Powder coating has been around for decades and is used in a wide range of applications. Ceramic coatings like cerakote were originally developed for the aerospace industry but are now being used on other types of products.
If you’re reading this, you may be deciding between cerakote and powder coat for your gun. But which one should you choose? Let’s learn more about these coating options before discussing how you can decide between them.
What Is Cerakote?
Cerakote is a ceramic finish that can be applied to metal and plastics. It can increase wear resistance, corrosion resistance, chemical resistance, and hardness. The coating is generally used on gun barrels, muzzle breaks and suppressors. Thinner coatings of the material may be used on knives, industrial valves and personal firearms.
What is Powder Coating?
The term powder coating refers to a dry finishing process. Powder coatings are generally fast and almost always efficient compared to spray-on coatings. They can be used for protective and decorative finishes. Powder coatings may be sprayed on the gun and then baked on to create a solid coating.
What Are the Benefits of Applying Cerakote to Guns?
While both powder coating and cerakote require heat, powder coating requires more heat than cerakote. That makes cerakote the better option for historic guns and those concerned about the environmental impact of the manufacturing process.
Yet you’ll be told not to coat any gun made before 1950, if the goal is to preserve its value as a collectible.
Cerakote is thinner. It generally requires a single thin coat to protect the gun. When it is done by a professional, the coating is just one to two mills thick. Powder coatings are thicker, especially to get the same effect as Cerakote.
This makes cerakote ideal for guns you plan on putting through the paces. And it means that you could coat inner components that would be unable to function if you powder coated them.
Cerakote lasts a lot longer than traditional bluing of guns. That’s especially true of sharp corners where the coating is prone to rub off, since it is hard to coat corners. This can be a selling point if your end goal is camouflaging the gun.
You can have cerakote painted onto a gun like paint and then baked on to create a very hard coating. This is why you can have zebra stripes or brown and green camouflage patterns on a gun when you use Cerakote.
Cerakoting gives you a much more consistent color than anodizing, too. In contrast, it can be challenging to get the same effect from powder coating. Powder coatings work better when you’re having the entire piece made the same color.
Cerakote has incredible heat tolerance. It can tolerate temperatures of up to 1800�F without discoloration or distortion. And it is UV stable. Cerakote has high resistance to chemicals, too, though that matters more in the automotive industry.
Don’t try to use automotive versions of Cerakote on a gun. There are versions of it that act as a thermal barrier rather than containing heat. That improves the efficiency of combustion chambers and external turbo housings on cars.
What Are the Downsides of Using Cerakote on Guns?
Cerakote’s website says that their most advanced cerakote coatings are only available to the military and law enforcement. And Cerakote is so difficult to apply that you really can’t do it at home, while you could in theory powder coat a gun.
You could certainly try to blue a gun, and that’s less prone to cause long-term problems because you can remove it or touch up certain areas.
You cannot Cerakote plastic. The temperatures required to cure it are higher than what plastics can handle. This doesn’t mean you can’t cerakote the metal pieces of a gun separately.
Yet this will force you to buy special paints for the plastic parts of the gun so that they match the cerakote colors. Cerakote cannot be used on flexible materials.
If you don’t like the color of the cerakote coloring, you have to put another layer of another color on top of it. That is expensive, and it adds to the thickness of the coating, though it isn’t as bad as when you’re applying multiple powder coats.
What Are the Benefits of Powder Coating Guns?
As we previously mentioned, high-end Cerakote is not available on the civilian market. In theory, you can apply lower end Cerakote at home and apply it. However, powder coating is more readily available, since powder coating is done to toilet partitions and car bodies.
The thickness of powder coating can be a plus when you have a surface that is continuously roughed up or scratched up. That’s why automotive frames are often powder coated though cerakote would theoretically be better.
Powder coatings give you more choice regarding the finish, whether you want a smooth slick or gritty feel.
What Are the Downsides of Power Coating Guns?
There are downsides to powder coating. Guns have tight tolerances, and power coatings can be uneven. That can cause problems with the gun. Coatings are easy to apply to the outside surface but difficult to get on inside surfaces like the muzzle of a gun.
Powder coating is messy to apply. Once applied, it can peel, chip and flake like paint.
Powder coating of guns is certainly an option. We’ve mentioned the thicker coating it creates. In order to get an even coating that won’t interfere in the gun’s tight tolerances, you end up paying more in labor due to the additional prep work.
This can result in the powder coating job being comparable in cost to cerakote, once you take labor into account.
Powder coatings are not as good at resisting stains, oil, grease and other chemicals.
Observations about Gun Coatings
Cerakote is available in many different colors, though powder coatings may be available in even more. Yet you get a paintable finish with Cerakote; this may not be an option with powder coatings, though that depends on the type of powder coating you choose.
