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Painting Pmags



Magpul Industries released their PMAG (for "Polymer Magazine") several years ago and since that time they have become the magazine to have for many people.  Some shooters have even gone so far as to forswear their aluminum GI magazines in favor of the PMAG.  I was relatively late to the party, initially waiting for the release of the PMAG-compatible Ranger Plate as well as harboring my usual skepticism at the "new bright shiny object" phenomena.  However the introduction of a limited run of orange PMAGS in mid-2007 sparked my interest enough to pick up 11 of them.  I ran the orange magazines very briefly before taking a break from the AR for all of 2008 while I was shooting the AK almost exclusively.  Since 2008 is over and I've moved back to the AR my interest in the PMAGS, and specifically the ability to have them colored, has been re-piqued.  However, a custom colored order is out of the realm of possibility for me meaning that if I want my PMAGS in yellow I'd have to paint them.

In October 2008 I posted a query to "NickB", a Magpul rep that posts on the Internet forum (as well as others) regarding which brand/type of paint would work best to paint a PMAG.  My goal initially was to try maybe two types of paint on two different magazines, but was running into issues trying to order such a small quantity because the shipping was almost as much as the magazines themselves.  Nick offered to ship me out a few magazines to try out if I was willing to foot the paint bill, do the work, run the painted magazines, and make my results public.  I have been posting updates to the original thread on as things progress and will also be making updates here on this page.  Nick wound up sending me more than I bargained for in the form of 4 black and 4 tan magazines, and suggested that the tan (being lighter) would probably make the best base for any type of painting.  This allowed me to choose 4 types of paint and test each type on a different base color magazine.

A note about the finish color choice.  Obviously, since this is the color choice is self-explanatory.  There are, however, other reasons why one may wish to paint or otherwise color a PMAG.  The first, and most common, is making them stick out on a crowded range at a match or class.  Many times after a drill you'll find magazine mixed in together on the deck and most people want to get their own magazines back since you can't really trust someone else's gear.  Second is one of general visibility.  Many ranges are dirty, dusty, or have tall grass and many people take part in evening or night shoots.  Our SFDCC matches take place from 18:00 to 22:00 and I have personally lost one Surefire and one AK magazine at our matches.  Having a visible item for training purposes is a good thing in these cases, although clearly one is not going to be hiding in the woods with a bright yellow PMAG.  Which brings us to the third reason for painting, camouflage.  Painting one's rifle has become rather popular of late and there is even an article on the subject in the April issue of SWAT Magazine.  The most common reason for such painting is one of camouflage and some people wish to have the carpet match the drapes, so to speak, and paint the magazines to match the rifle.


The paints selected were all intended to be readily available brands at any Home Depot or Walmart type store.  There were some suggestions to try Norrells, or Duracoat, or other specialty gun-finishing products but I think that using a product that is available locally to almost any shooter is a better solution both in the initial application as well as the ability to touch-up or re-paint.  I also wanted to keep prep to a minimum and not get too heavily into de-greasing, sanding, etc.  Besides the potential for wear issues on the magazines this isn't intended to be a big deal.  As such the only prep was to strip the magazines, soak them briefly in denatured alcohol, and hit them with an air hose before letting them air dry for a day.

The first hurdle was purchasing all of the paint.  I wanted to try a variety of products from the very cheap to the more expensive, and several different brands.  I didn't realize that Home Depot and Lowes don't carry Krylon, so I had to brave the jungles of the local Super Walmart in order to pick up the two types of Krylon; basic and the Fusion for Plastics.  I tried to avoid this step by going with the Home Depot house brand Valspar, in part because they also had a version meant for plastics, but it turned out to be a complete waste of time (see more on this below).  In total the makes/models of paint used or attempted were:

Krylon Indoor/Outdoor in Sun Yellow

Krylon Fusion for Plastics in Sunbeam

Rust-Oleum Gloss Protective Enamel in Sunburst Yellow

Rust-Oleum Farm Equipment in John Deere Yellow

Valspar Basic Colors in Gloss Yellow

Valspar Plastic Paint in Yellow


In the interests of not wasting the actual magazines or the paint itself I chose to start with the caps that come with the PMAGs under the assumption that they are the same material and finish as the magazines themselves and that therefore whatever prep and paint worked, or didn't, on them would have the same results on the magazines.  As alluded to above in the case of the Valspar products this turned out to be a valuable step.  The process with the caps was as follows:
1) Drill holes in paint caps and magazine caps to ID the paint used later on
2) Soak in denatured alcohol
3) Blow dry with compressed air
4) Air-dry overnight
5) Spray with several coats of paint
6) Tumble in brass tumbler with corn cob media for 1 hour

The one variant in the above was the caps painted with Valspar.  The caps came out so horribly finished that I didn't even bother proceeding with them, and instead made the trek to Super Walmart to pick up the Krylon paints.  The Valspar paints were horrendously thin and would not stick to the sharp edges of the caps regardless of whether I sprayed the paint on in very thin coats or thickly.  The volume of paint coming out in the spray was also very light meaning more time spraying for a given amount of paint on the product.  I had some spare caps lying around so I used them to have a sample to tumble and finish out the process.

The tumbling proved to be pretty much inconclusive.  There was some slight wear on all the sharp edges of the caps but there didn't really appear to be any variation from one brand of paint to another or one base color magazine to another.  If I was going to try this again I would try to find a more abbraisive media to put in the tumbler.  Something like a very fine gravel would probably make more of an impression in a shorter period of time.  The one nice result of the tumbling, however, was that I knew that the paint wouldn't simply flake off from light handling.

