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How to Paint Your AR-15: [Skip the Camo Krylon!]

Sick of your rifle looking exactly like everyone else’s?

Then it’s time to paint that bad boy!

Painted ARs
A couple of our rattle canned ARs

Don’t worry, painting your rifle isn’t hard or scary. The best thing you can do to prep yourself for this is to lower your expectations and accept the fact that nothing is perfect and the paint will wear off to some degree.

Unless, of course, your rifle just lives in the safe…

If reading isn’t your thing or you want to see our mad painting skillz in action check out our video:

If that helped, please subscribe to our YouTube channel since we’re adding new videos every week!

Now onto the written tutorial…

Best Paint

Several brands offer great options for painting your rifle, but for this project we used Model Master Enamel paint for their extended choice of colors.

We’ve also used Rust-Oleum Specialty Camouflage, Brownells’ Aluma-Hyde, and Krylon Camouflage with great results.

Model Masters
Model Masters paint

In order of appearance in the video:

As for wear pattern, it’s pretty close to Krylon…meaning it will wear after a couple trips to the range.

Which for us is exactly what we want.

Before You Paint

There are only really two things that we strongly recommend you adhere to before painting your rifle: cleaning it and blocking off sensitive areas.

Brake Cleaner
Blast it with brake cleaner to remove all the oil, grease, and dirt

Give the outside of your rifle a good cleaning, wipe it down, get the dirt and grime off, then follow that up with a good spray down with brake cleaner to strip any grease and oil that might still be on the rifle.

We recommend going with chlorine free versions in case of polymer furniture.

Getting rid of this is critical to giving the paint a chance to stick.

But if you’re really into the taste and feel of paint chips, you can skip cleaning the rifle.

Use masking or painter’s tape to block off the ejection port, magazine well, and muzzle. Getting paint in any of these areas isn’t the end of the world, but can induce malfunctions until the paint is worn off or cleaned off.

Tape Port
Don’t forget to tape your ejection port, magwell, and muzzle!

Better to just not get paint there in the first place.

How to Paint Your AR-15 (or really any rifle)

Base Layer

Starting with the darkest color you’re going to be working with will help set the tone of the rifle and give a great background for the other colors to do their thing.

Dark Base Coat
Dark Base Coat

For us, that meant Dark Tan. Apply the color using sweeping strokes, careful not to hold in any place or to apply to much paint too quickly or you’ll leave globs of paint.

Best AR Spray Paint
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

If you don’t get the desired amount of paint applied in the first pass, let it dry slightly before making another. This can be done until you’re satisfied and will prevent the paint from pooling or dripping.

More Colors

Once you have a good base ready, it’s time to change things up. We like strips using our lightest color to give the rifle sharp contrasts.

Light Strips
Light Strips

For camouflaging properties, contrasts are what you want to avoid. But giving it these sharp lines now makes it easier to slowly blend in as more coats and colors are used.

Use the same quick sweeping motion you used before when painting the strips, too little is always better than too much!

Stencils, Foliage, Laundry bags

More passes with more colors will help to deaden the contrast and make your rifle blend into your surroundings more cleanly, but there is more to do than just color after color!

Fade It In
Fade It In

Using local foliage (leaves, stems, etc) or patterned objects as stencils will produce varied patterns on the rifle that will further break up the sharp contrasts and lines.

We used part of a mesh laundry bag to produce an ersatz snakeskin look to the rifle. Cheaper than a proper stencil and just as good!

Mesh Bag
Mesh Bag for that awesome look
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

It might not look it, but that mesh bag is great for more than just dirty gym socks!

Snake Skin Look
The aforementioned Snakeskin look

Parting Shots

Repeat the steps above until you have the rifle you’re looking for. Remember – you’re only limited by your imagination!

If you’re worried about messing it up, maybe try painting a Nerf gun or water gun first so you can try your hand at keeping the paint from dripping, running, or globbing up.


Have you painted an AR or something else lately? How did it come out? Let us know in the comments! And if you want more awesome ways to customize your AR-15 take a look at the Best AR-15 Upgrades!

PSA 5.56 & .223 Wylde
PSA 5.56 & .223 Wylde

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23 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Sean Paterson

    I've painted quite a few AR15s now, I started out just building but I needed more to do. The best thing to do is strip it down to individual parts, clean them as you stated, bake them at roughly 175 for an hour to get a proper dry. Prep/ and paint as desired. Then bake them at 175 for 90 min after each coat of paint or once finished painting if you're not inclined to do it several times. It hardens the paint and gives it a really great finish that will last much longer.

