So, you want to paint your gun. You probably ended up on YouTube, saw a video on Cerakoting, and thought, “surely, there must be an easier way.”
You are correct. There are easier, cheaper ways. Keep in mind that you make major sacrifices when you choose the cheaper, easier options. Cerakote is wildly popular for a reason. We’ll talk more about that later, but we’ll focus on the most accessible way to get a reasonably durable paint job on your gun.
Painting your gun can be as simple, but it can also get a bit complicated. It depends on how much effort you’re willing to put in.
How to Paint a Gun [Quick Steps]
The basic steps to any gun paint job is the same: go to a well-ventilated area, wear safety gear, prep the gun by degreasing metal parts and sanding, then start painting with your paint of choice. Once you’re done painting, either bake the painted parts in the oven or let air-dry, depending on your method.
Painting the polymer portions of your gun will be a little different than painting metal parts of your gun. The biggest difference is that you need to degrease metal parts and you don’t (as far as I know) need to degrease polymer parts. We’ll go into more depth on how to degrease down below.
Materials Required to Paint a Gun
Here’s a summary of all the things you need:
- A gun to paint
- A rod to hang parts from (or table/bench with newspaper)
- Tools to disassemble firearm
- Gun-rated paint (you want to look for “enamel” paint infused with a ceramic)
Any old spray paint from Home Depot will stick for at least a little while, but if you want something that will last a little while, you can get enamel paints that are mixed with ceramic that will have a much superior hold. If you’re painting a barrel, you’ll want to make sure the paint is rated to at least 500-600 degrees fahrenheit.
Steps to Paint a Gun [Step by Step]
Step 1: Put on Safety Equipment
Don’t skip this step. If you’re using chemicals like Acetone or Methanol, make sure to wear nitrile or chemical-resistant gloves, a safety mask, and safety glasses while you’re using it. For painting, even if you’re outside, you should wear a face mask and safety glasses. Even if you’re not disassembling your gun to paint parts individually, make sure the gun is clear before doing anything else.
Step 2: Disassemble
Take the gun apart as far as you need to in order to separate the individual components that you’ll be painting. You can try to get away with not disassembling the gun at all and just painting the thing all together, but you’ll never be able to get a great-looking paint job that way. More importantly, you risk getting paint somewhere that will prevent the gun from working properly.
Disassembling also allows you to sand much more effectively, which we’ll talk more about in the next step.
A lot of times, when you’re painting a gun, you’re not going to want to paint the barrel. You also probably want to avoid getting paint inside the trigger mechanism or the chamber. Removing the parts you want to keep paint-free is an essential part of this process, and not something you should skip.
Step 3: Sand
Unlike with wood, the purpose of sanding metal is actually to make the surface a little rougher so that it grabs the coating more effectively. It’s amazing how much a simple sanding job will affect the durability of your paint job. Sanding can also remove any loose or flaking paint from a prior paint job, just like with a wall in your home.
The easiest way to do this is with sandpaper. I’d recommend 220 grit unless you have a specific reason for choosing something else. You honestly don’t have to sand much, just enough to see a brighter sheen on the metal for the most part.
Another option is sandblasting. Sandblasting machines are expensive, but if you’re willing to do the work necessary to get a really good coating or paint job on your gun, then it can be 100% worth it. This is even more true if you are going to be painting multiple guns.
Sending guns off for a professional Cerakote gets real expensive real quick, and setting yourself up to do it all on your own pays off after only a couple of paint jobs.
Step 4: Degrease All Metal Parts
The grease in metals that come out of a factory will prevent the paint or coating from bonding properly to the metal, which takes a shocking amount of life off the paint job. Everyone has their own method for doing this, but the simplest I’ve found is just mixing warm water with simple green and letting the metal parts soak in in it.
I would say for your first gun, that’s worth trying out. Worst case scenario, it doesn’t work “as well” as some of the more advanced methods, and your first paint job won’t last as long. Best case scenario, you save a ton of time and can continue to use a very easy degreasing method with future paint jobs.
Step 5: Paint the Gun
Now that the parts are all sanded and degreased, you can hang them up on your rod or lay them out on a table and start painting. Depending on the paint you’re using, you might be able to just let them air dry or you may need to bake them in an oven.
If you’re using Cerakote, you’ll need to bake them in at least 150 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 hours for the coating to cure. Enamel spray paint from the hardware store will be just fine with being air-dried.
A quick note on barrels: my first advice would be to simply not paint your barrel at all unless it’s shiny stainless steel and you have a good reason to be concerned about glare and reflection. My second piece of advice would be to not cheap out or be lazy when it comes to your barrel.
If you only bother with Cerakote C-series on one component of your firearm, it should be the barrel, because the C-series is rated to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is only a few hundred degrees away from the melting point of low carbon steel.
Step 6: Wait for Paint to Dry
The drying process may happen outside in the open air or it may happen in an oven. If you aren’t interested in having painted gun parts drying in your kitchen oven, you can make a DIY outdoor oven like this guy did for his motorcycle parts in the following video.
