Paint: A Guide to a Practical Finish for a Working Gun


It wasn’t all that long ago that if you wanted your rifle colored to break up the distinctly black outline of Gene Stoner’s creation, you grabbed a can of Krylon, and did it yourself. Of course, some painful lessons were learned along the way about which parts should not be painted, and how best to keep paint off of those parts. Thanks to the internet, and communities of “gun guys” popping up all over it, some were able to avoid the early pitfalls, and come through the Kryloning of a high dollar investment without many vulgarities escaping our lips.

Krylon is still my “go to” method of breaking up that evil black rifle outline, and I have even had some success in my attempts at various types of “digicam”. Some success. Not all turned out as I had hoped. Some were flat out disasters. Then came the desire to have certain types of rifles colored beyond my capabilities (or desire to learn).

We have become immersed in DuraCoat, Cerakote, AlumaHyde, and countless other spray on, bake on, paint on coloring methods for our guns. At first, I was of the opinion that Krylon did everything I needed it to do. And for the most part it does. But what it doesn’t do, is provide an extra layer of protection for guns in hard use, in harsh environments. Most of the DuraCoats/CeraCoats do just that. And when applied properly, by someone who knows how to properly prepare the gun, and properly apply the medium, it turns out well.

Much better than even my best Krylon job anyway.

When I went looking for specialists in this arena, I found several. Many of whom have been to coloring school, usually provided for a not insignificant fee, hosted by the coloring manufacturer. Honestly, it probably really only takes a solid understanding of the coloring choice, weapons, an airbrush, and some artistic ability (which I lack all the way around). Combined with a metric ton of patience (which I also lack), a trained painter can turn a blah blah ho hum black rifle (or any weapon) into a functional work of art.

Most certainly it is far and above more expensive than Krylon, of which I am still a huge fan, but there are just some guns that deserve more than Krylon and my meager artistic abilities can deliver.

The first rifle I felt deserving of a proper camo paint job was a .300 Win Mag precision rifle that was hand built by me, to my specs, using the absolute best parts, and under the close supervision of a master machinist and mechanical engineer, turned out to be simply perfect. I didn’t want to ruin perfection with Krylon. (Ok, I did ruin it with Krlyon). So I turned to GOE Gunworks in AZ, and told Mark (the artist) exactly what I wanted. Three weeks later, rifle, suppressor, scope, and magazines returned in a color pattern and with a quality of application this rifle deserved.

I was so impressed with the work, that I commissioned two additional guns for his work, even though they didn’t necessarily need it for all intents and purposes. Both returned in short order, with results even better than I had anticipated, even though I knew what he was capable of.

No, it’s not cheap. But neither was the hand built long range rifle. I still use Krylon on most projects, but every once in a while, there is a project that deserves more than Krylon, and deserves more than my gorilla grip rattle can paint job.

Maybe Krylon is all you need. But if it’s not, take a look at the many talented painters out there who are properly trained in the application of whichever brand they happen to use. If you are putting your guns through the environmental wringer, you will find yourself much, much happier when your gear is drying, and the rust on your “go to” gun is non-existent.


This entry was posted in Finishes, Weapon Modifications by Sean M. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sean M

Sean M is a former sworn, full time Law Enforcement Officer, a Former U.S. Marine, and is currently an active duty Military Special Operations trainer. He has over 20 years military experience and has completed nine operational deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and other parts of north Africa and the Middle East. He is fluent in Modern Standard Arabic, and has instructed hundreds of military and law enforcement students worldwide. He is currently the Chief Urban Combat Instructor for his organization.

6 thoughts on “Paint: A Guide to a Practical Finish for a Working Gun

  1. During your testing have you developed a prefered coating? I had my training pistol Cerekoted about a year ago and it has held up extremely well. Thinking about having my AR and duty pistol Cerekoted also. I also believe that Krylon is a great choice, my AR has been through several paint schemes and keeps on ticking…

    • I am obviously not Sean, and he can add to this discussion; I have experience with various forms of polymer coatings (paint) including Duracoat, Cerakote, KG Gunkote, Springfield’s ArmoryKote, Wilson’s ArmorTuff and Birdsong’s Black T. I have found them all to be somewhat similar in that they provide excellent corrosion resistance until they abrade off. Cerakote seems to have be best abrasion resistance of the bunch, but remember it is still just paint, and will wear. Paint is a very practical coating in that it can easily be stripped and reapplied without damaging the surface metal. It doesn’t look the best as it wears, but these aren’t coffee table guns we are talking about. Personally, I find quality of the shop and application to be of greater importance than the brand of coating.

  2. Tim I agree it’s probably 85% or more the coater with the rest going to the type of coating. Prior to the Cerekote my experience was with SA Armory Coat on 2 TRP’s and a Duracoated Commander. The Armory Coat has held up well and the Duracoat not so well. I plan on Cerekoting my duty pistol in the next month of so depending on the coaters calendar and then my AR will probably get coated also. Thanks for the reply and I like the new site.

  3. I tend to like Aervoe paint over Krylon. If you do a good job prepping the surface before painting, the Aervoe seems to be far more resistant to chipping and cracking than the Krylon does. Aervoe also seems to be a bit more impervious to cleaning solvents and the lube it takes to keep an AR running.
    For the price difference on a working gun, it is worth the extra couple of bucks a can to go with Aervoe.

    • Thanks for the tip! I have always thought of Krylon as a semi-temporary application so your suggestion is well worth looking into.

  4. Jerry,

    I have also had good success with Aervoe. I should have been more specific and/or used the disclaimer that it is easier for my fat fingers to type Krylon. I also made the assumption that most folks know Krylon as spray paint and my intent was to simply imply spray paint. Thanks for bringing it up, Aervoe is a quality paint for DIY jobs.

    As for the brand name attached to the paint epoxies, like Tim, I have found that it’s the magician more than it is the wand. I had a CeraCoated 1911 that did not hold up very well, yet it’s sibling 1911 with a later coating by a different vendor (same brand) that still looks pretty good. I tend to stay away from some of the aluminum specific stuff due to inconsistencies in quality can to can. Not to say they were all bad, but I have had some bad batches.

    I am semi-partial to DuraCoat for longer term DIY jobs, or on some of my rust prone guns simply because they have done a pretty good job of packaging most colors in single use, easy to use, applicators. That’s not to say other brands are inferior, I just find that I prefer easy.

    But as I said initially, if I really want it done right, for the long haul, on a gun that is going to see a rough life, I turn it over to a pro for maximum benefit in terms if durability and longevity.

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