The AR15 is a versatile gun, and it’s normal to either optimize it for the environment or design it so it stands out from other firearms.
However, recklessly painting your AR15 without planning can easily lead to good designs chipping off or lousy decals killing your desire to keep using your gun.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to paint your AR15 in a way that lasts and improves the quality of your gun.
Which Types Of Paint To Use For AR15 Guns?
While spray paint is an easy and obvious choice to consider, know you’ll be getting exactly what you paid for when using it. The paint will chip faster than other options. Normal spray paint isn’t made to withstand heat either, so it’s likely to start melting off with moderate use.
Krylon, Rust-Oleum, and Dupli-Color are all fine choices for long-lasting paint that’s resistant to weather and use. If you’re painting your AR15 with a brush, be sure to search for heat-resistant options. Regular tins of paint have a weaker heat tolerance than spray paint.
How To Paint An AR15 Step by Step
Before beginning to paint your gun, consider trying your design out on a junk gun to make sure it comes out as you’re envisioning.
1. Clean Your Gun
Cleaning your gun before starting your AR15 paint job can make your design last years longer than it would’ve otherwise.
If forgotten about, areas with dirt or grime will be the first to chip, leading to a much spottier look. If that’s your style, feel free to let it be. Just know what to expect with the result.
2. Cover The Sensitive Areas
A gun is a machine. To keep it working as well as it should, you can’t get paint inside of the moving parts. Using your painter's tape, make sure to cover the ejection port, the magazine well, and the muzzle.
3. Choose a location
Once you’ve started the painting process, you can’t touch your AR15 for a while. Many DIY painters use strings to hoist the gun up from a garage ceiling and avoid flipping or turning it.
Painting half over a plastic bag before flipping it is also an option, but you’d have to let it dry halfway through.
With this method, you also increase the risk of paint clumping up in spots you didn't want it to because the paint bounces back from the surface the gun is under.
4. Apply A Background Coat
When deciding on a color, consider your goals. Do you want to blend in better with trees when hunting? A dark green or brown coat may help, depending on your environment. If you’re instead hoping to stand out at a gun show or competition, brighter colors can accomplish that.
Once you’ve settled on a background color, lightly and evenly spray your AR15, hovering back and forth quickly over the gun. If you miss a spot, don’t stress.
Let the paint dry, and go over the areas again. Trying to make the fix too fast can lead to a messy look and drips that will need to be fixed.
5. Additional Colors
If you have any additional colors or patterns you want to include, do so after the background coat dries. You might have to use a stencil or put light diagonal stripes across the gun.
Once your additional layers have dried, the optional fun begins. If you’re a talented painter, free-hand designing your gun with a brush is an option. For most of us, an easier way to make unique designs would be to print pictures out from the internet and cut them out.
Premade AR15 paint stencils already exist, but any DIY stencil should work. Make sure to cover the areas you wouldn’t want the new color to hit.
7. Apply Your Finish
When you’ve finished and are happy with your AR15 paint job, it’s crucial to apply a finishing spray. In the same manner in which you applied the background coat, thoroughly spray your AR15 with your finisher to preserve the design.
8. The Waiting Game
Paint takes time to dry, and it’s hard to resist trying out your custom-painted AR15. Some owners say their gun was fine to shoot after four hours of drying. We recommend letting the weapon sit for a day to avoid blemishes in the paint.
Important Tips To Keep In Mind
When spray painting your firearm, remember to stand at a safe distance and wear eye protection. There’s a reason OSHA has laws requiring painting companies to give their employees masks. The toxic chemicals in spray paints can harm a person’s health.
While the right paint and finishing spray should protect your work for years, all designs will fade with moderate use.
To get the most out of your AR15 paint job, sand the gun's surface before painting it. The paint will stick better, giving you a couple more years before the design fades.
For easier touch-ups, avoid any intricate designs on parts more likely to get hot, like the grill. The background color is much easier to fix than a decal.
Getting Creative In Painting Your AR15 (Various Ideas)
It’s easy to tell when someone started painting without an idea. Maybe their gun is only one color, or maybe there’s a whole rainbow of mismatched colors.
The easiest way to avoid a bad design is to visualize what you want before you start, and try it on a water gun. When in doubt, consult the color wheel.
Camo Painting An AR15
A camouflage design is common among hunters, but it can be hard to perfect the intricate pattern without experience. You can use a net as a stencil if you’re struggling with creating a symmetric pattern. Try utilizing plants and branches from your favorite hunting spot.
As a rule of thumb, anything with space that paint can get through that you don’t mind getting dirty can work as a stencil. For a cleaner look, it can be nice to have specific parts of the gun, like the magazine, be the only piece that boasts the pattern while the rest of the firearm touts solid colors.
Standing Out Among The Rest
If you aren’t an artist, and your goal is to make your design look impressive, you may benefit from seeking advice from one.
The net-based stencils can accomplish a “tacti-cool” effect, complementing a neutral color scheme. If that isn’t your style, bright and fluorescent colored decals on top of a black or otherwise neutral background can create a video-game-inspired look.
Making something “cool” is subjective, so preplanning based on your tastes is the only way to make sure you’re making a satisfying design.
If you're struggling with decals and have an artist as a friend, why not paint the background and ask them to paint the decals once the base has dried?
The only thing as cool as saying you painted it yourself is saying that a friend helped. If you’re complimenting a friend's work, you don’t have to be as humble when boasting about how cool your custom-painted AR15 looks!
To help you think of your design, here are some AR15 paint jobs others have done.
A red AR15 paint job:
An OD green spray-painted AR15:
A camouflage design, using a net stencil:
Frequently Asked AR15 Painting Questions
How much does it cost to paint an AR15 rifle?
Painting your AR15 should cost about $10 to $50 if you only buy one or two colors and a finishing spray. Additional colors can increase the cost.
How long does it take to paint an AR15 rifle?
You can likely paint an AR15 in 30 to 60 minutes. The drying process can take less or more time, depending on which paint brand you choose. Generally, brands like Rustoleum will be dry after 24 hours.
Is it legal to have a firearm custom painted?
The United States Department Of Justice states that while you must be a licensed gun dealer to make a business out of painting others’ weapons, you don’t need to be licensed to paint your firearm.
Understand that giving your AR15 an orange tip similar to the type toy guns are required to have may get you in trouble for concealment.
With these tips, your custom AR15 paint job should last decades. Remember, the easiest way to be confident in your design is to try it out on a cheap toy gun first. Make sure to research designs online for inspiration.