How to paint an AR-15
The AR-15 is an extremely versatile tool. It can be customized to complete a number of tasks and to suit the owner's personality. The look of the AR-15 is equally versatile. There are many ways the look can be changed. You can alter the stock, handguard, optics, just about any aspect of an AR-15 can be customized but the ultimate way to change the look of your AR is to change its color.
Painting your AR- 15 allows you, the owner, to customize its aesthetic to match your personality, the environment, or mission needs. Some don’t like black. Some like FDE. Some just don’t want boring and want their AR to match their vibe. Whatever your reason for wanting to paint your AR-15 we are here to help you get it done.
Here are tips on how to paint an AR-15
Your AR-15 probably came from the manufacturer with a black finish that was anodized. It is the most common finish and usually is a matte black. This tough finish is found on military rifles, and most ARs on the civilian market, come with this finish as well.
If you purchase a raw AR lower this is a great option for putting a finish on your AR and ensuring that it can withstand being used regularly.
Duracoat is probably the simplest/easiest process to coating or painting your AR-15. It bonds well to metal, wood, and polymer. It is also very similar to traditional paint. Very hard, Duracoat is one of the best options for inexperienced users to apply and get right.
Duracoat does not require you to disassemble your AR to apply the finish and the finished product will hold up well to use. A Duracoat finish is smoother than a hardcoat anodized finish and holds up well.
Applying Duracoat can be done one of two ways. The first way is basically the same as using traditional spray paint. An aerosol can is used and with over 300 colors available it is easy to customize your colors and patterns.
The second way to apply Duracoat is by using the liquid kit, mixing your chosen colors and the hardener. An air gun is used when using the liquid option. A few hours are required for the finish to dry initially and in two to four weeks the finish will fully cure.
The next option for painting your AR-15 on this list is Cerakote. Putting Cerakote on your AR has become increasingly popular over the last 10 years and it is very common to find cerakoted firearms on internet forums, in shops and at ranges.
Cerakote is frequently applied by professionals and it is a more expensive DIY solution than Duracoat. Despite the fact that Cerakote markets themselves as a professional finish there are many DIYers who complete the process themselves.
Applying Cerakote is a three part process. First you must sandblast the firearm. This is followed by the mixing and spraying of the firearm. This stage requires the use of an air gun with a specific model being suggested by Cerakote. The final part of the process is baking and curing.
After baking your Cerakote is fully cured and ready to be used.
Parkerizing is another process that has been used for years to finish firearms. Also called phosphating, parkerizing can be seen on mil-spec 1911s and is very similar to anodizing. It works by changing one element into another and bonding that new material to the surface of your firearm. The element used to create the coating changes the coloring that will result on your firearm.
Hydro-dipping is using water transfer paint to your AR-15 by dipping your AR into water that has special paint on its surface. Hydro-dipping involves submerging your AR-15 into a bucket of water filled with the paint or design to be applied to the AR-15. Complete artistic designs can be applied using this process resulting in a truly unique and beautiful rifle.
Spray painting your AR-15 is another way to add a personal touch to your AR without the expense and potentially, the effort of the other options listed. Your local hardware store or gun store probably has something that can do the job. Choosing the right paint though goes a long way to ensuring your rattle can finish as durable as possible.
Krylon and Rust-Oleum are the two most well known spray paint brands for painting your AR-15. When painting your AR with one of these options you want to make sure you get one designed for grills, engine blocks, or other hot metal surfaces. Heat will be the number one threat to your spray paint AR-15 finish.
An alternative to using Krylon or Rust-Oleum is to try Brownells - Aluma-Hyde. It has resistances to bore cleaners, solvents, and other chemicals. The epoxy base provides a tough finish that will stick to metals and plastics. While Aluma-Hyde dries in minutes it will take about a week to fully cure.
Before You Paint
Here are a few recommendations to get your rifle ready before you paint it.
- Give your AR-15 a good cleaning. Make sure there is no dirt and grime.
- Degrease/oil your rifle. Brake cleaner is a great option for this.
- Cover any openings you don’t want to get painted. This can include but is not limited to magwells and muzzle devices.
- Find a safe, well ventilated space where you can spray your AR without fear of paint getting on something you don’t want it on.
- Suspend your AR-15. Attaching a cord so a part on your AR-15 that is taped up and not being painted will make this process easier and ensure you are affecting the final product.
Painting Your AR-15
Be deliberate and take your time. If you chose to paint your rifle now, be confident in your choice. Start with your base coat and move in a thorough manner through the process. Be careful to not spend too much time in one area so as to not over coat a specific location and end up with an uneven finish or worse.
Having your rifle suspended helps ensure you get consistent coverage when painting your rifle and helps to avoid bubbles or areas where the paint forms droplets. Put careful attention into painting the more difficult areas of the rifle like the handguard, trigger guard, and magazine well flares.
Having a heat gun or hair dryer around can be useful for helping to speed up the drying process. Once the base coat dries after a few minutes you can move on to additional coats and add flairs to personalize your AR-15.
There are lots of ways to customize your AR-15's paint job. Laundry bags, stencils, and actual foliage can all be used to add flavor to your paint job. Be creative and go with what you want. Depending on the aesthetic you are going for with your AR will determine what you do when you add patterns.
Too much pattern will make your AR busy and more likely to stand out. To sparse a pattern can look equally strange. Repetitive patterns can also look out of place so think out what you plan to do before you do it.
Camouflage that is used by both the military and hunters goes from lightest to darkest. Smaller amounts of darker colors overlapping lighter colors helps to break up the shapes of the AR helping to mimic the color elements found in nature.
Painting your AR-15 Magazines
A spray paint like Krylon is great for painting polymer magazines like Magpul PMags. For metal magazines you could go with spray paint or Duracoat and get good results. It's important to make sure your magazines are clean and have been degreased before painting.
Wrapping it All Up
Duracoat is our choice for the best option for painting your AR-15. Its price point is affordable. The application process is essentially the same for the aerosol version of Duracoat as for applying the spray paint you got from your local hardware store. The durability of the product combined with the ease of application make this the top choice.
This isn’t to say Duracoat is the best option for all AR-15 owners every time. If you have the knowledge or the willingness to learn, then Cerakote is a more durable option. Spray paint is also a great choice and can afford you the option to change your mind if you decide the colors you chose or the finish isn’t actually what you want for your AR-15.
Ultimately, Painting your AR-15 is a really rewarding experience that can help you customize your rifle to fit your needs or your style. The ability to take a modern sporting rifle like the AR-15 and change not only the attachments but also its color is a testament to the versatility of the platform.
Read more on WATM: