Marker classification - no hammer > Tech index > Marker classification > No hammer

The second of two overall categories is for markers that don't use a "traditional" hammer to fire a valve. These markers use other means to release air, usually electronic, but not always. Most of these markers are less prominent than the hammer/valve based markers, due to price and complexity reasons (especially the electronic designs).

Most of these designs are considered to be more advanced since most aren't directly based on any of the "old" hammer-based markers from the 80's and early-mid 90's. Instead, these designs use a poppet or spool valve to fire the ball. In paintball terms, a poppet is a valve that uses a face seal to hold pressure back. The poppet is lifted away and air is thusly released (hammer/valve markers use poppets). Spool-based markers use axial o-rings or seals to contain pressure, whereby the release occurs when a moving part shifts position to open a new air passage. Spool-based markers always involve the spool components shifting a large distance to fire, whereas poppet-based markers involve the poppet shifting only a short distance.

Please remember my warning about being many ways to classify markers. I've only arrived at the order and method depicted on this page after countless days rewording and re-organizing paragraphs. I prefer to primarily group markers in terms of their firing assembly, not the bolt action. Personally, I think the means to fire the ball is primary, with the bolt movement secondary to it. Reasoning is that the bolt action can be easily modified with a minor redesign, yet the marker may still fire the same.
It's not a perfect system, it's not perfectly organized, and there are exceptions. Just keep it in mind.

Blowforward Spool Valve - Automag-based: type-1 bolt shape
These were of the first hammerless markers available, in the early 90s with the Automag. It used a bolt that is held back while idle, then released to fire forward (decreasing force). When the bolt is released, it's blown forward by the pressure that is also used to fire the ball. When the bolt reaches the forward position, the ball is fired and the bolt is recocked by a spring or other method. This constitutes a blowforward valve, which also describes a typical decreasing-force marker design.
This first appeared as a mechanical marker with the Automag from AGD, and later with the ICD Desert Fox. These markers used their own integrated regulators in the rear to supply pressure. A spring is used to recock the bolt after firing. Due to the mechanical design, the other functional part of the design was a push-rod that sealed off air inlet to the dump chamber while the valve was open. If this wasn't included, the air supply would be continuous, holding the bolt forward whilst air dumped out. Automags were the first design to release a metered amount of air (inlet shut-off during firing) which is used on many other markers out there. The important thing about these markers is that they push the bolt tip forward then released air through it.

Automags were revamped to an electronic sear-tripper version coming into the next century, with the addition of a large 18 volt solenoid to physically actuate the sear. This essentially turned the Automag into an electronic sear-tripper (known as the E-Mag). Sometime later (2004? 2005?), the design was revisited by some tricky Automag enthusiasts and the pneu-mag was created, which is a custom mod that uses a tiny pneumatic solenoid to actuate the heavy sear by use of air pressure, instead of the whopping 18 volt mech solenoid from the E-Mag.

The design was revisited by ICD in 2004, when they released the Freestyle marker. This is essentially the same design as the previous mechanical blowforwards that released air through the bolt tip, except it was made into an electropneumatic variation in the Freestyle. It functions by holding the bolt open with pressure from the solenoid valve, which is vented to initiate firing. After firing, the solenoid directs air to the front of the bolt to push and hold it open, waiting for the next ball. The marker doesn't seal off the air inlet since the firing cycle is controlled by the solenoid.

I consider this to be the first true electropneumatic conversion of the original mech blowforward design. E-Mags made the Automag design electronic, but not electropneumatic (it was a sear-tripper, not a true electropneumatic). The Freestyle is essentially an electropneumatic Automag.

A mechanical revision of the original mech blowforwards was released as the Tiberius pistol (2005). It uses the same mechanical sear to hold the bolt in the open position while idle, which is pulled away during firing to allow the bolt to be blown forward. Air inlet is sealed off by an internal, integrated shutoff seal. In essence the piston-rod shutoff from the Automag was integrated laterally into the firing assembly of the marker.

Tiberius pistol

Balanced & Unbalanced Spool Valves - Matrix-based: type-2 bolt shape
These markers are extremely fast and have the potential for high efficiency. The bolt acts as its own valve and releases air pressure by exposing ports when in the forward position. There are several variations of this general design, but they all use a dump chamber in the rear of the assembly, with a bolt piston section in front. Air is released through the bolt's piston section when it reaches the forward position; at the same time the air inlet is shut off so excess pressure isn't wasted.

