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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6 Leave a Reply

  • Bull o' the Woods

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

    1 month ago
  • Mikey

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

    2 months ago
  • Dan

    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?

    6 months ago
    • 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.

      6 months ago
  • 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."

    11 months ago
  • Steve

    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.

    1 year ago
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