This page is dedicated to the pressure regulators we use and how they work.
How a Regulator Works:
Here are a few quick notes on exactly how a pressure regulator does its job. All regulators feature a design that utilizes a first chamber, second chamber, some sort of piston with an o-ring, and a spring to counter the air pressure passing through the system. All pressurized compartments within the reg will be under constant force trying to push outward in all directions. A pressure regulator uses this action to control the input of the pressurized chamber, to shut it off once it expands far enough. The spring package used in the regulator presses against the force of air pressure to define the amount of force that will be needed to close off the air inlet. When the air inlet is shut off, a set amount of pressure will exit the reg and flow into the marker. The point where air is shut off is often referred to as the base seal, 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 reg. The first is the floating poppet and is a more classic design that uses a flared shaft of metal to shut off airflow, with a smaller spring behind it. The second design is called the moving base and uses a sealing membrane to seal against the end of an elongated 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:
These regulators are more classic in design (they predate moving base regs as far as I know). Generally, regulators with input in the side and an adjustment in the bottom are often floating poppet regulators (there are exceptions though).
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 base seal and into the chamber right above the piston. Pressure pushes down on the piston more and more, which pushes it downward and lets more pressure into the marker. Once the pressure becomes high enough, the piston moves far enough down that the base seal 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 is mainly seen as the Smart Parts Max-Flo system. The only "Max-Flo" reg that doesn't fall under this category is the Max-Flo Micro preset reg (it's a moving base type of regulator). The current Max-Flo regs use a refinement of the older design, which uses less parts and is smaller overall.
Other regs include the ACI Bulldog, Palmers regs, Freestyle reg and LPR, Air America Armageddon reg, Centerflag regs, WDP AIR, AKA 2 Liter, PMI tank regs, and a few others.
Vertical reg found on the ICD Freestyle. Uses the same basic design as the Max-Flo above, with a rearrangement of parts. Note that the base seal and poppet are reversed somewhat; the "seal" is stationary and the poppet pushes against it.
Centerflag Inline vertical reg. This is adjustable between 0-800 psi (or thereabouts) and also includes a built-in spring/bearing blowoff valve inside the piston. I didn't model that because I didn't want to mess with that feature. This reg notably uses a poppet made from polymer that seals with the housing, so no seals are used.
Moving Base Regulators:
This reg is more commonly used in the industry today. It involves less seals, less parts, and tends to be better performing overall. The parts of this reg are labeled in the following diagram, which is of the Ion's vertical regulator:
Other types of regulators will have their components arranged in a slightly different order, with different shapes and sizes, depending on the design. Other types of regs using the same design are shown further down in the page.
Here's how this regulator works. While idle, air enters the bottom of the endcap then passes up through the base seal, around the bottom of the piston, then up into the middle. 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.
Note that this type of regulator (Ion reg, where the base seal is located on the piston) is somewhat unbalanced in its design. When the reg is sealed off, some force will push upward on the piston at the bottom (this is governed by the diameter of the input port at the bottom). It means that when the input pressure increases, a little more force will push up on the piston, so the input will rise a little bit. Other types of regs that have the seal stationary are more balanced so their pressures won't change as much. There will always be a little unbalancing, but it can be decreased very far.
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.
Viking/Excalibur stock LPR (essentially the same thing as the Sidewinder, except shrunk). The large hole toward the front of the marker is the input; output air is directed toward the back of the LPR housing.
Evolve Pi regulator, which is a 100% balanced design (the output will remain the same no matter what the input is at). The reg uses regular o-rings to seal off the base, instead of a sealing disk like most other regs.
This regulator isn't used in the paintball industry but it shares design with the Ion reg and others that have the seal located on the end of the piston. The interesting thing about this regulator is that the input and output both attach at the same end of the regulator body.
This is the "lif-o-gen" regulator patent from 1976, the earliest reg patent I can find for a moving base type. The patent puts claim on any moving base reg used in the paintball industry (although the parent company hasn't served anybody as of yet).