsulating industry for 7 years I was involved at the highest level in making paintballs here in the UK. I still play ball at 50 and my choice just happens to be Zap for logistical reasons but my main reason for this article is to have some opposition to an inaccurate, non-technical, strictly personal report.

Today I lecture on the marketing side of life and I can confirm most people’s choices in life are personal in selecting their paintballs or even their cans of beans. I had a Ford once in the 70’s and it was the biggest rust bucket I have ever had the misfortune of owning. I vowed to never own one again and slagged Fords off at every opportunity. However, later in life I became more aware of life’s idiosyncrasies and bought another Ford in 2007. It is the best car I have ever owned, so it proved a judgement can be tainted by an experience, but it is not always the experience of others and is considered a bad basis in making an informed choice. I read this guys report who attacks zap and other brands saying they are rubbish, yet the same brand is the largest selling brand in Europe so everyone else must be wrong and this guy right. The same analogy can be used with your choice of Beer, Holiday, my Ford or even your choice of dog breed as a pet. If your mum was bit by a corgi when you were young I am sure you are under the misconception that all Corgis’ are from the piranhacaninus family.

For paintballs it is a similar thing, if you were sponsored by a said brand you are likely to love them until the sponsorship runs out, if you buy paintballs for your field you may be less fussy as you are the customer of the brand and not necessarily the consumer. The majority of field owners like an Asian ball as it is made with Bovine gelatine and therefore less likely to break, except maybe the skin of the receiver. In 1992 most of the then industry moved over to Pig gelatine as scientific results showed it is more likely to burst on the target and therefore safer due to more elasticised properties. The current Asian influx of paints into the market will sell well until the field operators see the damage they cause before abandoning the Bovine gelatine again. That same ball the Field owner’s covert is of course not exactly what a rec. player or Tournament player wants in a ball.

In complete contradiction to the other article I read on EBay by the guy with a grudge I will say scientifically there is almost no difference between a ball made in UK to a ball made in Canada, USA or Italy. The ingredients can alter by no more than 1 or 2 percent of formula. If you take a 10 quid bag of say Zap and compared it to a 10 quid bag of Draxxus you will find very little difference in Polyethylene Glycol (PEG), Gelatine, Sorbital etc. The difference in price often comes from the ingredients at the same level of ball, nothing to do with quality. The bottom end Draxxus at 5 quid a bag will hold a percentage of reclaimed gel ribbon, possibly a bit of non PEG in the fill, like chalk, Starch or clay and possibly a lower ph PEG or die. The time spent examining the paint in production is halved, the colours used may be mixed in the bag fillers etc. Pennies saved here and there determine the cheaper paints, not quality. The same priced Zap ball or RPS Ball will have the same shortcuts to try and get the paint to as cheap as possible. Marketing also costs and as such the sponsored paints may also have a large bearing

Much of the quality differences you experience as a player is determined by drying time, rolling time, packaging and age. The Shell of the ball is Gelatine, it is a living organism, in theory, it is a shell full of bugs and slime if you like. Because of this it is forever changing its state of hardness and elasticity due to fill migration to the shell or a concentration of certain molecules at the base of the ball. This 1st of point dryness and the timing of alternating states is part of the manufacturing process and considered when drying the paintball. When making a batch of paint it is known when the paint is likely to be used and therefore it can be dried to allow the Shell to be at its best for use. If it is past its best when you get it, you can store it for two weeks and you may find it is great again. In theory a Canadian ball coming to Europe will be manufactured to peek three weeks after it leaves the dryer, an Italian ball will peek a week after leaving the dryer etc.

The paintball in the factory goes through very stringent tests and then shipped if it passes ALL of them. At the time it is arriving at its country of destination the paint is again tested in the plant to see if the timing was right. It is fair to say NO manufacturing company lets a sub standard ball leave the plant on purpose. The company receiving the paintball will also test the ball immediately and consider the results. One batch may be perfect, the next needs a couple more days in 24oC etc. However this seems to be the end of the knowledge tree and the end of the preservation of the paintball according to what statistics reveal… read on..

The paintball factory is the warmest of environments being critically kept at 22oC, and I mean all of them, Nelson, Procaps, Zap, PMI etc. They all have the best interests of the paintball at heart and do not intend to let the slightest thing go wrong with their flag ship product. When the paint is manufactured it is dried to harden the shell and shipped in Temperature controlled containers called Reefers to their final destination. When these reefers arrive in Tilbury, Southampton or Liverpool after 12 to 14 days being plugged into the electrical supply on a boat you can guarantee their quality. It then moves on a truck that is primarily used to allow these Reefer containers to maintain temperature on its final journey. A temperature recorder sits on the top of a box and it is electronically signalled back or mechanically opened on its arrival at final destination. It generally never drops below 20oC or peeks above 23oC.

Every manufacturer has took the trouble to do their bit. However the problem comes when a distributor has to send paint to a field. He can not deliver it himself and there is no regular daily reefer trucks running around the UK. He has to therefore send the paint by overnight courier where all the work to date can be destroyed. When the paint gets to a field the owner usually takes it out of his Freezing Transit and puts it in a hut where even the member of staff is wrapped up for the arctic. If you get my drift; statistics show that paintball goes through it’s problems in the hands of the couriers and customers. There are exceptions, some site operators do look after the paint but statistically it is rare. In 2004 we did a tour of 22 UK Fields to see if our paintballs were matching the criteria required for a field owner. We were horrified to see 18 did not look after the paint at all, some even put the paint on their transit the night before leaving home for the field.

Science….. Gelatine freezes at 8.9oC, there is nothing anyone can do about that, it is science. However at 10.1oC it has shown that the paintball will shrink to it’s minimum size where every molecule is squeezed to its minimum. This shrinking can start with long periods of exposure around 12.9oC. A paintball is round, but the product has no memory and does not know it is supposed to be round, therefore when the shrinking occurs it is not uniformly shrinking in a nice spherical manner; the dryer molecules shrink faster than those with a little migration of moisture from the fill or indeed the molecules exposed to the fill. This can make dimpling effect as the fill is looking for somewhere to go. The fill is a liquid and therefore less susceptible to compression. The shape of the ball is now changing, sometimes unseen by the human eye. Certainly the make up of the shell density has not started to change and this is at 12.9 well above any Summer morning in the UK.

The warming up of a paintball after it has been frozen or near frozen is often where the next damage occurs. The Gelatine if you remember has no memory of being spherical and therefore as it warms up again the molecules randomly expand. However the fill expands faster and needs room to move, this usually means the shell will stretch unevenly like stretch marks on skin or a crème-brulè baked to fast. Under a magnifying glass a thousand hairline stretch marks will be seen like a London street map and everyone of them a fragile fault in the shell. The results being barrel bursts, hopper bursts and even bag bursts.

So before anyone goes off and accuses manufacturers of making bad paint, it may be prudent to look closer to home. Make your own mind up and do not take the word of someone else as your sole guide to choice. My advice is to study the logistics before buying, then consider how you yourself treat the ball thereafter,  Thesew two factors have a greater bearing than who manufactured it. If you spend thousands on Kit and hundreds on maintaining it over a year, do not penny pinch on paint. Your $100 barrel is likely to be a vanity purchase if you try to put a $40 case of paint through it, however that $60 case may be worth the barrel investment.

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