How To Dye Your Polymer Gun Parts

How To Dye Your Polymer Gun Parts colors

Josh Wayner for TTAG

Over the last couple years I have featured a couple of AR builds here on TTAG and elsewhere that had Russian Bakelite colored stocks and mags. Some people really loved the look of them and I have subsequently found my images “borrowed” and used on social media by shameless charlatans.

Over that time I was asked just where and how I got such cool colors and I decided to write what is probably one of the largest article devoted to coloring gun parts.

How To Dye Your Polymer Gun Parts colors

The dyes the author used for this project. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

I decided to go for maximum effect and went with four colors of dye, all available at your local craft store. The brand I used was Rit. I used Sunshine Orange, Dark Brown, Pearl Grey, and Dark Green. I knew that I would get different results when dying different polymers, so I went with parts from SIG SAUER and Magpul for some consistency.

How To Dye Your Polymer Gun Parts colors

Original colors. Note the difference between SIG and Magpul earth colors. Also note at just how blinding white the SIG white frame is. It was so white it was almost impossible to photograph. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

The SIG SAUER parts I used were grip modules for the P320 and M17 pistols. I received grips in white and FDE. I also got a variety of Magpul parts from my friends at Brownells. The Magpul FDE is different from the SIG color as you will note. I had some older ‘sand’ colored mags that I also decided to dye.

In order to do this project you will need a large pot of some sort that can be put on the stove. I used a stainless steel one so that I could clean it more easily. I’d probably refrain from using an enameled version as it could possibly get stained.

How To Dye Your Polymer Gun Parts colors

Parts waiting for color. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

You will need to fill the pot enough to cover all your parts as they need to be fully submerged for even coverage. To two gallons of water I added about ½ to ¾ of each dye bottle. That’s a lot, but you need enough density of the dye in the water to ensure color saturation. I add the dye as the water comes to a boil.

The nice thing about this project is that you don’t really have to remove any metal parts. I took the buttpads off the stocks and took the magazines apart, but an argument could be made that I didn’t need to. The dye won’t take to the metal parts.

Once the water is at a boil, you can reduce the heat slightly to a simmer. The next step is to get a pair of tongs and lower your parts into the water.

How To Dye Your Polymer Gun Parts colors

Magpul FDE and Sunshine Orange makes the author’s famous Bakelite colored stocks. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

The Magpul parts take the dye almost immediately and only need to be submerged for a few minutes. If you leave your Magpul parts in too long they will keep absorbing color and become darker and darker.

Not the difference between the color of the magazine and its baseplate below. The baseplate was left in for much longer with the SIG parts because I couldn’t find it in the pot with the tongs. You can clearly see the difference between the various shades of green here on these two rifles.

How To Dye Your Polymer Gun Parts colors

Magpul OD Green is seen on the UBR stock above. The CTR, grip, and mag all are colored with Dark Green. Notice that each turned out differently. The baseplate is the same dye, just a much longer exposure. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

Once removed from the water, carefully move the parts to the sink and rinse them in warm water. The excess dye will rinse right off and you can handle the parts immediately. I just let them sit out and air dry, although you can certainly dab them dry if you wish.

The SIG parts didn’t take color very rapidly at all. In fact, I had to soak all of them for about 15-20 minutes at a low boil to achieve color saturation.

How To Dye Your Polymer Gun Parts colors

Josh Wayner for TTAG

Some odd things happened as far as color is concerned. While I was expecting the results to be slightly different than the advertised color of the dye, the SIG parts didn’t absorb color the same way as the Magpul parts. The accompanying photos illustrate this quite well.

I got colors ranging from Thanos purple to avocado green. There was no telling what was going to come out when I put the SIG parts in. They took the dye well, but they just did not turn out as expected.

How To Dye Your Polymer Gun Parts colors

SIG M17 grips. Original color is top left. Going clockwise from there is Dark Brown, Sunshine Orange, Dark Green, and Pearl Grey. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

The range of results I got from one dye color surprised me. I did not expect to come out with such a rainbow, but I did this in the name of pseudo-science which makes it all acceptable. I will probably take a longer look into the reasons why I got these colors at some point in the future.

How To Dye Your Polymer Gun Parts colors

A few years of use and thousands of rounds later and the dye still holds up just fine. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

So how well does the dye hold up on the parts? Very well, actually.

