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Spray & Pray: Custom Paint Your AR-15 For Under $15

Primary Arms Staff

11/15/2018 1:34 pmwww.primaryarms.com

It can be a little nerve-wracking.

You spent your time and money building the perfect rifle, but still it seems to be missing that extra something to really give it the look you want.

You could send your prized rifle off to get it custom-finished and go without the ability to hit the range with it while you wait for them to send it back in all its Cerakoted glory. It’ll run you some extra cash, plus the anxiety of putting your rifle’s well-being in the hands of someone else – professionals or otherwise. But you could do it that way…

Or, you could grab some cans of paint off the shelf at Home Depot, rattle ‘em up, and get to work. You built the rifle with your own two hands, you can do this yourself too.

Don’t stress, just follow along as we show you how to give your AR-15 a simple, cheap, and effective paint job the do-it-yourself way.

The most important part of any project is knowing the steps involved, so we are going to break it down for you. Preparation and commitment are the key ingredients, so pay close attention. Let’s get to work.


Every job requires the appropriate tools. For this particular project, most of what you’ll need is likely lying around your house already. If not, it’s as readily available as any other basic home-improvement necessities from the local hardware store.

First, and most importantly, the paint.

For this type of paint job, you’re going to need some specific paint. You’ll need at least two colors – one for the base coat, and one for the break-up pattern. You can use as many colors as you’d like for whatever look you’re trying to achieve, but for an effective pattern two is the minimum. For the base coat, look for Aervoe Military Vehicle and Recreation Camouflage paint. It features a flat matte finish and comes in 20 different color options from field drab -- like we used -- to Marine Corps Green, to Digital Desert Sand and more. Aervoe paint is made to U.S Military field coloring standards and has been used in the field for over 30 years. It’s the good stuff, you can count on that.

For the accent colors, Rust-Oleum has a line of camouflage colors that fit the bill perfectly. If you’ve ever built a DIY deer blind, you’ve probably picked up a can or two of this stuff before. Pick a color, or a few if you’d like, and you’ve got your paint needs covered. One can of each color will be more than plenty, and each color option for both brands are only about $5 a can.

The next thing you’ll need is some painter’s tape. Nothing fancy here. If you’ve painted anything, ever, you’ve probably got some spare rolls of the blue stuff lying around. If you’re feeling flush with cash, you can even spring for the green kind that comes in its own little Tupperware-style container.

You’ll also need something to achieve your desired breakup pattern. We did this the most natural way we could think of -- we grabbed some foliage. If the goal of a camo pattern is to blend in to the natural environment, why not utilize the environment to create your pattern? If you’d like something a little more structured, cool-looking, and re-usable, you can use one of these pattern stencils we carry here at Primary Arms or make your own with some cardstock.

Lastly, you need some string. This can be pretty much anything that can bear the weight of the rifle on its own. We used paracord because we have a lot of it. Chances are good you do too, and this is just another thing to add to list of stuff you can do with it. Fishing line is another good option. If you don’t have any cord, string or fishing line handy, you can improvise by bending a wire hanger into a long hook and loop the open end around a tree branch or overhead nail.


By now you’ve probably got an itchy spray nozzle finger, but we’ve got a little more to do before we start the action.

First, find a well-ventilated area that’s decently protected from wind. We opened up the garage door and a back door for some cross-ventilation without too much breeze. The trick is to find someplace where you can suspend the rifle from something overhead. If you’re not eager to spray paint in your garage for fear of overspray on vehicles or your kid’s Big Wheel truck, a backyard tree would do the trick too. It’s not required to suspend your rifle to do this job, you could just as easily lay your AR-15 down in the grass and spray away. However, suspending it will help ensure that you’re getting as close to 100% coverage as possible without too much finagling.

If you are committed to suspending your rifle for the best results, but you don’t have anywhere outdoors to spray, some drop cloth or plastic painter’s tarp will do more than an adequate job of protecting anything you may have nearby.

Next, determine if there are any parts of your rifle that you don’t want any paint to touch and tape them up. For this rifle, we taped off the pistol grip, trigger, charging handle, castle nut, forward assist button, flash hider, and the pass-through areas of the stock so that the buffer tube underneath wouldn’t get any spots on it.

On the upper, we didn’t do anything more than simply shutting the dust cover, because it’s designed to keep stuff out and it did its job. If you’re really worried about it – or if you don’t have a dust cover on your build – you can take your bolt carrier out and tape over the ejection port from the inside. Be sure to apply a degreasing agent to areas of your rifle that are unprotected by tape and have a buildup of lubricating oils, as these will hinder the paint’s ability to bond to the surfaces of your rifle.

Once you’ve found the spot you’re going to suspend the rifle from, make sure you’ve got one or two places to attach the cords to the rifle. We just looped the cord around the castle nut and flash hider since those parts were taped up and not getting painted anyway. You could also just thread the cord through your muzzle device and tape it up after it’s hung. This would hang your rifle vertically instead of horizontally. The reality is, you can pretty much hang it however you want; just be careful you don’t block some part of the rifle you want painted with the cord. Easy enough.

