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Adding Camouflage Using Hydrographics
by Roy Seifert

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Disclaimer:  This article is for entertainment only and is not to be used in lieu of a qualified gunsmith.  Please defer all firearms work to a qualified gunsmith.  Any loads mentioned in this article are my loads for my guns and have been carefully worked up using established guidelines and special tools.  The author assumes no responsibility or liability for use of these loads, or use or misuse of this article.  Please note that I am not a professional gunsmith, just a shooting enthusiast and hobbyist, as well as a tinkerer.  This article explains work that I performed to my guns without the assistance of a qualified gunsmith.  Some procedures described in this article require special tools and cannot/should not be performed without them.

Warning:  Disassembling and tinkering with your firearm may void the warranty.  I claim no responsibility for use or misuse of this article.  Again, this article is for entertainment purposes only!

Tools and firearms are the trademark/service mark or registered trademark of their respective manufacturers.

This year during the last week of January my mom turned 90, so the entire family got together to celebrate this happy occasion.  Everyone in the family knows that I am a “gun guy” so it was only natural that my 22-year old nephew, Nathan, came to me with a gun question.  He wanted to go duck hunting with some of his friends in the fall and asked me what shotgun to buy.  My somewhat glib response was anything that would go bang and kill a duck!  After a brief moment of confusion he then asked me what brand of shotgun I would recommend.  I told him Remington, Mossburg, Browning, Winchester – just to name a few – all made fine shotguns; it would really depend on what he could afford.  I made it clear to him, however, that it’s not the gun that’s important; it’s the man behind the gun.  I once made fun of a friend for shooting a short, youth model, single shot .410-gauge shotgun.  He never missed with that little gun and put me in my place by consistently beating me at shooting clay pigeons!  It turns out he grew up on a farm using that gun since he was a child so he had many years of practice; and it showed.


I own three 12-gauge Winchester model 1300 shotguns; one is a Defender model that I use for three-gun competition, and the other two are field-grade.  So how did I wind up with two field-grade guns?  When I purchased the 1300 Defender I wanted to use it for turkey hunting so I went down to my local gun store and found a 1300 12-gauge barrel for $79.  Unfortunately it wouldn’t fit on the Defender because the Defender had a longer magazine tube.  I then found a field-grade 1300 on Gunbroker for $179 and won the bid.  (I couldn’t believe no one else bid on it!)  Years later I found a complete 1300 field gun receiver also on Gunbroker that did not have a barrel.  I already had the barrel so I purchased the receiver for $150 knowing that I could sell the complete gun later.  I decided to gift this second gun to Nathan – how many of us received our first gun as a gift from a father, uncle, or mentor – but I wanted to prepare it for him for duck hunting by adding camouflage.  There are a number of methods to camouflage a gun; some good and others not so good:





Easy to apply, stencils are available for more realistic patterns, protects from rust and corrosion

Permanent, not realistic pattern, can be messy to apply, any rust left on the gun will continue to corrode under the paint

Slip-on/wrap around cover

Not permanent, various patterns, easy to apply and remove

Can get in the way of moving parts, sights, and ejection ports


Easy to apply, fits to the form of the gun, not permanent, can be replaced with different realistic patterns depending on hunting environment

Leaves sticky residue

Heat-shrink wrap

Not permanent, uses heat to shrink the wrapping to fit shape of gun, realistic patterns, can be replaced with different patterns

Time-consuming to remove, does not protect metal parts from rust if left on



I painted a camouflage pattern on a synthetic stock for my M1A.  I made my own stencils to get the pattern I wanted and used camouflage spray paint I bought at the hardware store.  It came out looking pretty good, although somewhat WWII-ish, but that convinced me that painting my own pattern was not the way to go.  Watch the move Shooter with Mark Wahlberg and notice how he uses camouflage paint and natural leaves and sticks as stencils to apply a camouflage pattern to a sniper rifle. 

(Photo courtesy StumpJumper) and StumpJumper have great articles for painting a reed pattern onto a shotgun.  Stump has graciously allowed me to publish his instructions; refer to my article DIY Camouflage for a Shotgun.

A very popular method for adding camouflage to a gun is using hydrographics, sometimes called liquid printing, water printing, or water transfer imaging.  Many firearms manufacturers are using this method to enhance their factory guns.  A film is produced by printing a camouflage pattern onto a water-soluble backing.  A piece of film is cut to the desired size and placed into a tank of water which causes the backing to dissolve leaving the pattern floating on top of the water.  A chemical activator is sprayed onto the pattern which causes the ink to turn to liquid, then the prepared part is dipped into the liquefied pattern causing it to wrap itself around the part.  After the now camouflaged part is dried it is coated with a clear coat to protect the finish.  This camouflage method is permanent, but the patterns are very realistic, and the clear coat protects the gun so you never have to keep the outside oiled or worry about rust.  One major advantage to this method is that you are not limited to camouflage patterns.  I’ve seen guns finished with skulls, flames, carbon fiber, wood grain, pretty much any pattern you can think of.


