Black guns are cool, but they can give you away in the natural environment which is very nearly, never black… That’s primarily the reason why so many modern military firearms are leaning towards FDE or tan anodised components. But before tan guns were a thing, the guys at the pointy end of the spear sprayed their rifles.
Spraying guns is something that for a time was so prevalent that the stock price of krylon must have gone through the roof! Whilst theres a lot more to good concealment than a painted rifle, it does help. Ill cover the fundamentals of camouflage at some point, but I’m sure that most of my readership will be more than familiar with the basic do’s and do not’s of fieldcraft.
I’ve sprayed more than a couple of Airsoft replicas, I’ve even sprayed a couple of firearms. Whilst there are many different ways to do it and many different effects you can achieve, this is how I spray mine for a U.K. woodland environment.
Preparation is key, without taking the time to prepare your replica, you risk doing a bad job or even damaging your replica. I’ll run you through everything I’ll do, step by step to ensure you get a finish that’s hopefully close to what you’re after.
So what should you have before you start spraying? Well, it’s a flexible list but there are some little bits I’ve found are perfect to give you the look you’re after.
- A well ventilated space, free of obstructions and well lit.
- A replica to paint
- Suitable spray paint
- Degreasing agent
- Makeshift or purpose made stencils
- Blanking materials (more on this in a minute)
So… lets break this down.
A well ventilated space, free of obstructions and well lit
Somewhere like a garage or shed is ideal, failing that you can always spray outdoors (spray inside the living areas of your house at your peril). I’d suggest that indoors is better because you’ll want as close to no wind as possible, you’ll also want it to be relatively cool to ensure the paint doesn’t go off too quickly (which can cause the paint to not key to the item properly. But if you have no other choice, outside will work as long as it’s not too windy and the weather is good (but not too good). If you’ve got somewhere you can hang your replica, I’d do it. I’ll be demonstrating against a flat surface because its what most people will have access to, but if you want to see how a hung rifle is sprayed, check out Ryan from Backcountry Workshop’s spraying guide here on The Reptile House Blog.
A replica to paint
Simple enough. make sure that your replica is clear and safe to handle, remove anything you don’t want to get paint on and be prepared to do a fair amount of prep work before spraying.
Something such as isopropyl alcohol on a micro fibre cloth, this will allow the surface to take the base layer without any issues.
Suitable spray paint
I personally use Krylon, always have and always will. There are other options such as Halfords Camo paint and Tamiya or other model paints, but Krylon is the better option and will give you a flat Matt finish with minimal runs and a colour that’ll match those reference pics we generally use as our guide. Krylon started the whole “putting paint into an aerosol can” thing and they’re damn good at it.
Tactical-Kit are the UKs biggest stockist of Krylon paints, they also carry the majority of the most used colours in stock. My four “go to” colours are Khaki, Olive, Brown and Black, this should profile you with a good around pattern… Forest Green also works well for lush or tropical woodland areas.
Makeshift or purpose made stencils
This can be whatever you’ve got to hand… scrim netting, laundry bag, natural foliage or purpose made card or stick on stencils for more complex patterns such as Kryptek or digital patterns. For this demo ill be using scrim netting and ferns, but use what’s laying around in the area you play in… that’ll give you the most natural and effective finish.
This is to block off any areas you need to keep free of paint, basically anything that will affect the performance of your replica should be shielded from paint. The primary areas are usually… Muzzle, ejection port, magazine well, sights, optics and laser emitters. Materials from masking or electrical tape to Blue Tac are fantastic for blanking off delicate areas of your replica prior to painting.
Self explanatory really, the longer and slower you go, the better the end result. Spraying takes time, most fuck ups are caused by impatience.
Preparing Your Replica
As mentioned, you’ll want to degrease your replica and blank off any areas that you don’t want to get paint into. I’ll generally tape off the entire magazine well to ensure no ingress of paint, although if you’re painting your magazines as well, just seat one in place and it should cover the gap more than adequately.
The muzzle, ejection port and anywhere else that could potentially allow paint into the inner workings of your replica should be sealed up as best you can and don’t forget the trigger! there’s always a fair amount of space around the trigger than can cause paint to deep inside to the gearbox or trigger unit.
I generally remove the flash hider and tape up the threads, the muzzle would burn off or blacken the paint anyway so unless you’re separating a suppressor to match, I’d recommend doing the same.
