This page is dedicated to the technology behind the pressure regulators we use, and how they work.
How a Regulator Works:
A regulator can be simplified to a pressure valve that has an expandable air chamber which is used to shut off airflow. The exapndable air chamber has a spring to counter the force inside it, so it expands with higher pressures and constricts with lower pressures. Using this action, different amounts of force will be required to shut off airflow, depending on the spring tension, so output pressure is determined once this arbitrary force is reached within the reg. The port or seal responsible for shutting off airflow is often referred to as the base, and is most often the cause for regulator spikes, leaks, or poor recharge.
In paintball and many other industries, there are two main designs for a regulator. The first is the floating poppet and is a more classic design that uses a flared shaft of metal to push open the air valve, with a spring spring behind it. The second design is called the moving base and involves a piston that pushes itself shut, generally using an elongated T-shaped piston; these regs are somewhat less complicated in terms of components. The two designs can be mixed together to yield different results.
Floating Poppet Regulators:
As mentioned, these regulators are more classic in design being as they predate moving base regs as far as I know. Generally, you can tell a floating poppet regulator from the outside because the air inlet port is usually half-way up the regulator body. This isn't always true but most of the prominent examples in paintball follow this trend.
These regs use a poppet that seals against the base to seal off airflow. The poppet continues through the middle of the base and pushes against a piston at the other end, which determines the volume of the second chamber. I use the Max-Flo reg from SP as an example in this diagram:
When pressure enters the input on the side of the reg housing, it moves down through the poppet and downward into the chamber above the piston. Air force pushes down on the piston more and more; once the pressure reaches a certain high amount, the piston moves far enough down that the base poppet is closed off, at which point no additional air pressure will enter the marker. The action of firing and recharging creates a balance between the force applied to the poppet and the two springs working against each other in the reg. The below diagram shows the reg in the open and closed positions.
When you wish to increase the pressure into the marker, screwing the adjustment endcap inward will add more force to the spring, and require more pressure to enter the second chamber and push the piston down.
Types of Floating Poppet Regs:
This type of reg was often seen on older markers since this was the default design at one point. Floating poppet regs still exist today, but there are less of them. The Smart Parts Max-Flo regulators used to be considered floating poppet systems, until the Ion was released in 2005 at which point the design was changed. Therefore the manifold Max-Flo, Impulse Max-Flo vertical, Shocker/Nerve Max-Flo vertical, and Max-Flo Inline are all considered floating poppet systems.
Other regs include the ACI Bulldog, Palmers regs, ICD Bushmaster reg and LPR, Bob Long regs, Air America Armageddon reg, Centerflag regs, WDP AIR, Empire regulators, AKA 2 Liter, and some others.
Moving Base Regulators:
This reg is more commonly used in paintball equipment as of the time of this writing. It involves less seals and less parts overall. An example set of internals are labeled in the following diagram, which is of the Ion's vertical regulator:
While idle, air enters the bottom of the endcap then passes up through the base seal, then up through the center of the piston. From there, pressure heads straight up into the marker, past the top of the piston. The pressure that is located at the top of the piston pushes downward on it, against the force of the spring. Once enough pressure enters the reg, the top of the piston will be pushed down far enough to press the sealing disk at the bottom of the piston closed, and no additional pressure will enter. The top of the piston is substancially larger than the bottom so it will exhibit more force toward the bottom of the reg. The diagrams below show the path of airflow on this regulator, in the open and closed positions.
When you wish to increase the pressure through the reg, Screwing the endcap in will allow less force to close off the base, so the pressure is lower. Screwing it outward will accomplish the opposite.
Types of Moving Base Regs:
As stated, this type of reg is seen in many different forms, from different manufacturers. The reg used in the above diagrams is the vertical reg used on an Ion. You can find similar designs on many tank regs including those from Ninja, Crossfire, and PMI Pure Energy. Some markers that use this design include the Evil Detonator, MacDev regulators, Eclipse regulators, and others.