Tips for painting an AR rifle

Snake Skin Painted AR15, BCM Mid-Length

There are plenty of reasons you might want to paint an AR-15.  Like camouflage from enemy soldiers or prey animals, to refurbish rifle that is really banged up and protect it from future abuse, or to show people at the range that you are higher speed and lower drag then they are.  I did be cause it looks cool and that is really a good enough reason.

But before you can get started, you need to figure out what you want the end product to look like.

copperheadPlanning how to paint your rifle

In Vietnam it was popular to “tiger stripe” a rifle for camouflage, which makes perfect sense in a jungle. The stripes break up the outline and blend in with the shafts of light coming through the canopy. This is after all the environment that tigers developed their stripes in.

More recently the trend has been to use local foliage to create a 3D effect with lines that mimic the surroundings.

I decided to attempt to mimic the colors and textures of a local snake. Like the tiger I figured that evolution would have done a great job of figuring out what works in my area. There were only two problems…

1. I wanted to use flat paint on the rifle. Not because of light reflection, but because the added tooth should improve grip. This severely limits the color options.

The Krylon brand I used is only available in Black (which the rifle was already), brown, khaki, sand, olive, green… and my local auto parts store only carried black, brown and khaki. This significantly limit the depth of colors possible.

2. When I was actually painting the rifle I didn’t like the harsh contrast between the light and dark areas. It might have been great for camouflage but it looked bad so I blended it out.

So the plan was more reds to blend with the Carolina pines and deeper browns… it didn’t happen. I am sharing this with you because you should know that you need a plan, but not to fret if it doesn’t work out. The results will likely still be positive.

What equipment will you need to paint an AR-15?

Painting a rifle is not an expensive process, but it does take some materials. I used…

  • A quart of Acetone – $8
  • A roll of blue tape – $6
  • A roll of paper towels – Steal them from your wife
  • Scissors
  • Razor blade
  • A wire hanger – Free
  • 2-3 cans of spray paint – $12-18
  • A laundry bag – $6
  • A scrap of cardboard

Worst case, if you have to buy everything, painting a rifle will cost you $40 and you have the materials to do touch-ups for life.

How to prep a rifle for paint

There are many video’s on “How to paint a rifle” but the best one I found is this one from the Army Marksmanship Unit. It outlines the basic method I used. The rest of this post will cover the tips and tricks I discovered.

How to tape a rifle for painting

AR taped for paintingI dismantled my rifle to prep it for painting including removing the stock, sights, light, sling mount and replacing the grip with the one that came on my lower. I didn’t want unpainted sections of rail under my accessories and may paint them at another time.

Additionally I removed the hand guard to allow me to completely tape up the barrel.

Then I reassembled the gun.

Rail taping tip…

In the AMU video, he showed a perfectly taped quadrail without giving any indication of how to do it. After some trial and error I discovered a great method for creating clean tape lines.

First cut a piece of tape slightly longer than the width of the slot in the rail. It helps to make the cut in 1 motion so the edge is straight. Then place that edge along one corner of the slot and “color” the slot with a pencil.

I know that sounds weird, but what you are doing is pressing the tape down to make sure it gets good adhesion. The slots are too narrow to press firmly with a finger. The pencil point allows you to get into the corner and see where you have pressed.

Then run your razor blade across the other corner to cut it to size.

Lastly use the sharp edge of the rail to cut the tape to length.

We used a hanger to suspend  the AR for painting

How to apply the base coat on your rifle

In most videos, tactical instructors seem to pride themselves on how little they care about the painting process. They don’t tape their barrel, moving parts… sights anything. I wanted my rifle to continue to run right and be able to adjust the sights in the future so  I did (including the paper towel tricks).

Then they hold their rifle and spray it in hand, even the AMU guy did it.

I hung my rifle from a tree so I didn’t get any prints in the base coat.

Hanging rifle tip…

I cut the all but an inch of the bottom of the hanger and turned them out. I then slid it INSIDE the hand guard and out the holes.

This allowed me to paint the base coat without touching, without creating “shadows” and allowed me to move the rifle out of my backyard and into the garage while it dried.

Painting camouflage on the rifle

The evil brown AR ready for textureIf you remember from about 650 words ago, my original goal was a multi-color pattern mimicking a snake. A key part of that is scales and it is the only part that continued on to the finished product. That pattern can be made with just about any mesh.

I chose to use a laundry bag I had in my reloading room and cut it open to make it a single layer.

Laundry beige used to create snake skin texture

The next issue is to hold it in place while making even strokes with the spray paint which required 3 hands.

Not having 3, I grabbed a few binder clips to shape the mesh to the gun to create a continuity of the texture around the curves of the gun and to be that 3rd hand .

After laying down the original texture, I touched up spots that were too harsh and added additional texture by just laying the mesh down and skipping the binder clips before reassembling the gun.

Pictures of the painted AR

Finished AR closeupWhile not EXACTLY what I envisioned, I am very pleased with the end results.

The colors and textures are great. The flat paint is slightly gripier that Bravo Company’s finish and the imperfections are just about perfect for me to not worry about wear on the finish.

As you can see I taped the ejection port spring, but not the markings on the ejection port side. I also didn’t tape the pins to take the rifle down, because those were loose and get used a lot on my gun. I did tape the trigger pins though because I plan on swapping it out.  I probably didn’t need to.

Finished AR closeupOn the bolt release side, I did tape the markings. Then I went a step further colored the roll marks by filling them with wax. (I scribbled over them with a white crayon and then rubbed off the excess)

Besides making the rifle look cool… the other advantage of painting the gun was that I got to reconsider every part as I was putting it back together.

The sights, light and charging handle made the cut, but I did decide to make a few changes. In the next post I will discuss the thought process that went into this rifle and some future plans… but right now I want to know what you think of the new look.

Would you paint your rifle? If so, do you think this post will help you through the process?


  1. David From Alabama says

    Thanks for the good article on painting a rifle. I’m having a little trouble visualizing the rail taping step. A couple of photos would really help.

  2. Ibanez says

    There is a lot of good things here. I wasn’t going to read on after you said evolution but I’m glad I did. God made animals with their colors to blend in to the area where they live. Makes sense that you would do the same.

    • Nick Longson says

      get over it. its a painting tutorial. if something like mentioning evolution(which science backs btw) gets your panties in a bunch you really need to get off the internet

    • Charles Thronesbery says

      Well, if we are going to be technical, tiger stripes is not evolution, its adaptation, which happens quite frequently in nature. There is flaws in Darwins theory of evolution, but this isn’t the platform to get into that.

  3. Doug G says

    wont whatever cleaner you use (acetone, brake cleaner, wax and grease remover) eat plastic and rubber accessories on the gun? I know it flashes off pretty quick but still it cant be good for any polymers or rubber.

  4. says

    You all should leave the weapon alone unless your and avid hunter or milatery mm assassin ok other then that it may not look good in court if you have to use it to protect yourself not that an ar15 isn’t an eye opener but why make it more notoriouse then what it is already


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