Paintball Basics: Where to Fill Compressed Air Tanks

Paintball player with paintball mask and paintball gun stained with paint
Westend61 / Getty Images

Paintball guns operate with compressed gas—air or CO2—from tanks filled to 3,000-4,500 pounds per square inch (psi). Refilling these tanks requires heavy-duty compressors and equipment. Although compressed air may offer better performance than CO2, few stores have the capability to properly refill air tanks with it.

This poses a common problem for paintball players. Where can you get your high-pressure air (HPA) tanks filled? You can turn to a number of stores for cheap fills, or you can do it yourself, provided you are prepared to spend some money.

By law, filled gas tanks for paintball guns cannot be shipped (with the exception of one-time use and 12-gram CO2 cartridges). When buying your equipment online, do not expect a tank to come ready for the paintball field. If you're considering compressed air, look into local tank-filling options before making a purchase.

Paintball Shops and Competition Fields

The first place to look for tank filling is at your local paintball store and competition field. Most shops and fields have the equipment to safely fill compressed air tanks, and some will fill them for free. However, you're more likely to pay one to three dollars for every 1,000 psi.

If there is not a paintball field or store in your area, check around with local paintball enthusiasts. Some owners of completely unrelated businesses have invested in HPA tank compressors to suit their own needs. They will often fill tanks on the side to bring in a little extra cash (and to help pay off the equipment). If any retailers like this are located in your area, your fellow paintballers may know about them. Online paintball forums and clubs may also be able to steer you in the right direction.

Scuba Stores

Because compressed air tanks for paintball operate at a similar pressure as scuba tanks, many scuba stores also fill paintball tanks. Again, it should cost just a few dollars to fill a tank, and this is one of the most convenient options available.

Fill Your Tanks at Home

If you own a scuba tank, you're halfway to filing your paintball tanks at home. A scuba tank filled at your local scuba shop can easily fill compressed air tanks from paintball guns if you also purchase a scuba fill station.

A 3,000 psi scuba tank will fill a compressed air tank for an air ball gun about 15 to 20 times. However, the tank will cost a few hundred dollars, and you will need to pay to get it filled. Consider this when weighing your options. If you live an inconvenient distance from stores that fill paintball tanks, buying and filling a scuba tank may be a good option.

Are you thinking of buying the air compressor itself? Unless you're running a paintball competition field or opening a store, think again. An HPA compressor can easily cost over $2,000 for a basic setup. Of course, you can fill other people's paintball tanks as well as scuba tanks, but for most paintball players, this option is out of reach.

Don't even try to use your tire pump or a standard air compressor—it won't work. Most of these compressors max out at 180 psi, and your paintball tanks require a minimum of 3,000 psi to fill.

Tips for Filling HPA Tanks

No matter where you get your tank filled, there are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • HPA tanks have a "hydro date" indicating the last time they were inspected. All tanks should be reinspected every five years.
  • Never put grease or oil on a tank's fill nipple. When filling the tank, heat will build up and warm these flammable oils, creating the potential for fire.
  • Keep your tanks out of direct sunlight and try to avoid leaving them in a hot car. This goes for all paintball tanks: pressure can build up and blow a burst disc in a CO2 tank. While HPA tanks aren't likely to over-pressurize, too much heat can damage the regulator seals.
  • Protect your tanks with a tank cover or something similar, such as a fabric bag.
  • When filling tanks, it is best to do a "slow fill." If a tank is filled too fast, you will lose psi as the air cools. This means that your 3,000 psi tank may only end up with 2,500 psi in the end. Most paintball and scuba store operators know this, but it's important to remember if you're filling your own tank.