Aardvark Matrix / DM3

Dye Matrix
This design was first introduced as a mechanical marker called the Omega. The Omega used the same basic bolt design (with a few differences) except the bolt piston was linked to a mechanical trigger valve to allow firing. The Omega was a concept marker that wasn't ever produced for production; rather the idea was later turned into the Aardvark Matrix and made electronic. The design was then sold to Dye in 2003, bringing along the DM4 in 2004 as well as the Proto-Matrix in 2005. All of these markers use/d a four-way valve which would push the bolt forward then back again. The bolt itself is balanced so the air in the dump chamber doesn't move it one way or the other. This is why it uses a four-way instead of a three-way (like the unbalanced markers below).

This design was recycled and simplified into a three-way version by Smart Parts in 2005, as the Ion marker. Ions function similar to the Matrix however the bolt is unbalanced, making it a blowforward version of the Matrix (decreasing force). While idle, pressure is used to hold the bolt back in the open position; this pressure is vented to initiate firing. The pressure in the dump chamber then pushes the bolt closed to fire. Even though these blowforwards appear very different than an Automag or Freestyle, they are in actuality very similar. The diameters and position of o-rings has changed, making them appear different.


The Matrix design was made into a similar but slightly different unbalanced version by Dye in 2006 as the Rail. These function very similar to the Ion.

Expanding on the Ion design, the type-3 bolt shape is revealed. This bolt uses the same diameters as the unbalanced bolts used in Ions and similar markers, however the use of o-rings has been altered to allow the bolt a very different shape. An example of this would be the Deadlywind Hollow-point bolt for the Ion, the Dangerous Power "Threshold" marker, or in the Pikkadoll marker. All of these use an unbalanced bolt in similar operation to the above unbalanced electropneumatics, however appear different due to the diameter changes.

Hollow-Point Ion


Balanced Spool Valve - Shocker-based:
This is a variation of the same balanced design that the Matrix utilizes. The difference here is that the dump chamber is in front, with the bolt piston section in rear. The bolt itself is still balanced and operates using a four-way valve. It would be possible to create a three-way design using this valve type, however it could be made as a blowforward or not (depending on the diameters of parts and placement of o-rings).

Shocker HE
HE Shocker
Shocker stock
old stock Shocker
Shocker Evolve
Evolve Shocker
Above are three representations of the same basic Shocker design. The Evolve and HE Shockers are upgraded bolt assemblies that seal off air inlet, which is a feature the 2003-2006 stock Shockers didn't include. The design of the HE Shocker was modified into a marker known as the FEP Quest in 2006.

Unbalanced Spool Valve - Shocker-based:
As mentioned above, this type of bolt design hasn't actually been produced. However, I've taken the time to draw up several different possabilities, which actually function as a modified closed bolt varient of the original Shocker bolt design. Although these technically can be classified as either a poppet or spool design (since the have both) they are closer in operation and layout to a Shocker, so that's how I classify them.

Thumper alpha

Thumper beta
As the name describes, I call this design the Thumper. They both use an unbalanced bolt to fire. The Alpha version uses a balanced firing valve which is opened by the solenoid (hybrid increasing/decreasing force) after which point the bolt is pushed open (by decreasing force). The Beta version is the same except it uses an unbalanced firing valve, opened by the solenoid (decreasing force). As stated neither of these markers have been produced, however they're both interesting in design, which is why I've posted them here on the site and other places.

Pressure Controlled Poppet Dump Valves - Increasing Force: NPN-type poppet
These markers use a [typically elongated] poppet to seal off the dump chamber. The poppet is held in position by constant air pressure, then is pushed open by adding pressure/force to one side of it (I call this an increasing force poppet). When the poppet is actuated, the dump chamber seal is unseated and the chamber's contents are released to fire the ball.
In a technical sense, this is how the hammer/valve markers function. The difference is they use the mechanical force provided by the moving hammer to push the poppet open, whereas these totally-pneumatic versions use directed air pressure. They are generally considered to be the more developed version of a paintball marker, although there are easy ways to rotate design characteristics around to combine parts of one system with another.

