Step-By-Step Sci-Fi Battle Rifle Repaint (Airsoft)

Sci-Fi Battle Rifle Repaint in 3 days or less…

Normally I like to take a bit longer on something like this, but this was done in three days, and two of those were mainly drying time. I was asked to turn this cool looking sci-fi styled Airsoft rifle (pictured at the top) into something that looked a bit more realistic, he asked me to use the Pulse Rifle from Aliens as inspiration, specifically the green/black colour scheme. We talked a bit about which bits would be green and which would be black, and how much weathering he wanted to see: “whatever you think looks good” (mawahahaha!). The stock had already been customised, so all I had to do was paint it.

Stuff you’ll need to do this:

Doing something like this can be as simple or as complex as you want really. Here’s what I used:

  • Automotive paint rattlecans (Chrome silver, Camouflage Green)
  • Matt clearcoat rattlecan
  • Masking tape (and optionally oil clay or Plasticine for areas that are really hard to mask with tape)
  • Oil paints (black and burnt umber)
  • Stiff paintbrush (I use a very cut down short bristled stiff paintbrush that came from an artist set).
  • Salt (normal kitchen salt)
  • Water, and a paintbrush for the water (I use a medium-sized model painters brush).
  • A couple of knives: I used a small snap-off blade cheap craft knife, and my pocket knife.
  • Old toothbrush, or similar nylon-bristled brush (not too stiff).
  • Cloth for wiping paint (I used a loose weave dishcloth and an offcut of a dense wool fabric)
  • OPTIONAL: A sponge or other tools/materials to dab around water.
  • OPTIONAL: Sand paper
  • OPTIONAL: Rattlecan primer spray.


Before you start – Think about the story.

When I’m doing any type of painting at all – but specifically with weathering something – I always spend a few minutes thinking about the “story” of the thing I’m painting. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Who uses this thing? How do they feel about the thing?
  • How old is it? Is it cared for, or left to rust, or something found that’s been cleaned down, or just used from necessity?
  • What’s it made from?
  • What is it used for? Has it been used properly?

And so on – Basically make up a story about the thing you’re painting. I find this really helps to decide what kinds of weathering needs to happen. I literally start talking about the thng as if the story is real, and that helps me get in the right mindset. However, whatever works for you is what you should do.

For this rifle I had a few little starting points. The colours had to be black and green. He specifically wanted it to be inspired by the Aliens Pulse Rifle, that’s basically an all-metal construction, so when the paint chips off you see silver underneath. this is the story I made up:

The story of this rifle...

This rifle is used by a space marine who has seen a lot of action. It’s been though hell and back with him and he takes good care of it, but he doesn’t shy away from using it to bash down the bug-eyes monsters if they get too close.

The Rifle is made from space-aged alloys so if it were entirely unpainted it would look like steel (this means using as a club to bash aliens in the face is viable!). The outer shell is designed to be replaced easily, the rifle itself is the inner core.

The marine takes great care of the rifle core, but once the shell gets bashed up he just ejects it and slaps on a new one. It’s currently at what the marine considers to be a respectable state, the shell is scratched and discoloured from the last campaign, but functionally fine, so it’s good to go.

It’s showing wear marks from scraping against his power armour and the paint is discoloured in places by bits of alien blood that never quite scrub off.

Base coat & Masking

NOTE: Because of the time limit, I didn’t undercoat. I’ve worked with these paints a lot and I’m familiar with the plastic on Airsoft guns so I just lightly sanded down all the areas I’d be spraying, however, I’d say always use primer if you have time!

The plan is that you want your base coat to represent the base material, because you’ll be masking that off so it shows through later on. In this case, it’s metal, so everything gets sprayed silver. On the rifle, I masked off any area that needed to stay black. If I’d had more time, I’d have done everything silver then done both the black and green sections separately and resprayed them, however due to time and the fact that the black parts needed only the very lightest weathering, I elected to use a different technique there.