On the other hand, Cerakote does not bind to the metal at a molecular level. There are coatings like electroless nickel with Teflon mixed in that will bind to the metal. It won’t scrape off, and you can wipe off carbon fouling. This high-end coatings are rare, because they cost more than Cerakote.
Both Cerakote and powder coat can completely cover stamped markings on a gun. Be careful before you have the gun coating, unless key information like your gun manufacturer’s information or gun trust info are still visible on the gun.
This is less of an issue if the information is engraved rather than stamped. You don’t have this problem if the gun isn’t registered and tracked by the ATF.
Cerakote Vs Powder Coat: Which One Should You Choose?
Do you want to paint your gun but have a coating that’s more durable than paint? Either powder coat or cerakote will work.
Do you want to protect the gun from corrosion? Either powder coat or cerakote will work.
Do you want the equivalent to a paint job that is far better at resisting chipping and extreme heat? Powder coating and cerakote both do the job.
Do you want to have a customized, multi-colored paint job that is almost as durable as the metal itself? Cerakote wins, when it is done by a pro. The results will be terrible if you try it on your own, because mixing it, using the hardener and spraying it evenly are very hard to do.
Do you want the gun to be a single color? Powder coating may be a better choice, unless performance or the gun materials themselves are an issue.
Do you have a mostly plastic gun? Powder coating is the better choice. All it has to do is survive the high temperature of the oven, and gun-compatible plastics generally can.
Does your gun’s muzzle get insanely hot? This isn’t an issue with handguns, but semi-automatic and automatic weapons can get incredibly hot if you’re letting off a volley of rounds in a short period of time. Cerakote can withstand heat levels powder coating won’t.
This is the same reason why you can’t use powder coatings on car exhaust systems. Note that this is why the cerakote vs powder coat debate truly depends on the gun you want to treat. And you can get cerakote that acts as a radiant barrier, trapping the heat inside of the gun as long as possible.
If you often shoot so many bullets that the gun itself needs to cool off, cerakote coating that limits the thermal transfer may be your best choice.
But Why Do We Want to Coat the Guns in the First Place?
Polymers are often used to make guns. The polymers can be formulated for strength and durability. More importantly, the raw material is cheaper than metal, and manufacturers save even more money when they can mold it instead of having to machine it to give it its final form.
However, plastic isn’t good enough for the hardest working gun parts. For example, the firing pin, slide, barrel and mechanical linkages to the trigger mechanism are almost always metal.
They are generally steel, since it can withstand pressures of up to 60,000 pounds per square inch. Coating these metal parts extends their life, while coating plastic makes it more durable. Almost any coating will help protect the firearm from rust and holster wear.
Parts that don’t have to be as strong can be made from other materials. This is why stocks may be made of wood or polymer. Receivers may be made from aluminum. This has the side benefit of making the gun lighter.
Coatings can be done to change the color or texture of the gun, and you’ll get a finish that won’t wash off in a heavy rain.
What Are Some Things You Need to Know about Coating Guns?
Whether you want to have the gun powder coated or covered in Cerakote, it should be done by a professional. If you’re going to have it done, have it done right.
Know that the original coating will need to be removed if the new coating, whichever you chose, is to adhere to the gun. This is another reason why amateurs shouldn’t try to coat their gun at home, while any modest artist can try painting patterns on their gun.
How Does Cerakoate Compare to Traditional Gun Protection Methods?
Bluing gives you a traditional look. However, it has mediocre corrosion protection, especially compared to cerakote. You have a limited color selection (blue to black), and you can’t apply it as a pattern.
The only point in favor of bluing a gun is that you can theoretically do it yourself to the whole gun, and it isn’t uncommon for gun owners to blue areas where the protective coating has worn off. In short, amateurs can touch up bluing but can rarely blue the whole gun themselves and get a good, clean end result.
Cerakote lasts far longer than nitriding the metal. One study found that cerakote protects against corrosion like rust 150 times longer than nitride. The main benefit of nitriding was its low cost, but that’s only at the initial application.
Cerakote has a lower life-time cost, since you don’t have to keep doing it. Furthermore, nitriding has a limited color selection, and you can’t apply it in a pattern. For example, you cannot make a gun look battle worn with nitriding, and you certainly can’t get a camo pattern out of it.
The Cerakote vs powder coat debate comes down to the type of gun, the required performance of the coating, and the desired final appearance of the gun. For most applications, powder coat is good enough while cerakote is simply the next level.
There are a few cases like heavily used machine guns and other military-grade hardware where there is no cerakote vs powder coat debate. They just use Cerakote. But for most civilians, the better question is: which service can you get in your area, and which one is in your price range?