Optics can be blanked off with a layer of tape. I find electrical tape works better than masking tape for this as it prevents the paint creeping under and onto lenses etc. Blue Tac is one of my favourites for blanking off though… squish it over the lens and you’ll never get paint where you don’t want it. Simply peel it off after to remove, and voila!
Find a place you can hang your replica if you’ve got the space, making sure you can move around it. You can spray your replica on the ground, but you’ll need to turn it over halfway to paint the other side and it can result in a less seamless paint job. however you’ve got your replica ready to paint, make sure that there’s nothing near it you don’t want paint on. As mentioned, I’ll be doing this on the ground but I’m careful to follow the contours of the gun around the bottom and top to ensure I don’t miss any patches.
Working out the pattern you want to create can be quite a challenge, with what I’d regard as my best paint job it was about recreating a specific prop used in the film Lone Survivor so i had to think very carefully about every line I sprayed. Those of you who have followed the blog for a while might be aware that I recreated one of the Mk12 Mod 1 SPRs used in the film, specifically the one used by Ben Foster (who played Matthew Axelson).
Degreasing the item is vital, not only from mechanical grease but the oils that are deposited from merely holding it. I use isopropyl alcohol on a micro fibre, its a great cleaner for barrels airsoft as well.
Once I’ve got the replica prepped and ready to spray, it’s time to look at the base coat. Generally I’ll use a very light dusting of Khaki or Olive green as my base, the reason being that it’s a lot harder to cover a dark paint with a light one, and often the lighter colour paint will give you a better starting point to create your paint job than with a darker base.
Following the instructions on the Krylon, be sure to shake the tins well before use and check the nozzles on a scrap of cardboard before spraying up your replica. Starting at one end of your replica, start spraying a very light coat across from one side to the other. Be sure to start and finish your spray beyond where your “canvas” is to ensure an even and drip-free coat.
Keep the can around 10”/25cm away from the item you’re painting, this might vary a little depending on the conditions but this is why we tested the cans first on a scrap of paper or card. Too close and you’ll end up with thick patches of paint that’ll end up pooling and dripping, too far and you’ll end up with the paint “misting” in the air and forming paint drops which can form an inconsistent and patchy finish (although this is a technique I often use as a final coat, more on this later).
Once the first coat has been applied, be sure to leave it at least an hour to allow that first layer before touching it again. It actually takes Krylon around 15 minutes to become “touch dry” and 7 days to properly key into the item you’re painting and become chip resistant. An hour is a good rule of thumb and should prevent any silly fingerprints from appearing on your paintjob.
My second coat is usually Olive (or khaki if my base coat was olive), this I’ll first do with a scrim net over the item. Generally I’ll only spray half of the total area using the scrim and then remove it to finish up the layer. This breaks up the shape of the scrim a little bit more, making for a more natural finish.
Once I’ve finished with this coat, I’ll look at using darker paint and the natural foliage. The darker colours should be used sparingly to start with, its easy to let them dominate and take over, but this won’t give you a balanced pattern. The foliage works best if you place it “sunny side down” on your item, the reason for this is that the leaves etc will naturally want to spring away from the surface you lay them on, placing the leaves against the item will make for a much better finish.
Also be aware that the really small leaves, ferns and grass will want to blow out the way when you start spraying. Using the overlap spraying method will help, but you’ll have to adjust your spraying height accordingly.
After I’ve finished this layer, I’ll assess the colour. If its too light, I’ll either add more dark stripes or give the whole replica a light dusting of brown/black. The same applies for the replica being too dark… I’ll add a dusting of Khaki or Olive to bring the tone back where I want it.
There’s no real set rules with what works best, camouflage is as much about breaking up outlines as it is about the colour. I’ve not sprayed up the accessories and optic because I tend to move them around, theres no doubting that the paint job would be more effective if these were also sprayed, but I can always tape them up if needed.
The final part of your paint job is to decide how you want it to wear, if you’re happy enough to wait, the paint will wear gradually until you’re left with pretty much what i began this project with. If you want an instant in country look, start messing around with it right away… wear some old gloves and get your hands all over it. You could be more extreme and mash it into the dirt and gravel… I’ve seen a very good friend do exactly that with a box fresh Marui 416, but generally a little rough playing over the first few days will get the paint wearing where you want it to.
A final note, this is purely the way I paint my own replicas. I’m not the best at this by any means, but its fun to mess around and create something truly unique. There’s never been a better time than now to do it, the majority of us have more than enough time on our hands.