You've played paintball a few times with borrowed or rented equipment, and you've decided it's time to buy your first gun (marker). Now, though, you must decide which one to get. Before you start searching, ask yourself some basic questions which will direct your decision.
How much are you going to play?
A complete, super-basic setup for paintball can cost anywhere from $70 to $120 (not counting plastic pumps). Many stores rent out complete sets of equipment (gun, mask, tank, and hopper) for $10 to $20 a day. If you are realistically only going to use your gun once or twice a year, it could take six or more years to pay for the cost of the equipment as opposed to renting, and by then, your equipment would be old. If you plan on using your equipment three to four times a year, it is probably worth it to buy your own lower-end equipment.
How much do you want to invest?
If you are going to be playing paintball twice a month, don't buy a cheap gun that is neither easily upgradeable nor very good to begin with. For example, the Brass Eagle Striker is a very inexpensive gun that works fine, but it is not nor ever will be a very fast, accurate, or consistent gun. I had a similar model for several years that I would lend out to friends, and it worked fine, but, it is not ideal for someone who plays regularly and wants to improve. On the other hand, the Striker would be great for someone who only plays three times each summer.
Do you want a low-end or medium-range gun?
If you are confident you will be playing a lot of paintball, you need to decide if you want to begin with a lower-end gun or a medium-range gun. There are many guns that cost from $60 to $150 that will work just fine for most players. These guns are reliable, upgradeable, and will be adequate for most any paintball activity for years to come. These guns will also run on CO2. But, if you want to get a gun that can compete (in terms of speed and consistency) on a speedball field or is designed to take all the abuse and wear of a 24-hour scenario game, you will need to jump up in price to the $200 to $300 price range.
What happens if your gun breaks?
Unfortunately, paintball guns will break. Before you buy a gun, it would be wise to see how much it costs to fix. A $30 gun might cost $18 to replace the air hose. Rather than being forced to buy expensive new parts only from the manufacturer, you could buy a gun that has parts made by many companies (such as Spyders and Spyder clones). Additionally, some guns are designed so that even basic maintenance must be done by a professional (or very advanced gun hobbyist). Before you choose your gun read the manufacturer's specifications to find out how hard it is to fix your gun and whether or not you can do it yourself.
Do you want an electronic or mechanical marker?
Mechanical markers need no electricity while electronic markers run with batteries and circuit boards. Mechanical markers are typically slower and louder, but very reliable. Electronic markers are either electro-mechanical or electro-pneumatic. Electro-mechanical markers are mechanical markers with an electronic trigger frame that fires the marker, often in 3-round burst or full auto modes. Electro-pneumatic markers shoot by activating a solenoid valve which allows air to pass through and shoot the ball. They can fire more consistently and are quieter than mechanical markers, but they cost more and are harder to fix.
What kind of paintball do you want to play?
If you are going to focus on scenario games or woodsball, you may want a gun that is designed to be carried like a rifle with the ability to attach a stock. Size doesn't matter as much - as long as it is comfortable and durable. Avoid shiny colors for woodsball play. For speedball, smaller is better. Look for a gun that is compact, fits close up to your body, is easy to hug up against bunkers and shoots very quickly. With speedball you can also get a bright and shiny gun. If you want to play both woodsball and speedball, consider a smaller gun that you can attach a stock to when you play in the woods.
What other equipment will you need?
Before you use up all your money to buy your dream gun, figure out what else you will need. A super-fast electro-pneumatic gun won't do you much good if you only have a gravity fed hopper. Learn if your gun will require you to buy a compressed air tank and if your gun really needs a basic upgrade (such as a new regulator) before it will perform satisfactorily. Ask yourself if you will be happy playing an entire day of paintball with a decked out gun and an ill-fitting $10 mask. By factoring in the cost of all other equipment before you buy your gun, you will have a better idea of what kind of setup you can afford.
Are you willing to buy used equipment?
You can save a considerable amount of money if you are willing to buy used gear. Before you do, make sure you are willing to purchase equipment that may need adjustments, shows signs of wear, or may not be exactly what you had in mind. If you are willing to do this, check out eBay-style auction sites, local classifieds and your local paintball shops to see if you can find a treasure at a bargain price.