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Paintball Barrels 101

One of the most commonly argued parts of a paintball gun is the paintball barrel. With an almost unlimited selection of lengths, sizes, colors and brands available, what will work best for you? Without a doubt accuracy is the most important factor for a barrel. If you can't deliver the ball and hit the target, what's the point?

We try to work through some of questions people send us when frustrated while shopping for a barrel. The most common question we get is about accuracy.

An accurate paintball barrel can change your game

"What is the most accurate barrel for my Tippmann A5?" or "What's the best sniper barrel for my Spyder?"

While we can't directly answer that, we can build off of our experiences. Let's start by breaking down a barrel in detail.

Barrel length vs. Accuracy:
Everyone has a different idea about what the perfect length should be. Or, they have a range that it has to fall between. I think it's commonly agreed that the barrel should be at least 8-10 inches or the accuracy suffers severely. Anything shorter than that and your velocity will have to get turned up, resulting in more potential ball breaks Although, some front players may have reason to use a shorter barrel for a smaller target signature.

8-10 inches is needed to let the gasses in your paintball gun accelerate the paintball to correct velocities without delivering a violent punch of higher settings. We can get a barrel length that's too long or a paintball barrel that produces too much drag and have the opposite effect of slowing down the ball.

Most people agree that after 14-16 inches the barrel is negatively effecting velocity and accuracy. Many of the paintball sniper barrels are longer than this and do quite well from my experiences. However, you need to again weigh the need of having to turn up your velocity and increasing your chance of a ball break, to the usefulness of a long barrel. There are a few 21 inch(Core Brand) barrels available and Tippmann markets an 18+ inch sniper barrel.

General barrel lengths:

  • 10-12 inch barrel for front player
  • 12-14 inch for mid-player
  • 14-16 inch for rear player
  • (Per application for woodsball)

Internal size/Inserts vs. Accuracy:
Paintballs are said to be 0.68 inches in diameter. We all know it comes down to more than that. In the world of needing an extremely accurate barrel, we search out the perfect fit for our application. Unfortunately, we can't always use the same paintballs and even if we could, there are too many factors that can affect the size. Humidity, age and differences in a manufacturers consistencies can affect the size of paintballs.

This great industry has a solution for dealing with slight differences. Paintball barrels with changeable inserts or barrels that come with different back halves of internal sizes. Some of these are available in a kit and you are given the option of not only changing the internal bore size but also to change the length of the barrel.

A good paintball to barrel bore fit will allow the ball to not fall through the barrel but be pushed through by applying a light amount of breath to the end. That's right, take off the barrel, pop a ball in it and lightly blow it through. It should blow through very lightly and not take much effort to pass though. If you are noticing less accuracy you can try to tighten it up. On the opposite side of that, if your noticing ball breaks, try to use a looser fit.

An internal surface that's too smooth can create more friction due to a larger surface to surface contact area. This can be demonstrated by running your hand, at a 45 degree andle, down the edge of a table vs. running it flat down the top. The more contact you have equals more resistance.

Porting/Rifling/Muzzle breaks:
Porting is an important part of a paintball barrel. The ports allow the air pressures in font of and behind the ball to equalize before it exit's the gun. This generally provides a more accurate shot and less of a "pop" noise.

Rifling is done to different ways. The rifling can be designed to try to put a spin on the ball. This generally isn't optimal for the typically less than round paintballs we are used to getting. With seams and dimples it will cause an inconsistency from shot to shot.

The second example of rifling is done to provide a more stable surface for the ball to travel through will minimizing resistance. It's done by machining straight or slightly curved lands into the barrels surface. This is the only type of rifling you should consider.

The use of muzzle breaks are similar to porting but only provide the equalization all at the end of the barrel. They are designed to cut down on the noise and pressure surge that can build up. The idea of porting is a smooth transition vs. an all at once release. A muzzle break can be used together with a ported barrel, but most of the time it's an appearance thing.

We get a lot of questions about the Tippmann Flatline and the BT Apex paintball barrels. Both of which are truly unique in design and function. Loads of people blast the Flatline for accuracy but, you can't argue with its reach. I have played in several scenario events and brought along a Flatline and a "more accurate" barrel. If your using an A5 gun you know how easy it is to swap barrels. When opponents are far away I would shoot through the Flatline. When fighting at closer ranges, I would quick switch in the other more accurate barrel.

The BT Apex is a barrel that allows you to adjust the spin on the ball to curve in what ever direction you need to shoot. There are claims of people shooting someone hiding completely behind a bunker. Our team has had very little experience with one of these, either on the receiving end or the delivery. I would imagine effective use of this type of barrel would take some serious practice.

Dress up/Appearance:
Many paintballers just want a barrel to complete a mil-sim or military replica appearance. This can be everything from a silencer type of look to a vented barrel shroud. Some guns like the Tippmann X7 offer specific gun kits. The AK47, M16 or MP5 are popular appearance kits. Most people are willing to sacrifice a little accuracy to complete this look.

As we covered before, muzzle breaks are mostly considered an appearance item and less efficient at equalizing the muzzle pressures than effective porting.

Some paintball barrel sniper modifications are strictly an appearance preference. From camouflage and ghillie covers to longer barrels and "bull" appearing barrels.

Paintball barrel brands and applications:
Paintball gun manufacturers have been making aftermarket barrels for the guns they sell. These can be great choices for keeping your gun "factory" upgraded. The Smart Parts Freak barrel series is an example of this. Most of these manufactures build the barrels with threads that fit their guns and many others.

There are a lot of paintball barrel manufacturers that build barrels for the most popular paintball guns. Some of the more popular barrel brands are:

  • Dye
  • J & J
  • JT Barrels
  • Stiffi
  • Armson
  • Smart Parts(out of business)
  • Kingman Spyder
  • CP
  • Tippmann
  • Lapco
  • Empire

There are several adaptors available for fitting one thread of barrel to another type of gun. This can come in handy if you have two different guns with different barrel threads.

Summing it all up:
Choosing the right or best paintball barrel isn't so much a science as much as it is a personal preference. If your happy with the barrel your using now or the one that came from the factory on your gun, stick with it. If your hunting for something aftermarket, choose a paintball barrel that will fit your application. That may be part of a mil-sim look or a specific length for speedball. However, length and bore should be your main considerations if your looking for your most accurate fit. Owning several barrels to choose from to fit the conditions maybe a wise choice.

Also See:
Barrel Videos on YouTube

Barrels at Paintball-Online

Posted by Redwood on 05/15/08(Updated 05/06/2012)