The increasing force pneumatic valve was initially seen in the AirStar Nova which uses a closed bolt articulating barrel to fire (see below). The design was refined and released as the PGI Mayhem in the early 00's. The Mayhem is similar to the previous Nova except it uses a moving bolt instead of the articulating barrel. The dump chamber holds the bolt in the closed position, but then when the chamber vents and releases air, a spring pushes the bolt open. Several fractions of a second later, the dump chamber is refilled and the bolt is pushed forward again, closing the breech. This was redesigned by WarMachine as the Assault-80 in 2003, which is similar yet very different. It uses the poppet to push the bolt forward (increasing force) but then the poppet retracts and the bolt remains forward to fire. After firing the bolt retracts itself. So, the first part of this marker firing is increasing force, the second is...something different.
All three of these markers (Nova, Mayhem, A-80) share a common creator, Mike Wood.


This is the same basic design that Smart Parts used an the "Legion Shocker" (2001). The main difference between this and the Mayhem is that the air chamber was totally sealed off during firing, yielding much improved efficiency over the Mayhem. The marker was also more developed into a smaller-size shape, using a more traditional solenoid and also fired at higher cyclic rates. The other main design difference is that the large bolt spring was removed (spring, as seen in an Automag, Mayhem, King Cobra/Invert, etc) and was replaced by a pressure differential. This meant that air pressure would push the bolt open when the marker fired, instead of a spring.

Legion Shocker
The Legion Shocker was never released due to design limitations. The closed bolt action couldn't surpass 13-14 bps so the marker was shelved, assuming that it wouldn't be as popular as a faster, open bolt version (which was very likely an accurate assumption). The open bolt version was released by SP in 2003 as the Shocker SFT.
I (Ydna) created a similar variation Culex, which is an open bolt blowforward version of a similar poppet dump valve, with a few tricks.

Another version of this design is used as the Bob Long Onyx or Marq. The marker uses a poppet valve which is held shut with a spring, and opened up when actuated by the bolt's ram (located on the opposite side of the poppet). This design is pretty refined and could be manifested in several different ways; in this case the bolt is mechanically linked to a ram behind the poppet so it fires when the bolt reaches the forward position (depicted below).

BL Onyx
An alternate vision of this would involve a stacked-tube arrangement, with a blowforward bolt. The bolt's ram could be replaced by air delivered by the solenoid. A further alternate version would involve a separate bolt piston, which could be arranged as open or closed bolt. The inline design as laid out in the Onyx could also be reproduced as a spool-valve firing mechanism, where the dump chamber is released when the ram(piston) is moved to the forward position, instead of forcing open a poppet.
Personally I consider this to be a very refined version of the increasing force poppets due to the small size and parts layout. It is, however, not the most efficient design due to the path that pressure must follow before firing the ball (hence the proposed revisions I just stated). It's also ungodly expensive...

Another example of an increasing force poppet is the original Shocker versions, specifically the pVI Shocker from 1995, the pVI Cyber9000 from 1997, and the SP Shocker Sport also in 1997. The original '95 Shockers were probably the first non-hammer increasing force valve that were used. These markers use a poppet valve to seal the dump chamber, which is unbalanced to initiate firing by adding pressure/force to one side. This assists the pressure/force in the dump chamber and allows the poppet to move; it's a literal electropneumatic version of a hammer/valve marker. During firing, the air inlet is turned off using a crude poppet valve in the rear of the firing assembly. The dump chamber vents to fire the ball then the poppet closes to seal the chamber off, and refill the dump chamber via poppet valve in the rear (held open while marker is idle). This firing assembly design has no way to mechanically link the bolt movement, so a separate piston is used to push the bolt open and closed. This marker is electronic and both the firing assembly and bolt piston have their own electronically-timed solenoids. For value sake, the marker was made closed bolt (popular at the time), however it could have just as easily been open bolt.

Shocker Sport
The Shocker Sport is notorious for being one of the most (if not the most) air-inefficient markers on the market. The design ends up using nearly twice as much energy to fire the ball the same velocity, due to the valve operation.

Pressure Controlled Poppet Dump Valves - Decreasing Force: PNP-type poppet
These first gained steam in the industry as an accessory for traditional hammer/valve markers, as the PBX mQ valve in 2005 (named after the creator of the same initials); later released as the mQ2 valve in 2007. The mQ uses a poppet with pressure on both sides. The smaller side of the poppet faces the dump chamber, where air pressure inside it pushes the poppet in one direction. The opposite end of the poppet is larger and also has air pressure pushing against it. A pressure differential is thus created and the poppet held shut. During firing, the pressure that holds the poppet shut (larger diameter) is vented, allowing the pressure in the dump chamber to push it open and release itself to fire the ball. The vent is closed after firing, and the poppet is reset.

mQ valve

mQ valve
The main functional difference between this and the increasing force poppet is that the firing action is actuated by the same force that is about to fire the ball. An increasing force poppet has to form a mechanical (typically pneumatic, using air pressure) connection to the poppet and interacts with the valve to fire. The decreasing poppet designs use the same energy to fire, after the "balance" is removed and said energy can excert itself.

