Three-piece barrels combine the best of both worlds by typically utilizing a stainless steel base and an aluminum tip. The DYE Boomstick is probably the most widely used Three-piece barrel. The idea behind using two materials in constructing the Three-piece barrel is to give the paintball the advantage of lower friction upon initial acceleration by using stainless steel and then using a ported aluminum tip to decrease the overall weight and muffle the guns sound output.
Friction is defined as the resistance to motion between two objects. Friction, as it applies to paintball barrels, is the resistance placed on the paintball by contacting the inner surface of the barrel. Friction is typically your enemy when choosing a paintball barrel. Barrel materials with higher amounts of friction translate into reduced gas efficiency and increased chances for ball breaks. The only time you would want to create more friction than necessary is when you're using a barrel system like the Tippmann Flatline that relies on barrel friction to place back spin on the ball. The extra friction along with a curved barrel places backspin on the paintball and increases the range a paintball will travel before contacting the ground.
The next factor to consider is barrel length. The fact basically dispels the myth that a longer barrel adds more range to your gun. You can't expect a 16" barrel to outrange a similar 12". After the ball has traveled the first 7 - 10" of the barrel it will generally begin to decelerate. Yes, in many cases, a paintball will actually begin to lose velocity as it progresses further down the barrel. The Airgun Designs article effectively explains that a 14" Boomstick is equivalent to an 8" barrel with 6" of silencer added onto it. Just like a real gun, the silencer tip doesn't add significantly to the muzzle velocity or accuracy, it does however make the gun quieter.
Question: "Doesn't a 24 barrel make your gun shoot further than a 12?"Answer: Yes, it will shoot exactly 12" further from the guns chamber. A red paintball leaves a 14" barrel at 300 fps. A blue paintball leaves a 10" barrel, at the same trajectory and velocity (feet per second), both of the paintballs will land exactly the same distance away from the barrel. This, of course, bars all oddities like wind and other objects that may be in the way. So, unless you are using a barrel system like the Tippmann Flatline that utilizes backspin to increase range, you can't expect a 24" barrel to shoot any further than a 12" barrel if both barrels have the same initial muzzle velocity.
There are a few other advantages to having a longer barrel such as being able to aim along it easier and poke it through brush, but the biggest advantage is the ability to reduce noise levels via porting.
So what exactly does porting do? Well, barrel ports are basically holes drilled from the inside of the barrel to the outside. Portings main role is to reduce overall noise levels by venting excess air pressure behind a paintball before the paintball leaves the barrel. Well, I have no real way to test an accuracy difference with or without porting until I can get my hands on a custom made freak barrel tip with no porting in it. However, as a general guideline, porting decreases gas efficiency as well as noise. As air escapes through the ports, instead of continuing to push the ball down the barrel, it vents air to the outside increasing the amount of air needed to accelerate a paintball to 300fps, thus reducing gas efficiency. Having a barrel with lots of ports, as opposed to a non-ported barrel, can significantly reduce most guns noise.
Now, on to accuracy. Accuracy is determined by a combination of a few things. Paint to barrel match, paint consistency, shot per shot velocity consistency, and the stability of the shooting platform. In my opinion, the paint to barrel match is the most important factor. The paint to barrel match determines how much air your gun will use per shot and can increase or decrease the number of barrel breaks. The only true solution to finding the right paint to barrel match every time you change paint is to use Smart Parts Freak barrel system or else you can buy several different barrels, all with different bore sizes. The Freak barrel system uses interchangeable backs so you can fit your barrels bore to almost any size of paint. To test your paint to barrel match, simply put a paintball in the back of your barrel and try to blow the ball out. If you can blow it out without turning blue in the face then it isn't too tight. If your paintballs roll out of your barrel then your barrels bore is too large. A snug paint to barrel match will maximize your guns accuracy and gas efficiency.
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Paint consistency can also play a big part in your guns accuracy. I have seen bags of fresh paint that contain balls that span 3 different bore sizes. Try many different kinds of paint until you find the paint that works best with your barrel setup and your budget. Not all paints are created equal. In general, I have found that PMI Premium, RP Marbalizer, and RP All-Star paints seem to have the best consistency. Don't expect you buy a case of 2000 paintballs for $40 (or get a "free" case of paint with a purchase) and still get high quality, well rounded paint.
The vertical (up and down) accuracy of your gun is partly determined by your paint and barrel match, but also determined by the consistent pressure delivery of your air system. Nice air tanks like the Max-Flow and Conquest compressed air tanks that use regulators to stabilize pressure will increase the consistency of the pressure going into your gun thereby helping to stabilize your shot per shot velocity.
So, in conclusion.... One barrel isn't necessarily better than another. Just like buying a marker, you need to find a barrel that fits your playing style and budget. I personally shoot a 12" mostly unported, one-piece, aluminum barrel during tournaments and a 14" two piece, heavily ported barrel during woods games. I chose the 12" because of its self cleaning properties. I use the 14" in the woods because of its added noise reduction.