Gun Skins: DIY Gun Wrap
I’ve been contemplating giving one of my rifles a make-over for a few months now, mainly because I’ve gotten a bit bored with my AR’s look. I also considered having my rifle professionally Cerakoted in FDE by a friend who runs a shop that provides a variety after market gun finishing. But I’ve always liked the ‘battle-worn’ look of service rifles over the clean look and was seriously considering giving it the ‘rattle-can’ treatment; (which would be fitting being an Mk18 clone build) to be honest, the only thing that was making me a bit reluctant to start bombing it with the Krylon was that it can be detrimental to the rifle’s resale value.
A quick Google search brought me to a page for a company called “Gunskins” that offers gun wraps that they claim can be easily installed yourself on most firearms. They make several pre-cut kits for several popular gun models and are made from 3M™ vinyl and includes pre-cut pieces which they claim will fit most rifles with barrels under 29″ . At a price of just under $60 for most kits and with more than 25 distinct patterns to choose from, these DIY vinyl wraps provide users with a cost effective alternative to the more costly hydro-dipping. The company also offers ‘Gearskins’ which can be used to wrap your optics, phone cases, and almost anything you can think of.
I contacted Kevin Lyon from Gun Skins about my interest in their products and about a week later a box arrived at my doorstep.
The M4/AR15 Gunskin kit consists of 17 pre-cut, and individually labelled pieces, they also sent me a matching ‘Gearskin’ which consists of an 8” x 50” sheet.
Kevin was kind enough to include a heat gun, an exacto-knife, an edging tool, 29.5ml bottle of FrogLube cleaning solvent and an extra Gearskin and Rail Kit to wrap a second rifle with.
GunSkins Install: AR15 Pre-cut Kit
(WARNING: please ensure the gun is unloaded prior to cleaning or servicing)
First, I removed my optics and other accessories making sure I noted the position of my optic on the rail. I then separated the upper from the lower receiver and removed the butt stock. Following the instructions the manufacture provided, I sprayed the upper and lower receiver liberally with the cleaning solvent and using a clean towel, wiped everything down ensuring that the surfaces are clean and free of dirt, oil and any debris. To make sure I got all the crevices and any loose particles that might be trapped in some of the nooks and crannies, I gave the gun a once over with some compressed air. The pre-cut pieces are clearly marked, and starting with the piece labeled ‘right magazine well’ I peeled the vinyl piece from the backing sheet. The pieces have a semi sticky underside that helps it adhere to the surface to the rifle while still allowing you to reposition it as needed until it is exactly where you want it. The pieces line up perfectly which makes placement very intuitive even for the inexperienced installer.
There is an intentional overlap at the front of the magwell and Gunskins recommends using a “S” cut at the seams to help with blending. Once all the pieces are in place I took the heat gun (at the lowest heat setting) to the applied sections followed by a micro fiber towel using pressing motion. The felt end of edging tool is handy to push out any of the air trapped between the gun and the vinyl. The blade end is perfect for pressing the vinyl into any of the corners such as were the rails meet. Starting on the left side of the lower receiver, followed by top receiver I worked the gun slowly in a similar manner. The upper receiver requires a bit more edging and detailing particularly at the dust cover and shell deflector area. The dustcover cut-out section consists of 4 distinct pieces, there is also a pre-cut piece for the forward assist which fits the contours of the rifle perfectly and goes on with ease. With the exception of the hole on the left side of the lower receiver for rear takedown pin there is almost no cutting required. It took me exactly 53 minutes to complete applying the Gunskin to the lower receiver and 1 hour an 20 to do the top receiver.
The pistol grip cut-outs are designed for A2 pistol grip but can be cut to conform to some larger grips like the Magul MOE or MAID grips as well.
Lastly, there is a single 16” cut out for AR15 rails which installed just as easily. The ladder-shaped cut-out, fit perfectly into the rail grooves and the in-between pieces simply drop in.
During installation, it is not abnormal to get a couple of air bubbles which are easily rectified by using the tip of the exacto-knife and poking a small hole into the air pocket and then smoothing it out with the heat gun and edging tool.
(With all the cutouts in place, I tried to put the upper and lower receiver back together but found that for some I could not seem to push the rear take-down pin in. It took a couple of minutes for me to figure out that a bit of the vinyl wrap had been missed between one of the edges of the lower receiver. Once I shave this piece off I attempted to push the takedown pin in again and it went in as normal)
The install of the whole M4 Kit took just under 3 hours and is very user friendly. I found the color and pattern (Battle Worn Coyote Brown) to be very nice, high res (read: does not look digitally pixelated) and the pattern is laid out nicely blending seamlessly with the gun’s actual color and has wear marks right where you’d imagine they would be, giving the rifle that authentic service rifle look. The attention to detail as far as the cuts of each of the vinyl pieces goes a long way in ensuring a quick and easy install even for those who have never done vinyl-wrapping before. I will give this install a 4/10 difficulty rating (10 being very difficult).
GearSkins Install: Robinson Arms XCR-L
Gun Skins also sent me one of their GearSkins intended for use on other rifles and any items that they don’t offer a pre-cut kits for. So I decided I’d try wrapping the XCR-L; I started by drawing out a rough outline of both sides of the upper and lower receiver on the back of the vinyl sheet. I used a similar process as with the M4 but as I learned, not having the pieces already pre-cut makes a huge difference in both time and effort. I found that you really need a lot of patience (and enough extra material) particularly for rifles that have a lot of detail, to achieve the same results as you would with the pre-cut kits. Also, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to always use a sharp blade and when cutting your pieces if you don’t want to end up with edges that end up looking like the handy work of rabid squirrels. Finally, If you have a gun that is not on their list of available pre-cut kits, If you are a perfectionist or are like me and have a severe case of OCD when it come to this stuff be prepared to take some time to map out how to properly cut out your patterns before hand if you want to have any kind of success with this. I will give this install a 8/10 difficulty rating.
Another thing I wondered was how well Gunskins/Gearskins held up to the elements; I recently had a chance to get out to the hills and do a bit of shooting with the XCR. I was very pleased with how well the vinyl wrap held up! Even in below zero temperatures, under some heavy snow, there was absolutely no peeling or any other signs that the weather conditions were having any negative effect on the ‘Skins what so ever!
In conclusion, there are a lot of options out there for customising the look and finish of your guns, from reusable fabric wraps, to high temperature ceramic coatings and everything in between. But if you are looking for a relatively inexpensive, non permanent solution to change the look of your gun or if you are looking to protect your gun’s finish, or perhaps you want to change your rifle’s camouflage to Kryptek Mandrake to blend into a woodland environment one weekend, and then into the Nomad to blend into an arid desert environment and then into the Yeti to blend into the snowy mountains of your next adventure then I highly recommend checking out Gunskins.
As many of our readers may already be aware; on top of helping your rifle or gear ‘blend’ in with the environment during the day, another added benefit of spray painting is that it can also reduce the objects’ IR signature. There are several manufacturers like Krylon, and Duracote that offer anti-IR specific paints that can render your rifle nearly ‘invisible’ under NODs. I was a bit curious if GunSkins offered any IR protection, so I snapped this image of the Mk18 ‘through the tube’ using the camera on my iPhone 5 (hence the poor image quality) to give you an idea of how GunSkins compares to a non-treated surface vs. a painted area. The top image was taken in a completely dark room, the lower image is the same gun, taken in the same setting but with the lights on. I have done my best to label the surfaces that have either been ‘Skinned’, painted with Krylon, or been left bare.
Note: The product(s) featured in this write-up was graciously provided by GunSkins for the purpose of review and evaluation.