How to Paint a Nerf Gun

So you want to paint a Nerf blaster, eh? Smashing stuff. Maybe it’s part of a cosplay, or maybe you’re just trying it for funsies? Either way, I’ll talk you through it step by step, complete with reference shots of all the internal mechanisms so you don’t have to worry about taking your own.

Here’s the mod and paintjob I’ll be walking you through – pretty cunning, don’t you think?

how to paint a nerf gun final piece

A decent paint job should take you at least a day, (paint takes time to dry after all), so I’d recommend giving yourself the weekend to work through this, or at least, complete steps one to three the night before you want to actually paint. If you’re trying to recreate a particular look or finish, have a trawl through Reddit or Pinterest for some nice reference shots that you can refer back to as you go through the process. Even if you’re winging it, it’s still a good idea to sketch out a rough plan of where each colour is going to go so you don’t have to spend time sanding paint down and starting over.

how to paint a nerf gun tutorial what was usedEverything I used in this tutorial:

  • Two flat files – one coarse, one medium grit
  • 600 weight sandpaper
  • A crossheaded screwdriver (look for one with a magnetic tip, it’ll make your life easier!)
  • Black spray paint (Citadel)
  • Metallic paint in Leadbelcher (Citadel)
  • Rub ‘n’ Buff in Pewter
  • Red paint (Citadel)
  • Satin finish spray varnish (Citadel)
  • A kabuki or fluffy brush (cheap blusher brushes are perfect for this)
  • A 0 paintbrush
  • Newspaper
  • Small jar/lidded container
  • And of course, one beautiful new Nerf Maverick

nerf maverick

Step One: Remove Decals

remove nerf logoSo the first thing to do is file off any of the Nerf branding decals, preferably whilst a beloved sci fi tv show plays in the background – (at least that’s how I’ve always done it). The trick here is to use the coarse-toothed flat file first, just to take most of the raised plastic away, then move down to the smoother flat file and then finish with the sandpaper. You want to have a nice smooth finish, so go slow and try not to dig into the plastic too aggressively as it’s easy to leave scratches or gouge marks if you’re not careful. Of course there is always an exception to the rule and sometimes if i’m weathering a blaster, I do this on purpose just to make the end finish look extra battle-torn. I’ll leave that up to you.

You’ll find it easier to do the filing whilst the blaster is still in one piece as it’s a whole lot easier to grip, so don’t be tempted to take it apart first. If you are using spray paints designed to stick to plastic (which you should be), feel free to stop filing at just the logos. If not then it’s a good idea to give the rest of the body a quick rub down to help whatever paint you are using adhere.

I tend to use paints specifically designed for model work, because they have a much finer, lighter finish. Learn from my experience and DO NOT try to use acrylics or graffiti paint, it’s far too thick. Tamiya paints are great for metallics and bold colours, whereas you can’t beat Citadel for the basic silver, white and black. Humbrol and Krylon are also good options, but tend to be harder to source.

remove nerf decals

Step Two: Disassemble the Blaster

Once you’re happy that the decals have been fully smoothed off, go ahead and remove the screws, storing them in the lidded container so they don’t end up getting lost.

Some people like to draw a little map of the blaster and place the screws in the position they came from – so if that’s your bag go right ahead.

All you really need to remember is that the silver screws are for the internals, the short black screws are for the topslide and the long black ones hold the casing together.

dissassemble nerf maverick

If you don’t want to mod the barrel, skip the next bit and just go straight into Step Three. If you too like to live dangerously, grab one of those flat files and let’s take this bad boy apart.

There’s a trick to removing the main pin from the canister: just use your flat file as a lever and apply pressure at an angle, turning everything round and levering again so you don’t end up gouging the plastic. At first it will feel like nothing is going to happen, but trust me it will, so just keep with it until the end nut pops off and rolls away somewhere annoying and hard to find.

This is all part of the fun of modding, you’ll find it again eventually – that’s why they made it bright orange.

