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What's the difference between
Compressed Air, Nitro and CO2?

Confused? Your not alone. Paintball forums are buzzing with people trying to figure out what gas is what and which gas to use. What gives more shots per fill and what's more cost effective. Can I groin kick the Pope? We will define each type of gas and try to clear up any misconceptions. Always use air tanks and paintball equipment with care and as intended by the manufacturer!

Get to know your paintball air system

Compressed Air or Comp Air:

This consists of the air you are breathing right now. It's made up of Oxygen, Nitrogen, Carbon Dioxide, Hydrogen and several other gasses. Hopefully not polluted with fart smell. It's compressed by air pumps and stored in tanks. Some(most) fields have their own compressors and fill your paintball tanks right on the spot. The compressors are fairly expensive due to the pressures needed to be reached, 4500psi is the common fill pressure.

Benefits of compressed air are; once a compressor is owned, there is an unlimited supply of air to compress. No need to refill any thing, just occasional maintenance on the compressor.

Draw backs of compressed air are the initial purchase of a compressor and moisture in the air. The moisture goes through your marker and, in extreme cases, can cause problems especially in very high or very low temperatures. This moisture can also be less stable to maintain storing pressures in varying temperatures.

Nitrogen or Nitro:

One of the most misunderstood gasses in many sports. Drag racers say nitro and can be meaning Nitrous Oxide(one part Oxygen and two parts Nitrogen - NOT flammable but an accelerant) or Nitro methane(an alternative fuel - very flammable with a low flash point). Paintballers should just say Nitrogen! The air your breathing is made up of 78% Nitrogen by volume. Nitrogen is taken from the atmosphere by fractional distillation. It's commonly used by paintball stores and some fields because they don't need to buy a compressor for it. Generally a business can rent a large tank and pay for refills of Nitrogen from a gas/welding company. They then fill your smaller tanks off of their larger Nitrogen tanks.

Benefits of Nitrogen are the pure Nitrogen contains no moisture. That means no moisture running through your gun and it maintains a more stable pressure in your paintball tanks under different ambient temperatures.

Disadvantages, well none really, it may be a dollar or two more to fill your tanks. I wouldn't go too far out of your way to get it vs. compressed air. Comp air and Nitrogen can be used interchangeably in your paintball tanks and you more than likely could not tell the difference in performance or any other way.


Errrr... Do I really need to hit on this? CO2 is Carbon Dioxide(one part Carbon and two parts Oxygen). It's obtained by a membrane gas separations system that I wouldn't even pretend to understand or talk about here.

Benefits of CO2 are the low cost of the tanks plus the easy and low cost of the fills. It stores at a lower pressure and because it's easily stored as a liquid in your tank it's dense and holds more per volume.

The bummer part of CO2, it's very unreliable at low temps. Generally your gun will need an expansion chamber especially if you shoot at a high rate of fire. Higher end tournament guns do not shoot well at all with CO2. It can cause seals in the marker to freeze and fracture.

HPA or High Pressure Air:

Lots of the popular paintball tanks label themselves as HPA. It just means the tank holds high pressure air. In paintball tanks they(the manufacturers) mean Nitrogen or Compressed Air. However, HPA really just means any gas under high pressure. Technically CO2 is HPA, but don't ever fill your Comp Air tank with CO2.

Green Gas Guns:

OK, I'm not even sure what this is about. I get asked questions about green gas guns once in a while. The only place I've seen green gas guns is in Airsoft Applications. I'm not sure if this would qualify as green gas but Tippmann recently came out with a marker that utilizes propane. I don't know what type of success they are having with it but I've yet to see one in action at my local field.

Well, that's all I have for you now. Remember that any type of high pressure air can be dangerous and should be used only as described by the equipment manufacturers. If I made any errors here or you have and further questions feel free to use our team contact form. Good luck...

If your searching for an affordable HPA/Comp Air/Nitrogen tank or trying to upgrade from CO2, we suggest Crossfire Paintball Tanks. They are affordable and one of the better tanks available for the money. This company stands by their products and produces a consistant quality paintball tank. See the above page for pricing on new and used tanks.

Posted by Redwood on 03/18/07

Also see:
Paintball Air Tanks
CO2 Tank Paintball - New and Used Prices
JT IVT CO2 Paintball Tank