This design was originally an Autococker accessory, however could in theory be retrofitted into many other markers (and for the sake of custom projects, it was heavily used). The only production marker that has been created thus far to use this type of valve is the Deadlywind Aedes (not released at the time of this writing). The Aedes uses an mQ valve to release air pressure upwards into a bolt piston which is pushed forward. When the valve shuts off, the bolt is retracted by a spring.

Many people dismiss the first marker that ever used this concept, because the other characteristics of it are so different. The marker to which I hint is the ICE Epic, which uses a force controlled poppet in the exact same way as the later mQ valve. The difference is the Epic was a mechanical marker, wherein the poppet was unbalanced by mechanical trigger action. The other unique function of the marker is its trap-door which seals off the breech. The trap door action is the same as the Nova/Mayhem/Legion Shocker, where pressure in the dump chamber holds the trap-door closed, which is vented during firing to open the door after the ball is propelled. The dump chamber is sealed off by a shutoff valve actuated by the trigger (similar to the concept in an Automag shutoff valve, except reversed). After firing, the dump chamber is refilled and the trap-door driven shut, closing the chamber and waiting idle.

This design was revamped as the Alien marker, which was an electropneumatic version. Other than that, no other developers followed this route. (word on the street is that a mainstream manufacturer will revisit this).

Using an alternate piston setup, an increasing force valve can be redesigned into one that uses decreasing force to fire. An example of this would be Thorp's Plunger prototype (presumably owned by Dye), or my Culex marker. Air is vented behind the poppet to allow it to unseat and fire.

Pressure Controlled Poppet Hybrid Valves:
A third-generation hybrid concept of the decreasing force poppets is currently gaining popularity. It was first exhibited on the JBS King Cobra, and later refined into the Invert Mini marker. These designs use a poppet with air chamber holding it shut, like the mQ valves. To force the poppet open, the marker's solenoid steals some pressure from the air chamber holding the poppet shut behind it. This air is used to push the bolt forward, then once it reaches the forward position the same pressure gradient pushes against the opposite side of the poppet. This action is timed in such a manner as to allow the poppet to open and release air to fire the ball.

Invert Mini
It seems the general consensus is that this version of the decreasing force poppet design is one of the more refined and advanced varients used at the moment. The mQ valve action is unique as well as small; alternately the hybrid design of the Cobra/Invert is nearly as small while being extremely developed. Additional varieties of this design using reversed poppets and perhaps other tricks may be seen in the future (personally, I spent a lot of time developing alternate visions of this for my own reference).

Articulating Barrel:
This design uses a poppet dump valve to fire. The breech isn't closed using a bolt, however, instead the barrel slides back to close off the breech. This is seen first as the Splatmaster, which is a high-pressure semiauto marker from the early 90's.

The most famous use of the articulating barrel is probably the AirStar Nova from the mid/late 90's. The Nova used the poppet design described in the above paragraphs. Air pressure was used to hold the barrel in the closed position, which was vented during firing to open the breech right after the ball was fired. When the trigger was released, the dump chamber would refill and the bolt would get pushed closed again.
The first few versions of Nova were mechanical, using a mech three-way valve hooked to the trigger. Later, a three-way solenoid was used to make the marker electropneumatic, in the Nova ET and later the Darkstar Nova. These were both unfortunately short-lived.

Combustion Valves:
This is a concept with which many have flirted, but only Tippmann actually spent money developing it (released as the Tippmann C3). This design uses an internal combustion chamber to hold a store of propane gas, which is filled when the bolt is in the open position. The combustion chamber is then ignited to fire the ball.

There are massive limitations to this, however. Primarily, there is a noticeable level of heat buildup as a result of the combustion valve. For this reason the marker is used as a non-automatic pump design to help avoid heat-related issues. Functionally speaking, this design can't exist as a semiauto due to the potential danger (it could be semiauto, but you would have to fire it no faster than 1-2 bps). Functionally, the marker can be modified into a semiauto however this isn't suggested for the same reasons.