Caps post-tumble

Krylon, cap post-tumble

Rust-Oleum, caps post-tumble

Rust-Oleum for Farm Equipment, caps post-tumble

Krylon Fusion, caps post-tumble

I followed this up with a similar process for the magazines themselves, skipping the tumbling.  That process was:
1) Strip floorplate, spring, and follower from magazine
2) Drill holes corresponding to the paint can caps to ID the paint used on each magazine
3) Soak magazine body in denatured alcohol
4) Blow dry with compressed air
5) Air-dry overnight
6) Spray with several coats of paint

I did NOT attempt to match coat-for-coat of paint across the brands.  I simply kept painting them until I felt that the base plastic color of the magazine was obscured.  I was not looking to compare how much of a given product was needed to accomplish this so I really didn't keep track of it.  Perhaps that's a test for another time.  Based on the horrendous performance of the Valspar on the magazine caps I also didn't bother using it on the magazines themselves and substituted the Krylon products listed above.  The final arrangement of identifying holes in the magazines is (followed by abbreviations I'll be using from here on out for each type, in parenthesis):
1 Hole  - Krylon Indoor/Outdoor (KIO)
2 Holes - Rust-Oleum Gloss Protective Enamel (ROGPE)
3 Holes - Rust-Oleum for Farm Equipment (ROFE)
4 Holes - Krylon Fusion for Plastics (KFP)

The original intent was to be able to use these magazines in a Trident Concepts 3-Day Carbine Operators Course in February of 2009.  The course outline called for 2,500 rounds of 5.56 over the course of the three days and the magazines would have seen an extensive workout.  Several things conspired against us, however, and the class wound up being canceled.  I am looking around the local area for a substitute to get a chance to run the magazines hard.

Now that the magazines are painted they are getting use at our monthly carbine matches and drills.  This will never be a truly scientific process as I don't have the time at these events to document total number of rounds through each magazine, or total number of speed loads, etc.  They are just getting rotated in as I can and used when I can.  If one particular magazine starts looking overly abused, or another starts looking too fresh, I'll probably make attempts to use that magazine more/less in order to even things out.  The floorplates showed signs of wear very quickly with some paint chipping off but not to the point that any one type of paint is proving to be immediately weaker than the other three.

Krylon, magazines painted

Rust-Oleum, magazines painted

Rust-Oleum for Farm Equipment, magazines painted

Krylon Fusion, magazines painted


The basic KIO wasn't a whole lot better than the Valspar in terms of leaving behind the peaks.  This resulted in the magazine bodies getting a pretty thick coating of paint, yet still retaining a bit of base color show-through on the sharp edges.  This usually indicates too thin of a paint mixture in cheaper paints.  If the final finish texture is important I would discount/avoid the Krylon Indoor/Outdoor right off the bat.  I'm going to go ahead and run the magazines and see how they wear but I consider the finish to be unacceptable.

On initial inspection of the final four types of paint used there are obvious tint/hue differences between them.  Some are glossier than others, and some are more subdued hues than others.  The ROGPE is the most "yellow" of the three and stands out from the pack because of this while the other three appear to have a bit paler tint.  The ROGPE also appears to have stood up the best to the tumbling, although this is VERY subjective and it is hard to really tell a difference between the types in terms of wear from this test.

One Year Later!

After a year of use, and thousands of rounds total through the collection of magazines, below are the photographs of how they've held up.

All eight of the test magazines


Krylon Magazines - Port Side

Krylon Magazines - Port Side

Krylon Magazines - Starboard Side

Krylon Magazines - Starboard Side


Rust-Oleum Magazines - Port Side

Rust-Oleum Magazines - Port Side

Rust-Oleum Magazines - Starboard Side

Rust-Oleum Magazines - Starboard Side


ROFE Magazines - Port Side

ROFE Magazines - Port Side

ROFE Magazines - Starboard Side

ROFE Magazines - Starboard Side


KF Magazines - Port Side

KF Magazines - Port Side

KF Magazines - Starboard Side

KF Magazines - Starboard Side


Left-Right: Krylon, Rust-Oleum, Rust-Oleum for Farm Equipment, Krylon Fusion

Direct Sunlight, Left-Right: Krylon, Rust-Oleum, Rust-Oleum for Farm Equipment, Krylon Fusion

Conclusions to Date

There does not appear to be any discernible difference in the amount of wear from one paint to another.  In some cases a tan magazine may show more wear for a particular paint than another, but then another brand shows more wear on the black magazine.  In any case since there was no attempt made to use all magazines equally, or to avoid using one over another, there is no scientific way of determining that one paint is more durable than another.  My opinion is that they all wear about the same, and the choice should be made based on the coverage and color one wants rather than a concern for long-term wear.  Since the floorplates are clearly the highest wear portion of the magazine I would skip painting them in the future.

I believe that the Rust-Oleum for Farm Equipment had the best uniform coverage and, in the case of the yellow, the highest visibility shade, however if that version is more costly than the standard Rust-Oleum I would not pay the premium as the coverage and wear between the two was nearly identical.  As stated in the early testing the Valspar brand was all but unusable, and the base brand of Krylon was not much better.  I would avoid both for use in this application.