Once your base colour is on, mask it off. There’s tons of ways to do this. For this, I’m using masking tape and salt. I tear off the tape making sure there’s no straight edges, and apply it in the areas where I think the piece will be the most heavily chipped.

Then, I paint on water over the top of the tape, and sprinkle on salt. In other areas I use dabs of water and sprinkle salt. Both these techniques give you a slightly different effect, and can be used in different ways. I find that water on a smooth surface wants to pull together like the T-1000 reforming, so I’ve found that laying the tape along edges gives the water something to “clump” onto. On other areas I dab the water drops with my finger, the oils on your hand, the fingerprints and the water sort of combine and you can get some cool effects, alternatively a sponge works well, anything really that gets the water down where you want it. It’s definitely worth experimenting with this technique to get exactly the effect you want. If you want to really go for it you can do multiple layers of salt and paint to build up some amazing effects, but here I’m just using one layer due to time.

In the images above you can see the process from masking, adding salt and then I’ve done a half-and half where you can see the effect after painting. You can see some areas are more feathered, and some more solid.

Brushing off and removing the masking

To brush off the salt once it’s painted I use an old toothbrush. This one in particular is great because (as you can see) I’ve used it for a lot of painting and things so it’s quite stiff. The key is to find a brush that’s stiff enough to get off the paint-covered salt but not too stiff that it’ll damage the thing you’re working on. Note here that salt is abrasive, so be careful that in scrubbing it off you don’t accidentally create your own sand paper-like effect! It’s also easier or harder to remove depending on the type of paint you’re using. This camo paint is very thick so it’s really stuck on there (that in itself is a cool effect that can work nicely for rust-like weathering).

Adding extra detail and weathering marks

Weathering is not one thing that happens once. It happens over time, builds up in layers and is in may respects a visual representation of the history of a thing. If you just do one type of weathering effect, it’s likely it won’t look “right”, even if it’s a cool effect. The best thing to do is to just look at things and see how time affects them.

You can see in the image below a comparison between the mag at the top with just the masking removed, and the mags at the bottom with extra weathering effects. Despite my crappy photography skills you can hopefully see that the mags at the bottom have more depth, they look much more ‘real’ than the ones at the top, despite the changes being relatively subtle.

To get this extra depth, you need to think about your story and what works best for this piece. I opted for general dirt, maybe it’s dried alien blood, maybe it’s grease from the mechs or power armour, maybe it’s the residue from slogging through the sludge of an alien world – whatever it is, Burnt Umber is probably what colour it’ll be.  I started by using my stiff brush to dab and push around some burnt umber oil paint into the crevices and areas where I figures dirt would build up and be harder to clean. Then I wiped most of it off with a cloth.

Different cloths will give you a different effect, and get more or less of the oil paint off. Because oil paint takes a while to dry you’ve got time here to experiment. You can add in other colours, mix new ones, etc. However, it’s incredibly hard to entirely remove it once it’s down. In this case that works great, and after a while of rubbing and adding more, rubbing it off, I reached a place that felt right, there was enough on there to add visual texture, not so much that it gets in the way of anything. I added a tiny, tiny bit of black in places too (don’t over-do the black unless you specifically want it to look like it’s been through a fire).

Another interesting side-effect of doing the masking technique is that you’ll find that your surface-level weathering will lodge in the edges of the paint, it’s very hard to see in my photos but there’s actually tiny flecks of brown in the edge between the green paint and the silver underneath, that really adds to the effect.

Lastly, not all weathering happens in order. So, there would obviously be scratches on top of the other ones, and on top of the other weathering. This is where doing layers of the masking/salt technique really looks amazing, you can drill down though layers of dirt and paint etc. However, for this piece I didn’t have the time. I did however go over certain areas with the very tip of my craft knife and VERY carefully scratched off the green paint, this gives you “micro scratches” and you’ll be surprised how effective just doing that one thing can be! With the belly of the blade of my pocket knife (hold it essentially vertically from the edge), lightly ran it along some of the areas I felt would get the most abuse – this essentially scrapes off the oil paint and leaves the ‘bare metal’ look underneath. I do this with my pocket knife simply because the blade is fatter than a craft knife so there’s less chance of it accidentally biting.