My first Winchester 1300 field gun I sent away to Bell and Carlson to have them apply a Realtree® Hardwoods Green hydrographics camouflage pattern for turkey hunting.  The gun came out beautifully as you can see from the above photo.  I sent them the gun complete with scope mount and scope and they coated everything.  Unfortunately they no longer offer this service.  Being an amateur gunsmith and willing to try and learn new things I thought if I could get the materials I could probably do this myself.


I did some research on the Internet and found a company that sells a do-it-yourself hydrographics kit called MyDipKit.  They have many different patterns to choose from including 58 camouflage patterns.  The complete kit comes with four spray cans; primer, base coat color, activator, and clear coat finish, latex gloves, a brown coarse scrub pad, mask, and a sheet of the pattern film.  They have three different kits to choose from; I chose the “designer” kit which comes with 2.5 square meters of film.  This provided plenty of film to cover the gun and enough to practice, learn, and make mistakes. 

(Pattern courtesy MyDipKit)

For ducking hunting in a marsh environment I chose the Vzion Outdoors® Boggy Vision ® pattern shown in the figure above.  I chose this pattern because duck hunting usually takes place in a marshland environment.  If you look closely at the above pattern you can see there is a right-side-up, which meant I couldn’t cover both sides of a part with one dip because one side would have the pattern upside down.  Would ducks notice the difference…of course not, but I would, so that meant I would have to do half of each part at a time. 

Disassembling the Gun

First I completely disassembled the gun into the major components I planned to dip.  The magazine tube will be masked off since it will not receive any camouflage.  The ring at the bottom right is the slide arm cap.  This cap holds the fore end onto the slide arm extension.

Cutting the Film


I then cut out the sheets I needed to cover each part of the gun.  There needed to be enough film to cover the piece with some leftover.  Per the instructions I used masking tape to create a frame, then cut out around the frame.  I put a piece of white poster board behind the film when laying it out for cutting to make it easier to see.  My cutting table is brown which made the film very difficult to see; it is camouflage after all!  The film was not wide enough to cover the entire barrel so I laid the barrel onto the film at an angle so I could cut one long piece.

Practicing and Learning
So now I had a lot film leftover, so I cut some 4x4 squares to use for practice.  MyDipKit has a number of excellent videos that I studied thoroughly before attempting this project.  I also did a search on YouTube for “hydrographics” and found many helpful videos there.  The last thing I wanted to do was mess up Nathan’s gun so I performed some practice dips.  MyDipKit sells some plastic forms for testing and displaying your work, but I didn’t want to spend the $25, so I decided to perfect my skills using empty cat food cans.  These cans are small and round which gave me plenty of opportunity to practice; and besides they were free!

A quick trip to Walmart got me a large plastic storage bin, masking tape – both 0.7” and 1.4” wide, and some Play-Doh.  The storage bin was a Sterilite® 41-quart under-bed box model #1860 that measured 36” x 17” x 6”.  Although it is only 6-inches deep, because I’m doing only half of a part at a time it should be ok to use for my dipping tank.

The process was pretty straight forward:


Step 1.  Prepare the Part

a.  Clean thoroughly and remove any grease and oil

b.  Mask off any areas not to be covered.

c.  Scuff with the included scrub pad.  This will remove any finish and allow the primer paint to stick.  .  The blued parts I scuffed with 120-grit sand paper, then degreased with acetone.  The smooth areas of the wood I sanded with 220-grit sand paper but I did not touch the checkering.

d.  Spray with a light coat of the included gray primer and allow to dry for 1 to 2 hours.  Apply the base coat of paint within 24 hours.

e.  Lightly scuff and apply the base coat of spray paint.  Multiple light coats are better than one heavy coat which could run.  Allow to dry for 1 to 2 hours.

f.   Make sure you have some method of holding the part for dipping that won’t interfere with the surface to be covered.  For large, square items like plastic lids you can install a masking-tape handle on the inside.  Different sizes of wooden dowel make great handles.

Step 2.  Set Up the Dipping Container

a.  The dipping container should be large enough to allow the film to expand, and deep enough to submerge the entire part.  There should be about one inch of space around the film.  It is important that the film be allowed to expand, otherwise you will get air bubbles.

b.  Fill the container with lukewarm water until it is about one-inch below the top.  The water should be between 70 and 80 degrees; measure with a cooking thermometer.

c.  If the container is larger than the film piece, add a masking-tape border to the top of the water about one-inch larger than the film.  Use a piece of paper cut to the same size as the film to create the border.