Once you’ve rescued it from underneath the sofa and found that old coin that was also hiding from you, go ahead and remove all the screws, take the top sheath off of the barrel and remove the little spikes that hide the air restrictors.

remove nerf maverick barrel

You can throw away these springs and air restrictors, just keep those spikes. Depending on the paintjob you’ve chosen to do, you can either reassemble the whole thing and spray it, or spray the components and add any detailing work, then reassemble when it’s dry. Up to you, bud – you are the master of your modded Nerf blaster…

nerf maverick barrel

Step Three: Do the Washing Up


There’s a very fine layer of varnish on a brand new Nerf blaster that you will want to scrub off in order to help the paint bond to the plastic, and the best way of doing that is good old fashioned dish soap and a washing up sponge. So go do some washing up, for once. Just don’t let anyone see you or they’ll want you to do the pots and pans as well…

Leave everything to dry fully. If you can’t bear to leave it overnight, a hairdryer is going to be your best friend – don’t trust a simple wipe with a pot towel to have gotten everything dry. There will be drips. And you will only find said water drips after they have ruined your first coat of paint. Trust me.

wash up nerf blaster

Step Four: Base Coat

nerf blaster base coatYou’ll notice I didn’t list a primer earlier. I tend not to use one because I, like Batman, only work in blacks and greys. But if you’re doing a lighter base colour, a few light coats of white primer is a good shout. Primer or not, the method is the same: spray lots of very, very light coats with plenty of drying time in between them. You should still be able to see the base colour until maybe your third coat – that’s how light I want you to be.

My preferred method is to pick the pieces up and spray from every angle, as opposed to laying them all down flat and trying to spray from above. On your third coat, assemble sibling pieces and give them a spray together, just to double check you’ve got every nook and cranny.

Step Five: Detailing and Weathering

Now the fun begins. The joy of a Maverick is how much guttering is available to add colour to, allowing you to pull out tons of little features. So figure out a nice balanced paint job and just go to town, baby.

I always do my detailing work first and then my weathering, just so it looks a bit more authentically knocked about. I would recommend putting sibling pieces back together for any drybrushing, just so your brush strokes match up naturally. It’s too hard to take a usable photo of drybrushing, so here’s a really useful tutorial for you – the exact one that I learnt from myself, way back when!

nerf gun weathering

A note on the weathering: try not to mindlessly scrub at it and hope for the best. Also avoid symmetry wherever possible. Try to think about which areas would naturally wear off and chip away over time. Have a shufty through some reference images before you start, just to give you an idea of how used weaponry actually looks, so you can really give your paint job some authenticity.

I tend to use Rub ‘n’ Buff for large areas that I want to give a metallic texture to, as it gives a really nice natural finish and contains real metal powder. For smaller metallic areas I layer up a few different shades of the same colour to give the metal a grain – how I do this and which shades I use completely depend on the effect I’m after and are trial and error. Again, use reference shots of real metal, try some test pieces out and you’ll be fine.

Leave everything to absolutely dry. Then varnish with a few light layers, applied just as sparingly as the base coat so you don’t ruin your detail work or get any drips/shiny spots.

Step Six: Reassemble!

This can be fiddly the first time, so try to avoid the urge to blindfold and time yourself putting it all back together just because you saw it in a movie and thought it was cool. You’re not ready for that yet, Private. And besides, you’ll only end up scratching your paintwork and losing that one teensy spring that’s the key to the whole mechanism. Maybe on like your tenth, or eleventh blaster, okay? But only under supervision.

reassemble nerf maverick

Step Seven: Test Firing

Once you’re confident that every spring is back where it should be and all the internal mechanisms are back where they belong, find yourself some darts and a loved one and get to shooting. I recommend household relatives and spouses for this, but no child under the age of five – that’s just mean (unless of course they can’t defend themselves). Also, be careful shooting pets – my cats tend to shred the darts just for their own spiteful pleasure and a dog may swallow Nerf darts whole. So yeah, best to stick with loved ones. There’s nothing quite like the first shocked squeak of someone unprepared for a foam dart zinging them in the head. It’s what the whole thing’s all about.

custom nerf maverick

If you get stuck at any point or have any questions, you can always reach me for advice, tips or just general Nerf nerding out here.

Have fun, play safe and stay shiny!

bam bam buckleyAn incorrigable Nerf hoarder (and also kinda scruffy lookin’) Riven ‘Bam Bam’ Buckley has been painting up Nerf blasters for 5 years now and selling them for 2, both online and at UK comic conventions.

You can follow her work on Tumblr or Instagram or snag one for yourself at Buckley’s Boomsticks.  


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