I had three mags to paint, so I decided to each one in a different stage of it’s useful life: Almost New, Moderately battle-worn and Really Battered. The techniques for the middle and right ones in the image were the same, just to a lesser degree for the middle one. For the almost new one, I didn’t do any masking, just sprayed it all green, then did the same as on the other mags as the top layer of weathering, so just used my knife to make little scratches and chip away at the paint a tiny bit. For the ‘almost new’ one I didn’t add any oil paint directly, but I did already have some black and brown on my hands from the rifle anyway, so I handled the mag heavily and some of the paint transferred as very mild smudges – perfect!

Reverse Weathering

Not really an accurate title, but it was the best I could do. For the green bits I’ve talked about how I mask off the silver base and overspray the top coat, etc. For the black bits on the gun and mags I didn’t have time for that, but they are also only very lightly weathered for the most part. So I opted to paint silver on top of the base paint.

I don’t like doing this since it’s very hard to paint an effect that looks as good as the masking technique, and if you can manage it, the paint is on-top of the base so your later weathering layers don’t always look as good either. However, in very small areas (or by necessity) it works fine.

To do this, don’t just dry brush! dry brushing is where you get a bit of paint on your brush, wipe most off and then lightly brush back and forth over your thing, the paint sticks to raised bits. It’s a great effect, really awesome, but it rarely makes good “chipped off metal” weathering because usually you need to brush side-to-side and it leaves little fuzzy edges – it’s not bad, but there’s better ways. What I do is get quite a lot of paint on my brush (I spray the chrome rattlecan paint into a plastic cup so it pools a bit and dip a brush into that) then run it sideways along the raised edge. By doing this you get a very thin, neat, line of silver on the edge and it looks almost exactly like the paint has been stripped from just that bit. If you experiment a bit, especially using a very stiff brush as the paint is drying, you can do some really cool things with it, I use a stippling technique very lightly to replicate the look of paint that’s very slightly been chipped. On the top edge of the “old” mag you can see I did drybrush, in one direction only (down, from the top of the mag) because that is a fairly good approximation of the type of weathering that would occur. See illustration below.

Dry Brushing

Painting with the edge

Painting against the edge

Scaling it up

Doing the rifle was exactly the same as the mags, just over a bigger area (and therefore harder to work on). I did one side at a time and went right up to spraying it before doing the other side to make sure I didn’t destroy hours or work by leaning on it while doing the next bit!

The key with weathering is to think a lot about where the weathering will occur and how that weathering happens.

Not all edges will get weathered, not all of those that do will be weathered the same, and not all of that weathering will be of the same type. Flat areas can be weathered by repeated rubbing, and that will look different to weathering on raised edges. Areas around screws or mounts will get worn quickly if they’re heavily used. Maybe an area is a lot less weathered because there was something over the top of it that’s recently been removed, so that’ll show up too. Maybe there was a sticker on there that got rubbed off, etc.

When you do the top layer weathering, adding paint and things, think about which bits might get missed during normal cleaning, or which bits would be discoloured and never go back to how it was originally. I added a few darker smudges on the rifle to show where maybe something happened that discoloured the actual paint, rather than being a surface-effect that could be cleaned.

The most important thing to think about is that weathering is anarchic (usually). If you’re doing mechanical weathering then you’ll have a series of repeated actions that cause the wear, but in all other cases you want to avoid uniformity.

The finished rifle. As usual, forgive my bad photos, it does look better in real life. Once all the stuff above is done, give it a coat of matt clearcoat spray. On this piece that was fine, on other things where you want a more glossy look in some areas (maybe you’ve got oil-like substances in places) you can then go over that with a brush and add gloss in those areas (or the reverse, spray it gloss then matt over certain bits), either way, make sure your thing is protected or all your hard work will chip right off via real weathering! (that’s bad).

Customer photo

Customer photo

Customer photo


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