    September 3, 2021 6:09 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Michael Johnson

    so the lesson is ... do not lay it down in the woods or against a tree for any length of time ... may not find it again

    March 31, 2021 8:07 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      I had to paint the bottom of my mags orange, they were getting hard to find after reloading on the move

      July 18, 2021 9:16 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Turd Ferguson

    I used Duracoat and it came out wonderfully! I just did Tactical White since I was going Space Gat themed, but I do like the idea of camo for my next build.

    February 25, 2021 4:17 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    LCDR Fish

    If it's an unfinished lower - all shiny, but milled - is there anything that needs to be covered up, or can everything be painted - including the inner mag well? I was planning on matte black krylon plus matte clear over top. I already have an all-black upper.

    February 18, 2021 9:04 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Don’t lay it on thick. If it’s a stripped lower then plug all the holes on it using cotton or paper. I’d apply a priming coat for aluminum before putting my first layer.

      February 19, 2021 5:01 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        LCDR Fish

        Well it is aluminum I guess - what kind of priming coat would I need?

        February 23, 2021 3:29 pm
        • Commenter Avatar
          Turd Ferguson

          I used a Direct to Metal primer when I did my 80% lower.

          February 25, 2021 4:20 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Andrew Sparks

      Use a good self etching primer over bare metal bro. Also, keep in mind you’re adding thickness to the painted parts. Not enough to notice, but about your third coat you’ll start impacting function on some parts. For me, it was the safety selector that felt “tightened up” and the B5 adjustable stock became “fixed.”

      April 10, 2021 11:22 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Unfortunately, the first time gun cleaner comes in contact with it...........there goes the paint unless it the ceramic-based type.

    January 15, 2021 12:40 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      GT's Illegitimate Son

      Gun cleaner? Joke's on you, I never clean my guns! ;)

      August 19, 2021 8:37 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Pretty tacticool bro

    January 11, 2021 6:26 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Ray Friedman

    Disappointed there was no Hello Kitty treatment.

    December 20, 2020 6:42 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Get Got

      Haha when I build mine I'll make it hello kitty thanks to you loll

      March 25, 2021 2:23 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Would it be wise to use Zinc Chromate Primer first?
    Cure it in oven than paint with top coat?
    Plan on using Brownells' Alum- Hyde as top coat.

    December 12, 2020 5:07 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Bull o' the Woods

    How does Brownells' Aluma-Hyde perform on the non-metal surfaces?

    August 14, 2020 5:11 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Fred Long

      Aluma-Hyde seems to be able to cover most things with no problem. If you follow the directions . The only real issue is curing time. Once your done you need to set it aside for a month or so while it cures.

      December 6, 2020 4:29 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    I always thought you were supposed to lay color lightest first to darkest, since it's easier to cover a lighter color... (?)

    July 8, 2020 5:48 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      henry john knorowski

      To me it looks like ONE COLOR NOT BROKEN UP.

      April 15, 2021 4:32 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Is using rattle cans the only option or can I shoot paint from a spray gun like automotive grade paint and clear coat? Does it need to be high heat paint?

    March 8, 2020 11:10 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      David, PPT Editor

      Rattle cans are just the easiest way, I don't know if automotive grade paint would work also but it doesn't need to be high heat unless you plan on painting the barrel close to the chamber.

      March 9, 2020 10:25 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Bull o' the Woods

    Great article! Excellent color choices for my neck of the woods, too. Only suggestion I have would be to use a spray can trigger handle that fits the brand of paint you are using. (Believe it or not, there is no "universal" rattle can nozzle configuration. Both Krylon and Rustoleum use proprietary nozzles that require different handles.) The granddaddy is called a "Can Gun." Using a Can Gun or equivalent provides consistent, uniform pressure on the nozzle, helping avoid orange peel, runs, and sags. In the words of Johnny Bench, "No runs, no drips, no errors."

    October 9, 2019 8:14 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    I really enjoyed painting my AR15. I used the standard Krylon Camo rattle cans. 4 colors. I did it differently than you had mentioned with my base coat. I used the light tan and then went darker with the stripes and foliage. It turned out great. I have since had offers to paint many other rifles since then. It was a little unnerving at first but the entire project took less than 30 minutes. My kids went into the woods and they picked out the ferns and maple leaves I used. They love sharing how they helped dad!!! I would love to share photos. Email me if interested.

    August 24, 2019 1:13 pm