Color Me Camo: DIY Custom Camo Paint Your Kayak

by • April 19, 2017 • How-To's, Kayak Rigging How-To’sComments (5)8330

A DIY Custom Camo Paint how to for your kayak. Its simple, fun, and you get to create your own signature kayak.

So for years I have been a big fan of bright solid colors or mixed bright colors for kayaks. Mostly for visibility and personal taste. During this past (2016) summer I was demoing a Wilderness Systems Tarpon 130X in the Sonar color which is a bright green and black mix. This combination produces a fairly natural looking vegetation appearance.

During my adventures in this fishing machine I experienced something I have not seen in any of my other kayaks over the last 12 years. On three different occasions I had fish pull up under the kayak to use it as cover. They didn’t pass under but stayed under it until I moved. And strangely enough it was three different species, bass, gar, and mud fish. In all three events I was drifting a shore line in one to two feet of water where I had not been moving for a while.

Meaning no paddling or casting. I do this frequently looking for movement or taking a break. All three occurred on the upper reaches of the Withlacoochee River where masses of floating vegetation are an everyday occurrence. I tried to coax the bass who was in the 5 lb range into free meal but he wasn’t interested. The mudfish was a different matter. He came out with a vengeance smacking the bottom of the yak in his rush to be first in line and on the line.  Boat side battle royal ensued with a win and release.

After that I started to experiment a bit. I would pick a stretch where I knew fish were hanging out and drift through without paddling or casting. If the fish moved at all it would be in an unhurried fashion. Granted you can certainly get much closer to fish in a kayak than any other platform out there. But there is a dramatic difference here with how they reacted to the kayak. Especially a sold color kayak like those I have paddled in the past. Their typical reaction is to bolt at high speed or at least swim away once you get too close with the solid colors. This is opening up some very interesting possibilities.

Over my years of circling the sun I have seen lots of camouflaged boats and kayaks but they were primarily focused on hunting from the boats. Wilderness has the Tarpon 120 Ultralite with a RealTree AP Camo top color which doesn’t extend below the water line. But does show that type of detail is possible.

So after selling my Wilderness Systems ATAK 140 and picking up a sand colored 2013 Tarpon 160 I decided to lay down my own hull camo paint work. I did a lot of research prior with quite a few valuable tips coming from Jeff Little Wilderness Systems Pro staffer. Jeff has done several of his boats in military style camo art. I love the Kryptec camo style that Huk Gear uses and decided to replicate that on my hull.

This process got my wife Jodi’s creative side fired up and she went to work on her Tarpon 120. She has an artistic touch turning it into a show of her personality. Not my taste but still looks damn good. She used Krylon Fusion spray paints which are designed to adhere to plastics with a bit of light sanding. She sprayed the paint onto some sponges and then dabbed that onto the hull. Very unique look that got a lot of attention at the Inshore Extreme Challenge this past weekend.

For mine I used the same paint but in their full camo flat colors of green, black, gray, and khaki. The 160’s base color is sand so it did not need to be covered with a base coat. I sanded the whole lower hull with a 6” Ridgid DA sander using 220 grit paper. Your not trying to remove layers here only scuff up the surface to help the paint stay. The two channels I did by hand with the same paper.

After all the sanding was done the hull was washed and allowed to dry. I then wiped down the sanded area with Acetone to make sure no oils were present. Next came masking off the areas where no paint was desired.

Now came the big question, how to lay down the pattern I wanted. While layers where the obvious answer the question was how and where to start. My first thought was doing stencils. Dollar Store had some poster board heavy paper for a dollar a piece (imagine that a dollar a piece at the Dollar Store). Cut out some camo patterns and went to work. I sprayed a base coat of each different color and let it dry. Now to create the pattern I used rubber hex netting from two old landing nets that I bought at Wally World several years ago. I cut the netting so it would lay flat. I then laid the netting over the top of the stencil and sprayed the next color. While I got the pattern I was looking for I did not like the overly defined edges the stencils created.

So now the change up, I picked different colors and started spraying random patches all over the hull. Then I went back laying the netting over those areas and sprayed different colors over those. While doing this I varied the angles and distance of the spray which helped to create soft areas and very defined detail accordingly. After removing the netting I went back over areas that had to much of one color with a different color to help break it up and add to the 3D effect. I also found stacking the netting on top of each other but so the mesh didn’t line up created a very unique 3D effect. You can apply the technique with any combination of colors to have your own signature kayak or go with the basic camo colors for more realism. Because of the nature of the design and application covering up scratches that are bound to happen over time is super easy. You don’t have to match anything just lay down some more layers.

This whole process was very easy and a lot of fun. I am very pleased with the current version. Now the true test will be to see what the fish think of it. So get busy and see what you can come up with. If you do post some pics here to share your designs. You may become the next Picasso of the kayak world and find the fish lining up to hang under your art work.


The current rendition, I will be adding more green areas to it but ran out of time before the Inshore Extreme Challenge Tournament.

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5 Responses to Color Me Camo: DIY Custom Camo Paint Your Kayak

  1. Craig says:

    They both look great but the camo one you did looks awesome! How is. The paint holding up? Is it coming off from the water? Does it scratch easily? I’m buying a fishing yak but it’s used so I’m stuck with day glow green color, I figured I’d get some different shades of green and blues and do a blue / green camo. I’m not planning on doing the whole thing, I’m thinking a few light counts here and there’s just to break up the green color, I’m hoping this fusion paint sticks well. What’s funny to me is, I have noticed that when I paint something I want to stay painted, no matter how I prep it, the paint never lasts but, get some overspray on something out don’t want painted and it will not come off without some gas or carb cleaner and a rag… lol thanks!

    • Thank you Craig we had a great time doing them. The water has no effect on the paint. Tree stumps, oyster shoals, and beach sand do knock some off but that cant be avoided unless you pamper your yak which we do not. But the scratches just add more character IMO. I hope my instruction help you get what you are looking for. And the best part of this process is if you dont like it or get to many scratches just paint over it. Good luck and tight lines.

      • craig says:

        Cool … Yeah Im not to worried if the bottom scratches up, Just the sides and top…lol and Like you said, i can just hit it again. I just didnt know how the paint would hold up since its not really plastic… Its like the fenders on my old Yamaha Trike… its that weird plastic that gets dirty and stained yet, paint doesnt stick to it well…lol I was wondering if heating it up with a heat gun first may make the paint sort of, “stain” it so it doesnt scratch off as easily? I know for the ATV fenders, when they start getting old and scratched up and sun bleached, alot of guys will heat them up with a heat gun and then “Scrape” them with a razor blade and they come out looking pretty good if done correctly… I guess that would repair any deeper scratches? lol well, thanks for the Write up! I will give it a go and write back on how it turns out!

  2. Sam says:

    hey! A year later, how does the DIY paint job look? Wanna do some painting on my Hobie, but worried the paint will come right off… fingers crossed!

    • Sam it has held up extremely well on both yaks. My wife’s has fared just a touch better as she put a clear coat on hers which I would strongly recommend doing. Only areas that have shown any wear is the center line keel from dragging over oyster shoals. So get to painting and send us pics of the finished product.

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