Step 3.  Prepare the Film – The film has a water-soluble backing so do not get the film wet or expose to a high-humidity environment.  Keep any unused film in the shipping tube it came with.

a.  Roll out the film with the ink-side up.

b.  Lay the part to be dipped onto the film.

c.  Layout a masking tape frame onto the film leaving enough film so the part will be covered when dipped. 

d.  Cut out around the masking-tape frame

Step 4.  Processing – Here is where the fun begins and where the most problems can occur

a.  Cut slits in the masking-tape frame to allow the film to expand.  Cut each corner and the center of each side.  For long pieces cut multiple slits.  Cut completely through the tape and into the film.


b.  Holding the film by each corner and folded up like a sling, slowly immerse it into the warm water.  Do NOT get any water onto the ink side of the film or it will not stick to the part.  The film should float on top of the water.

c.  Wait 60 seconds to allow the backing to dissolve; use a timer to time accurately.


d.  Spray a thin coat of activator evenly onto the film.  The film will start to expand, but won’t expand any farther than the edges of the dipping tank or masking-tape border which you laid on top of the water.  After about 15 to 20 seconds the film will take on a glossy appearance and turn to liquid ink.  Here is where most people have problems because they either spray on too much activator, or don’t apply it evenly.


Step 5.  Immerse the Part

a.  Wear vinyl or latex gloves as the ink will get onto your hands.

b.  Hold the part at a 30-40 degree angle and slowly submerge the part into the liquid ink.  The angle will prevent air-bubbles from forming.

c.  Once the part is completely submerged give it a gentle shake to remove any excess liquid ink.  Don’t touch the sides or bottom of the tank as the liquid ink could rub off.

d.  Remove it from the water and allow it to sit for 60 to 90 seconds.


Step 6.  Rinse the Part

a.  Do not touch or rub any part that has been covered or it will come off.

b.  After the part has been dipped rinse with warm or hot running water until the covered part is no longer glossy in appearance.

c.  The part must be completely free of any residue left from the printing process, otherwise the clear-coat finish will not adhere properly.  Any area that still appears glossy can be re-rinsed.

d.  Allow to air dry thoroughly, although I found a hair dryer helps to speed up the drying process.

Step 7.  Apply Top Coat

a.  Apply the included clear-coat finish.  Spray with light, even passes.

b.  Apply multiple thin coats to achieve the desired appearance.

c.  Allow to dry before using.  Clear coat finishes harden over time and should be completely cured after about 14 days.


Following the above process I first removed the excess glue from the can where the label was attached.  I used some acetone which also removed much of the paint.  I then sprayed the can with the gray primer and let it dry for 1 hour.  After the primer dried I sprayed the can with the tan base coat.  Although the can said tan, it was very light, more of a beige.  This base coat provides the background color where the pattern would otherwise be clear.  By changing the color of the base coat you can change the color of the pattern.  MyDipKit doesn’t sell a green paint, but their instructions state that a good quality automotive paint will work.  Someday I will purchase some green automotive touch-up spray paint and try this pattern with green just to see how it looks.


I “borrowed” one of my wife’s small storage bins and used it as a dipping tank.  I followed the process for my test can and I was very impressed with the result as you can see from the photo.


Ok, that came out pretty good.  Now I wanted to try it with a small part.  I decided to try it with the magazine end cap.  I screwed the cap onto a wooded dowel to use as a painting/dipping tool.  The dowel also prevented overspray and film from getting inside the cap.  After spraying with primer and base coat I scratched off a mark so I would know where the top of the cap was after tightening it on the gun.  I prepared the film as before and dipped the prepared cap.  As you can see from the above photo it came out very nice once again.  I discovered through trial and error that if the piece of film is too large it will build up on the part.  However, it won’t stick to itself so the excess comes right off during the rinsing process.


I decided to completely assemble the slide arm in order to get a contiguous pattern on both the wooden forearm and slide arm cap.  I masked the slide arms and top of the slide arm tube with masking tape, and used a wooden dowel covered with masking tape to fill the front hole.  The dowel allows me to hold the assembly while dipping.  I had to dip the slide arm assembly twice because it didn’t cover the top edges the first time.  The second time I dipped it half-way into the ink then rolled it to cover the other half.  This ensured everything was completely covered.


As stated before I masked and covered half of the butt stock and receiver at a time because I didn’t want half of the pattern to be upside down.  The results are shown in the above photo. 


The barrel presented a little bit more of a challenge.  Since the film was not wide enough to cover the barrel in one piece, I laid the barrel on the film at an angle and cut out the piece I needed.  That left a lot of wasted film on the corners of the diagonal cut. 

I removed the fiber-optic bead, plugged the barrel with a tapered wooden dowel, and plugged the chamber with a cork.  I used masking tape to mask off the end of the choke tube and the end of the barrel where it fit into the receiver.  The masking tape also helped hold the dowel and cork in place.  I then went over the barrel with 120-grit sand paper, then cleaned it with acetone to remove all grease and sanding residue.


When the film was ready I dipped the right side of the barrel half-way into the film, then rotated it to the left side and finished dipping.  I took the barrel outside and used my garden hose to rinse it off.  Unfortunately I had some gaps on the right side, probably because I didn’t move the barrel at the same time that I rotated it.  Still, it came out pretty good.


Here is the finished shotgun ready for duck season.  This was my first attempt at hydrographics so it’s not perfect, but as my friend Chilli Ron said, it's a tool for hunting, not a work of art!  Happy birthday Nathan.



   © Copyright 2014 Roy Seifert.