Alright. We’re ready. Rattle those cans.


This part doesn’t require a whole lot of explanation. You’re just using a can of spray paint. Some tips from those of us who have managed to really mess it up are worth noting, however.

First of all, you’ve got to be deliberate. No room for timidity here, just commit to it and dive in. Starting with your base coat, move steadily from area to area, being careful not to dwell anywhere too long or you’ll risk forming droplets on the surface instead of getting an even layer. Just pick a side of the rifle and pick an end. We started with the shooter’s left side, at the stock.

You don’t necessarily want to move the can in a “back-and-forth” motion while spraying as that can cause you to unevenly apply the coat. Start the can with a little spray on some spare cardboard to make sure no big globs come out when you first depress the nozzle. Move the can one direction while you spray, pause, and do it again. Make position adjustments as you go for the best coverage and consistency in color. Work your way around, being careful to cover every angle so you don’t undercoat any spots. Suspending the rifle helps the most in this area. Having the rifle floating in the air makes it very easy to get a consistent coat on the trouble spots like the underside of your handguard, on the front side and flares of your magazine well, and on the trigger guard. Once you’re happy with the base coat, let it sit for a few minutes. If you have a heat gun or a hairdryer on hand, you can give the rifle a once-over for the sake of time.


Making something unnatural like an AR-15 blend in to the natural environment is a skill. Tricking the human eye with disruptive coloration is something that military and scientific geniuses have been working to perfect for nearly a century. Camouflage patterns have been tested and debated and there are more options out there than we could begin to cover to serve as your inspiration. Like we said earlier in this article, if you want something that looks like a specific pattern, try our stencils or make your own out of some card stock. Be as creative as you’d like. Our philosophy was simpler, though. To blend in to nature, make use of nature.

We took long leaves and tufts of grass from the backyard and, using the dark brown Rust-Oleum color, created patches of darker overlaid color with the negative space revealing the field drab base coat underneath. Part of this process is to concentrate the denser areas of dark paint at the bases of the foliage you’re working with and spray it more lightly at the ends, fading out the negative of the foliage. This helps create the illusion of depth by mimicking shadows.

Working in whatever order you wish, the trick is to strike a balance. Too busy of a break-up pattern and you’ll be sure to stand out. Too sparse or too repetitive with your pattern, and you’ll look just as out of place. Vary your approach between larger and smaller foliage and shoot for about 50% of the rifle to have the foliage or stencil pattern on it, with a lighter, more subtle blend of the colors on the remaining 50%. If you’re using actual foliage for the break-up pattern, the only stark contrast between your top coat and break up colors should be on the denser lower portions of the foliage you’re using. This is again to help trick the brain into perceiving depth where there is none.

If you make use of stencils, whether they’re homemade or the ones offered here at PA.com, always apply the colors from lightest to darkest. Multiple colors overlaying each other in a traditional woodland camo pattern start with larger swaths of lighter colors and move to smaller elements of the darker color. This achieves a similar goal to the foliage breakup by giving the illusion of shadow and depth using disruptive coloration, which is found all over in nature.

One of the cool advantages to using actual foliage in creating your pattern is that you get a finished product that’s totally unique. It won’t look like military or commercial camouflage patterns, but it will still accomplish the task. If a specific commercial or military pattern is what you’re going for, then go the stencil route. If what you’re after is something unique and cool with some do-it-yourself pride, then grab a fistful of grass and do it that way. If you know what you’re trying to achieve before you set out, then your odds of ending up with something that looks stupid are very slim.


Paint takes a while to cure. We recommend leaving your finished rifle in a well-ventilated and dry area for a few days before removing the tape, and about a week before putting any rounds through it. It will likely be dry to the touch before that, but serious use too early and you’ll likely see some spots wear down more quickly than they otherwise would. However, wear on the paint job is part of the deal when you rattle can a rifle. To many, the roughed-up and rugged look of some worn down paint adds to the look of the rifle. AR-15s are not necessarily meant to look pretty. For a great number of people, they’re tools built for hard use. A rattle can paint job conveys that gritty, hardworking spirit behind your gun. And if too much of the hardcoat anodized black finish starts to show through, string it up again. You already bought the paint.

Rattle can paint jobs are about function and fun more than anything else. There’s nothing wrong with a top-dollar Cerakote job on your rifle, we’ve got plenty of those around the office – like this cool Bazooka Green build, for example. But for someone who just wants to take their black rifle and make a look a little more at home in the woods or out in the field, this is an easy and cheap solution that’s true to the built-not-bought spirit that many people appreciate about the AR platform. So, have some fun with it. Don’t be afraid to take the dive and put some paint on your rifle. If you get finished and have a longing in your heart for that clean, matte black look again… Just build another one. It’s as good of an excuse as any!

If you’ve ever got questions about your next AR-15 build, or any other firearms parts and accessories, our in-house customer service team and firearms product specialists are standing by here in Houston, Texas to get you the answers you need. So, give us a call at (713) 344-9600 or send us an email at info@primaryarms.com. We love hearing from you and are always thankful that you choose us.

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