This page is dedicated to the technology behind pressure regulators used in paintball equipment, with information and details of how they function.
How a Regulator Works:
Regulators can be explained as a normally-open valve that can be closed off once the level of force on the outlet side reaches a certain threshold. Every type of regulator has an expandable chamber on the output side, which is mechanically-linked to the valve's seat and seals it when fluid reaches high enough pressure. The expandable outlet chamber is always fitted against a spring or belleville disk pack, which counter the fluid force within the output chamber. This allows the chamber to expand with higher pressures and constrict with lower pressures. The regulator's main seal (responsible for shutting off airflow) is often referred as the base, and is most often the cause for regulator spikes, leaks, or poor recharge performance. The regulator's base can be controlled by an o-ring, sealing poppet, plastic/rubber disk, or some other device.
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 poppet shaft to push open the air valve, with a spring spring behind it. The second design is called the moving base and involves a T-shaped piston that pushes itself against the base to seal itself off; moving base 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 and are widely used in other industries such as welding and factory automation. Floating poppet regulators can often be identified because their inlet port is located in the middle of the regulator body. This isn't always true, but most of the prominent paintball floating poppet systems follow that trend. Typically, output pressure will increase when the adjustment screw is turned inward (and vise-versa) although there are exceptions to this rule.
Layout: Floating poppet regulators use a long/thin poppet which seals against the base seat to control airflow. The poppet stretches through the middle of the base seal and rests against the adjustment piston at the outlet end. The piston determines the volume of the output chamber.
Operation: When fluid enters the regulator's input port, it moves around the poppet and fills the piston/diaphragm chamber. The piston/diaphragm is fitted with a compression spring on its opposite end, which tries to constrict the output chamber and keep the regulator flowing. As pressure within the output chamber increases, fluid pushes against the piston and expands the chamber; once the force exerted against the piston reaches a certain amount, the piston will have moved far enough that it allows the poppet to become seated. This prevents additional fluid pressure from passing through the system. The poppet's bias spring ensures the poppet has enough force to seal against its base (usually made from rubber or other polymer sealing surface).
Adjustment: To increase the pressure through the system, screwing the adjustment endcap inward will add more force to the spring, thus requiring more force to expand the output chamber. More force equates to a higher output pressure.
Examples of floating poppet regulators:
This type of regulator was used on many older markers and air systems. The design is still heavily used today, but has become somewhat less prominent. Examples include Impulse/Shocker manifold Max-Flo regulator, Max-Flo Inline regulator, ACI Bulldog, Palmers regulators, ICD Bushmaster regulators, Bob Long regulators, Air America Armageddon regulator, many Centerflag regulators, WDP AIR regulators, FEP Quest regulators, AirGun Designs regulators, Empire Mini/Axe and Relay ASA regulators, Tippmann Crossover regulator, AKA 2 liter regulator, and others.
Moving Base Regulators:
These regulators are less prominent outside of paintball, but work just as good. Moving base regulators generally involve fewer components and fewer seals/orings, which allowed them to become popular by paintball equipment manufacturers. Typically, output pressure will decrease when the adjustment screw is turned inward (and vise-versa) although there are exceptions to this rule.
Layout: Moving base regulators use a single piston component which is T-shaped and is fitted with a spring around its larger end. The piston component acts as a force multiplier, whereby a small amount of force pushes it open (input) but a much larger force pushes it closed (output). The piston's small end seals against the base seat to control airflow. The piston's larger section comprises the output chamber.
Operation: When fluid enters the regulator's input port, it moves into a small chamber surrounding the piston's tip and the base seat. Fluid enters the piston and travels through the central cavity until reaching the output chamber on the large end. The piston is tube-shaped and extends through the spring, which tries to constrict the output chamber and keep the regulator flowing. As pressure within the output chamber increases, fluid pushes against the piston and drives it toward the base seat while simultaneously pushing against the spring tension. Once the force exerted against the piston reaches a sufficient level, the piston will have moved far enough that it directly comes in contact with the base seal, effectively shuting off its own pressure supply. This prevents additional fluid pressure from passing through the system.
Adjustment: Different regulators have different means of adjustment depending on their internal layout. For regulators that adjust the base position, turning the adjustment screw outward will allow the piston to travel further against its spring, thus requiring more force to expand the output chamber. More force equates to a higher output pressure.
For regulators that adjust a secondary spring on the output side (such as many regulators used by Eclipse) the opposite is true.
Note: base-adjusting regulators are reverse-threaded to make them appear to adjust similarly to floating poppet regulators; in this situation the screw directions are reversed (an example of this is an Ion/NXT vertical regulator).
Examples of moving base regulators:
This type of regulator is seen in many different variations. Many current-technology tank regulator systems utilize this design, including those from Ninja, Crossfire, PMI Pure Energy, Guerilla Air, Centerflag, Custom Products, and others. Some markers that use moving base designs include MacDev regulators, Evil Detonator regulator, Custom Products regulators, Eclipse regulators, AKALMP markers (excluding 2 liter), Smart Parts Ion/NXT regulators, Luxe regulator, WGP vertical regulators, and others.