I have been using the Bakelite-colored AR-15 parts for a couple of years now and they have not faded, rubbed off, or scratched. The feed lip area of the mags show no real wear despite those being a high-activity area.

The dye penetrates the plastic pretty deeply and can’t chip. If you gouge a part deeply it can show the original color, but you really have to damage it to see that happen.

How To Dye Your Polymer Gun Parts colors

Left column, top to bottom: Dark Green, DG over Grey, Pearl Grey, and Dark Brown over Sunshine Orange.
Right column: DG over SO, Sunshine Orange, and Dark Brown (aka Thanos Special) (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

This was overall a fun project that really doesn’t take too long. My suggestion would be to buy a couple of sample parts that you don’t mind screwing up to test first. I had no idea that I would get the range of results I did and was surprised when Sunshine Orange dye came out a bright yellow.

There isn’t any going back once you dunk a part, so be careful and make sure you want to permanently alter a part before you begin your own project.

comments

  1. avatar Jon says:

    This is a thing?

  2. avatar Old Region Fan says:

    I weep for humanity !!!

    1. avatar The Crimson Pirate says:

      Don’t.
      My wife loves stuff like this. She is all about bright and girly colors on guns and parts. She is also into crafting. She would totally go for more of any gun thing if she was going to dye it pink or purple.

  3. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    Very cool Josh.
    I never would have thought of that!

  4. avatar daveinwyo says:

    Will it work on Ruger parts? i.e. LCP?

    1. avatar Nikolay Shveshkeyev says:

      Any polymer part is susceptible to dying, but for a reasonably worthwhile effect, your parts needs to be white or a *light* shade of tan, Grey, etc.

      1. avatar daveinwyo says:

        Thanks. I was hoping for deep red.
        Probably end up with pinkish/purple. Yuck

        1. avatar Someone says:

          Yeah, I like red too, but it’s hard to get it right. I just received a Boyds stock in Apple jack/black color that on the picture looked as rich as a firetruck. In reality it is much lighter, (some might even call it pinkish)/gray.

  5. avatar Pants says:

    How many times can you dye the frames before you compromise the polymer’s strength and tolerences?

    1. avatar Nikolay Shveshkeyev says:

      Well… Probably once, maybe twice. It’s got nothing to do with the Polymer… Thermoplastics will reassume their original hardness once cooled back down, and most polymers used in firearms get their mechanical strength from filler materials anyhow (like glass or cf). The real problem is more with the fact that you can really only go to darker colors once dyed and “dye remover” compounds are probably not a great idea for this kinda thing, with the results they deliver being (putting it kindly) extremely inconsistent.
      Long story short: if your part is not currently white or some kinda light grey/tan… Just skip the dye.

  6. avatar Steven Lynch says:

    What no pink!! I’m appalled, can I use some of these pics?

  7. avatar Defens says:

    Next up: Tie Dye and Batik for the creative AR hobbyist!

    I haven’t dyed any plastic parts yet, but had a lot of fun anodizing the 80% lowers and uppers I’ve built. I found somewhat similar challenges with anodizing dyes. If you bead blast the parts you’ll get reasonably similar colors. But when I stripped the factory anodizing off a YHM handguard and reanodized without sandblasting, the green I used looked very different from the upper and lower from the same gun.

    1. avatar Ed P. says:

      Hmmm. Actually not a bad idea. People are already coating their firearms various flavors of camo.

  8. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

    I’m retired and even I don’t have this much time on my hands. When firearms come in too many colors already, why bother?

  9. avatar B.D. says:

    But why?

  10. avatar John Bryan says:

    Hmmm, that low price, discounted, pink SAR B6P compact I’ve been looking just became a little more acceptable…

  11. avatar WI Patriot says:

    Introducing polymer parts to boiling water I’d be concerned about deformation…

    1. avatar Ed P. says:

      When the polymer is injection-molded the temps are well above the temp of boiling water.

  12. avatar Dan says:

    I don’t t think I’ll do this but it’s good to know it can be done and the process of how to do it.

  13. avatar Notalima says:

    Josh, I followed your instructions after the article on ammoland some time back (thanks for the reply on that, btw). My bakelite parts have turned out quite well and held up well since then.

