I have used this technique on several of my recent AR builds, and it is a uniquely simple method of achieving a digital camouflage look without all the trouble of using digital stencils. I use Aervoe mil spec camouflage spray paint. It is very durable once fully cured, and their colors are spot on.
I have a new Sub2000 40SW that will be the subject of this article.
The first step is determining your color pattern. I have completed an AR in both USMC dessert MARPAT, and one in ARMY ACU. The Sub2000 is being painted in USMC MARPAT woodland digital. Colors used are woodland green, coyote, khaki, and black. After the base coat is applied, you will be using natural sea sponge to apply all other colors.
Here is my CMMG Dedicated 22LR AR15 in USMC Dessert MARPAT.
My 24" barreled 300 Blackout AR15 in ARMY ACU digital.
Strip down the rifle into all its sub components. I strongly suggest using a zip lock bag or container to store your loose parts until time to put it all back together. Once it is all apart, use a good cleaner such as Awesome or Greased Lightning, and a toothbrush to scrub your parts to remove any oil, grease, or other residue. Once scrubbed and thoroughly rinsed, set them aside to dry.
I painted the foregrip, receiver, butstock, butstock end cap with buffer spring, mag catch, trigger guard, and front sight. I took the opportunity to trim all the mold flash off of the parts to get rid of the sharp edges and to give the parts a more finished look.
Once apart and edges trimmed, you need to mask off certain areas to prevent paint build up. I masked off the barrel on either side of front sight, areas in foregrip where the barrel lays, pockets where pins or aluminum post insert for the screws (on the inside of parts), the inside of the receiver and the threads on the end of the receiver.
Black areas below were masked off with blue painters tape to prevent interference during assembly.
Follow instructions for the spray paint to lay down the base coat. For this project, woodland green is the primary color. Start off with two light coats and let it flash for about 20 minutes. Then apply several slightly heavier coats, making sure all areas are fully covered. More is not always better.
Once fully painted, I let them hang for about an hour or so to dry to the point where they can be carefully handled. At this point, the finish will still be soft (but not sticky). Next, each piece is carefully hung from the top rack of the oven. Yep that's right, we are going to bake them. These parts are made from Zytel. As quoted from Wikipedia;
The properties of Zytel will vary with the specific formulation. Formulation Zytel HTN 35% Glass Reinforced Resin, consisting of 35% glass fiber by weight, has a tensile strength of around 30kpsi and a flexural modulus of 1500kpsi under room temperature conditions. Zytel also offers good chemical resistance to common chemicals such as motor oil, transmission fluid, and methanol, and shows little thermal expansion.
Now that you know what it is, the 175 degrees we are going to bake the parts at, will not have an impact on them. To start off the cure process, I load all the parts into the oven, and give them an initial bake at 175 degrees F for one hour. After the hour, turn off the oven, open the door, and let them air cool for about a half hour till they are at room temperature. At this point you should notice a significant difference in the "feel" of the paint coating.
As we add each additional color, it takes another trip through the oven for an additional 45 minutes, so we will bake all of the parts four times. Aervoe becomes very hard after the full cure process, and I have not had any issues with scratching or cleaning my AR's painted with Aervoe.
I would suggest practicing on a cheap airsoft gun or at least a piece of cardboard to get the feel of how the sponge method works, and in particular how much paint to pick up. Too much will just leave a puddle of paint on the part with little to no pattern. It is similar to a dry brushing technique used in weathering models.
Sea sponge is available in the craft section and sometimes the cosmetics section of Walmart. Other craft and paint stores will also carry it. Sea sponge is not cheap, a bag of loose pieces will run close to $6, and a hand sized piece will push $10. DO NOT attempt this using a synthetic sponge as it will not create the desired pattern, and the paint will likely dissolve the foam sponge material.
It can be helpful to layout something with the desired pattern next to the work area. I have used a couple of my Son's USMC covers (hat), and a digital ARMY ACU bag. It helps to get a feel for the pattern density.
NAVY Digital, Desert Digital, and ACU Digital on some 5.56 Mags.
For this pattern, the base coat is woodland green, the next color to be applied is coyote brown. When looking at sample patterns, one will notice that green is the predominate color, then brown, then black, then khaki. This is also the order we will apply them in.
The digital patterns are made up of blotchy colors, only the edges are at 90 degree angles (pixilated). We are going to duplicate the blotchiness of the colors, just without the 90 degree edges. When you look at your sea sponge, you should see numerous areas of natural variations in the patterns. I normally take a piece and cut off smaller pieces that can be utilized to create different sizes of colored areas, and with differing patterns. Obviously, the amount of paint picked up on the sponge, the direction and pressure will vary the size and pattern greatly so that when finished, you should have a very random pattern.
I use small disposable plastic trays or bowls to hold my paint. I have found that the black plastic containers for some of the microwave frozen dinners work really well (plus they are free). Aervoe paint unlike Krylon, will really attack certain plastics. If you were to spray Krylon on a foam plate, all would be good. If you did this with Aervoe, the foam would dissolve. This allows the paint to aggressively bind to the Zytel that the components are made from.
Aervoe paint, sea sponge, and paint container.
The technique itself is pretty simple, pick up paint from the container on the sponge and apply it in random patterns over the surface. Like mentioned previously, the amount of paint, pressure, and direction determine the shape of the pattern. Sometimes I apply straight onto the surface, sometimes using the corner or edge, sometimes rolling it from one edge to the other. Practice makes perfect.
Once each color is applied, it has to go back through the baking process for 45 minutes at 175 degrees. I can generally get two colors applied in an afternoon/evening. If you apply too soon (without baking and allowing to cool), the newly applied paint may try to lift the paint underneath it. This only happens if you rush and try to cut corners.
Once you have finished all four colors, I will take some very small pieces and use them to help fill in small detail areas and/or touch up areas. Once completely finished, I like to wait at least a day (if not two) before putting the weapon back together again. You will find that over the next several weeks, the finish will continue to get harder as it ages/cures. While not quite the same as Duracoat, it is pretty close as to the amount of abuse it can take.
So, here is the weapon reassembled, following range testing and sight alignment. I think it looks pretty close to a digital pattern.
It is a cross between a digital pattern and the new ATACS pattern. It certainly is a lot easier to apply this way rather than dealing with a ton of digital stencils and trying to get the edges down so they create a sharp pattern.
I have also used Krylon camouflage paint before as well, and it does provide a very durable finish. I also bake it in the oven as I do the Aervoe, but at a slightly lower temperature around 155 degrees if your oven will go that low. Currently mine will only accept 170 degrees minimum (use the bake setting).
Here is the color chart for Aervoe paints, numerous places on the web sell it in single cans and digital sets of 6 cans (both with and without stencils). The three digit number in front, is the Federal Spec number, and the number in parenthesis is the Aervoe part number.
951 Light Green (34151)
952 Dark Green (34102)
957 Earth Yellow (30257)
967 Earth Red (30117)
968 Field Drab (30118)
977 Sand (30277)
979 Forest Green (34079)
987A Olive Drab (34087)
987B Olive Drab (34088)
990 Woodland Green (34094)
992 Marine Corps Green (34052)
997A Olive Drab Semi-Gloss (24087)
999 Earth Brown (30099)
474 Green (1074)
475 Khaki (1075)
476/498 Coyote (1076)
478 Urban Tan (1078)
479 Light Tan (1079)
480 Highland (1080)
481 Light Coyote (1081)
500/503 Desert Sand (1082)
501/505 Urban Gray (1083)
502/504 Foliage Green (1084)