This is one of the most frequently asked questions online and one of the most important things to consider when purchasing a paintball marker. Is the best option for paintball compressed air tank vs co2 for maximal performance? Though some markers will work just fine on either choice, some will only work on compressed air so attention must be paid.
CO2 or carbon dioxide is a very common form of paintball propellant. CO2 turns to liquid under pressure and undergoes state changes very easily. When a co2 tank is filled, the bottom inch is usually liquid CO2. They are convenient and can usually be filled at local sporting goods stores.
HPA is an acronym or high pressure air. HPA is also known as nitrogen or compressed air. These tanks are much different than co2 tanks. Compressed air always stays in the form of a gas, and the changes in temperature that occur are much less compared to co2.
These tanks are classified and filled by weight, for example 12oz, 16oz and 20oz sizes. There is no way to know how full the tank actually is. There is no form of output pressure regulator either
There are a lot of reasons to use HPA over co2 as a paintball propellant. This section will talk about problems regarding co2 tanks, and how compressed air compares. To overview some general problems, co2 is inconsistent, can turn into liquid form, and be very hard on the internals of your marker.
Co2 is much dirtier than HPA. There are more particles in co2, and these flow through your marker and regulator.
A large problem with co2 is temperature and state change. when a tank is filled, a small portion at the bottom is in the form of a liquid. This is because of the state change from a gas to liquid that occurs when co2 is under pressure. The state of co2 is dependent on its pressure and temperature. When a tank is filled, you may notice the coldness of the tank.
When a paintball marker is fired, the liquid must expand into the form of a gas. this cools the tank and sometimes the gun itself when fired rapidly. You can notice as you fire the tank and sometimes the marker will experience a rapid temperature change.
If a marker is fired rapidly enough that the liquid cannot expand at the required rate, it may flow into the marker and regulator. A rapid expansion of liquid to gas will cause a large sudden increase temperature and therefore pressure. This can be very hard on or damage the internals of your paintball marker.
Liquid co2 also flows around in the tank. if a marker is tilted down, this liquid is possible to flow into the marker if the tank isn’t installed with an anti- siphoning system. As discussed above, you definitely don’t want liquid co2 flowing around in your marker.
The output pressure of a co2 tank at normal conditions may be 800psi. However, the pressure of co2 is dependent on temperature and its change. As temperature increase, output pressure increases, likewise if it decreases, the pressure will decrease too. In a hot climate above 100 degrees, pressure may increase above 1500psi, and in the cold may decrease to 400 psi.
The pressure flow into your marker has major effects on how it operates. 1500 psi can put a lot of pressure on the regulator and internals of the marker, and low operating pressure can cause airflow issues and other problems regarding the form of co2.
The consistency of co2 is terrible. As discussed above, as a marker is fired, the tank will cool. Therefore this will cause a decrease in the output pressure supplied to the marker. This can cause huge inconsistencies in velocity and accuracy. Without consistency in airflow through your marker, it is difficult to improve its performance
Another problem with co2 tanks is there is no way of knowing how full the tank is while using it. It is filled based on its weight, so its used until it runs out. This usually means you’ll be in the middle of a game when you need a refill.
These tanks are classified by size in cubic inches (CI) and compression level.
HPA tanks fill to either 3000 or 4500 pounds per square inch (PSI). a 45/4500 tank is 45 cubic inches, and fills to 4500psi, while a 68/3000 is 68 ci and fills to 3000 psi.
Compressed air tanks also need to be hydro tested every so often depending on the tank. Usually the rehydro testing time frame is 5 years, and is a relatively simple and cheap process. This can usually be done at a local scuba shop, paintball field, or by the manufacturer.
The Cost of a HPA can range from $50 to $200. The main difference in price is the material the tank is made of. HPA tanks are made of either Aluminum or carbon fiber, and the difference in weight is pretty significant. If your looking for a first HPA source on a budget I recommend an Aluminum tank for the cheaper price. something like this 48ci/3000psi aluminum tank is a great choice, and is shown above. It will have a similar feel to a co2 tank.
Carbon fiber tanks are extremely light and pretty amazing. If you can invest in a carbon fiber tank, they are worth every penny. Some good HPA tank manufactures are Ninja and PMI. If your not sure what size you want and are thinking of getting an HPA tank, look at the 68/4500 Ninja Tank. Ninja tanks are very high quality, and a 68ci is one of the most common sizes.
Looking at the design on an HPA tank compared to a co2 tank, the first thing you may notice is a psi gauge. Since compressed air is always in a constant state as a gas, it is easily measurable. The gauge lets you know how full your tank is, and you can fill your tank between games at fields.
HPA is also much more consistent. the adapter on the tank is actually regulator. this regulates a constant output pressure, usually around 850psi for a High Pressure Air system. This means a consistent airflow to your regulator and throughout your marker at all times. This has a major effect on consistent velocity and accuracy.
HPA completely eliminates the problem of liquid co2 and damage to your marker. Also, the number of shots off of a fill is fairly consistent, as opposed to co2, which changes depending on temperature and output pressure.
Not only will you be able to read the pressure level currently in the tank, but you will be able to get more shots off of a fill then from a co2 tank. This is because of the constant air pressure and gas state.
Many new players may try to buy all sorts of upgrades to try to get more performance out of their markers, such as new barrels and regulators. However, nothing compares to the change in performance you’ll get from switching to HPA. This will give your marker a solid foundation for consistency in firing your paintballs, and I highly recommend switching to compressed air as soon as possible. You’ll be amazed by the difference.