    I too found that different makers plastics take dye differently. I was trying to dye some FDE BCM rail panel to match the bakelite I’d done on the magpul and, wow, it took ‘forever’ to take the dye and still not quite the same color.

  14. avatar ErikinTexas says:

    I have dyed an HK SL-8 stock in this manner, it turned out great. This was before I realized that HK stinks, but that is a different matter. I didn’t boil the water, but I did heat it up, probably 180° or so.

  15. avatar Alan says:

    While personal taste is obviously a matter of individual preference, why would one go to the bother?

    1. avatar Nikolay Shveshkeyev says:

      Going a bit out on a limb here, but probably for the same reason cerakoting guns is a thing. Did anyone acctually ask for the ability to cerakote their gun neon f*king pink? Seriously doubt it, but here we are.

      1. avatar The Crimson Pirate says:

        My wife.

        She totally asked for that.

        She wants a handgun cerakoted in Lisa Frank colors

    2. avatar Dale says:

      I can see the appeal of dying some magpul AK mags in Bakelite Brown. Beyond that… meh

      1. avatar Nikolay Shveshkeyev says:

        Acctually, I don’t know why I didn’t think of this earlier, but I once had a poly80 build where the holes on the jig didn’t line up with the receiver correctly and I ended up drilling them in the wrong place. Since the kits are like $180, and I had just engraved this one, I wasn’t keen on doing it yet again. So what I did was fill the incorrect holes with glass-filled nylon filament (similar to what poly80 uses) using my 3d printer’s extruder and to solve the obvious mismatch in color, I threw the thing in some extra strong, extra hot dye solution for some 30-45 minutes and problem solved. 🙂

  16. avatar Mark H says:

    Magpull used to make a color called “sand”. It was very light tan, almost white.

    Because they were so light, they take dye extremely well. If you have any still in the wrapper, they sell for a significant premium over the current Black or Dark Earth mags.

  17. avatar JB says:

    Neat neat neat! Thanks for a fun article!

  18. avatar Donttreadonme says:

    To all the naysayers, there’s nothing wrong with people wanting to customize their guns. If anything, we should be thankful that there are people that want to do this, and the more people that are into guns for whatever their reasons are, the better for all of us.

    1. avatar D.T.O.M. says:

      Donttreadonme writes ” the more people that are into guns for whatever their reasons are, the better for all of us. ”

      That is false. Read the Ohio or New Zealand shooter’s reason, or Antifa’s.

      For that matter Fudds as well (Maybe even crimson pirates wife). Just because they are “into guns” does not make them a friend.

  19. avatar Benzo says:

    Am I the only one who thought of IROC race cars? These would be good for competitions, identically prepared firearms, get a color by drawing a number, see who can really shoot. Just a thought.

  20. avatar D.T.O.M. says:

    Josh,

    Some of those colors are…not so good.

    Are there any deep blues or reds? Something that looks like Old Glory’s colors?

  21. avatar Chris says:

    And here I was, thinking Cerakote was the only option. Thanks!

  22. avatar AlanInFL says:

    Does anyone has the foliage green recipe?

    1. avatar Ed P. says:

      If I had one, I would be really be interested to see the results using a pressure-cooker. Talk about driving the dye deep. Probably reduce the “cooking” time considerably.

  23. avatar Donetrius says:

    I’ve done this with sand colored PMAGs and clear Lancers using RIT dye. The sand mags take the dye great. The Lancers not so much. Sand PMAGs are the only PMAGs I’ve used because they even take bright colors (such as banana yellow) well. I dye the mag one color and baseplate another (school colors, fraternity colors, etc). I haven’t had any issues with my dyed mags. However I only use them for fun at the range. Shooting buddies can’t hit you with the good old, “Oh I thought that was my mag.” I’m not sure what effects the heat has on the polymer so defense mags don’t get the rainbow treatment.

  24. avatar Jeff says:

    Two points:

    1. A good way to color-code magazines for quick ID.

    2. I’ve heard of “victims” falsely claiming that some poor innocent schmuck pointed his gun at them. Now if the cops ask them to describe the gun and they say a black pistol, then most of the time it will match the schmuck’s gun. But if the schmuck has a turquoise & yellow gun that the “victim” didn’t actually see, that will become pretty obvious.

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