The time to dry could vary from just a few minutes for cheap spray paint to literally 5 days for the Cerakote C-series.
Step 7: Reassemble the Gun
Once everything is dry, put everything back together and make sure that no paint got anywhere that it shouldn’t. It’s worth testing the gun out after painting to verify that it is still working as intended. As long as you only painted the parts that you wanted to paint, this shouldn’t be much of a concern, but it’s always smart to make sure things are working the way they should.
You also want to evaluate how the gun looks – if it doesn’t look the way you want it, you may want to try and come up with some ways to make it look better. Painting, especially a coating like Cerakote, is fairly permanent, but you can usually layer up different colors without too much issue.
Tips to Make Your Gun Color Last Longer
Tip #1: Clean the Surface Carefully Before Painting
Yes, we already talked about degreasing, but this is more about cleaning the gun with a solvent. I don’t know about you, but usually when I clean my gun I don’t really do anything with the outside of the firearm; I’m really just cleaning the bolt assembly, bore, and trigger mechanism.
But when you’re about to paint, you need to get rid of all the dirt, dust, grime, and whatever else has accumulated on the outside of the gun in order to get the paint to adhere properly and last for as long as it can.
You don’t have to get particularly creative with this, either. Any generally metal-safe or polymer-safe cleaner is going to perform passably well at this job. If you’re worried about it, you can always search for “safe cleaners for outside of gun” and see what the forum experts are recommending.
Tip #2: Sand Certain Parts of the Gun as Needed
I know we covered this in the basic steps, but you’d be surprised how many people just assume they can skip the sanding portion. Again, the sanding is not to make the metal smoother, it’s to make it rougher. You’re trying to create just a little extra surface area for the paint or coating to grab onto.
You don’t have to sand every part – my experience with polymer is that it seems to stick to the paint just fine without much sanding – but you should at least be sanding the metal pieces and run some tests with the paint you’ve chosen and the polymer to see if it’s going to need the sanding.
As a last note on this one, you’ll see that the fanciest folk have sandblasters for this. You do not need a sandblaster. It will save you time and get you better results, but in my opinion it’s only worth the cost if you plan on doing this a lot.
Tip #3: Bake the Color in the Oven
Even with “standard” spray paints you get from the hardware store, baking the painted parts in the oven for a couple hours at 150 degrees Fahrenheit can make the paint job last for a lot longer. With more specialty treatments, the oven is essential.
Remember, your gun is something that is handled regularly: you grab it, shift your grip on it, run it through its paces at the range, take it hunting in the weather, and do many other things that will wear down the paint job on your gun. If you are willing to take a little extra step of baking the paint in the oven instead of just letting it air-dry, it will last longer.
Tip #4: Cerakote is Worth the Trouble
On that note, I want to make the case for Cerakote. Cerakote will last for 10+ years before it even starts to show wear and tear. It is a highly-advanced coating that strengthens your firearm and adheres irrevocably to it. The colors won’t change or fade nearly as much over time as any kind of spray paint that you can buy, and overall it will be so much better for your gun.
Yes, it’s an absolute pain to do Cerakote, especially the first time as you’re figuring things out.
I tend to be on the lazier side, so it’s always my inclination to just let a professional do the work when I can. They usually do a better job anyway. Yes, it’s expensive to have a professional Cerakote your firearm, but if you only have one gun that you want to do it for, it often makes more sense in the long run.
If you have multiple guns that you want to Cerakote, then getting the materials you need to do it on your own becomes far more worth it. If you’re intimidated by Cerakote, feel free to do your first gun with some specialty “rattle-can” spray paint as an experiment to see where it fails to live up to your expectations.
The price of “CERAKOTE Rapid Ceramic Paint Sealant Kit” varies, so check the latest price at
Yes. Spray paint designed to adhere to metal or polymer will generally work on a gun, but will chip and fade fairly quickly, especially if you use it often. For the most part, even spray paint that is not designed for metal or polymer won’t hurt your gun, it just also won’t do much good.
Yes. I’d advise you to avoid painting the inside of the slide. I’m not 100% sure that it would be a problem if you did get some paint on the inside, but I’d recommend erring on the side of caution.
It can be as cheap as a bottle of spray paint and as expensive as mailing it to a professional Cerakote specialist and paying them hundreds of dollars to do it. You get to choose how much you’re willing to spend.
There are a lot of good reasons to paint a gun – you might want to keep the gun protected and functioning well for longer, you might want to keep it camouflaged while hunting, or you might just want to be tacticool at the range. Whatever your reason for painting your gun, my advice would be to put as much effort into it as you can convince yourself to put in.
If you’re up for putting in the time and/or money to do something advanced like Cerakote, you’ll reap the benefits for years to come, but even if you’re not you can get a good, affordable solution that will last for at least a few years.