All too often, we purchase a firearm with (sometimes) not the sights for our needs. Most often, the rear sight is a single bar, an outline, two dots, or a simple V-notch. The front sight may consist of a dot, a colored insert, an interchangeable Tru-Glo fiber arrangement, or no indicator at all aside from a serrated ramp to deflect glare.
The aftermarket for sights is tremendous and includes everything from interchangeable fiber-optic arrangements, trijicon night sights, pyramid sights, high-visibility sights, laser sights, red-dot tubular and open view sights, and scopes. Ruger offers replacement sights for their GP100 and Redhawk series of revolvers. Sights made from plastic or metal and in different configurations to satisfy the shooter’s requirements are commonplace. Some firearms (e.g., hunting rifles and pistols) do not even come equipped with sights; the choice of sighting system is up to you. Most defensive firearms; however, do come with a set of sets; front and rear (although the rear may be a simple notch in the frame of the gun).
You can purchase optional sights with very little investment or expend hundreds of dollars to find just that right sight for you and your applications. Some you may be able to install yourself while others will require the services of a gunsmith. That is not the point of this piece, however. This article takes aim at those who believe in taking things in their own hands and paint their own pretty sight picture.
I own several pistols that use the outlined rear sight with a dot front sight as well as those with 3-dot sighting systems. In all cases, the dot-style front sight is white and has become useless over time through every-day wear or just age. Like me at times, the sights need some refreshing to keep things in perspective.
Primarily, the choice of colors are limited to white, red, green, and yellow with red being the most popular, it seems – at long as the target that you are shooting at is not red. For defensive use, I lean toward red – fluorescent red to be exact.
As it is, I have an old Norinco “Model of the 1911A1” whose white 3-dot sights have deteriorated to the point of uselessness. I decided rather than investing in a custom set of sights that would require a gunsmith to install, I would simply re-paint the sight in a scheme of my own inclination.
Determining the color for the front/rear sight rendered yellow for the rear dots and red for the front sight dot. Although you may paint a pistol sight any color, bright red, yellow and white are best for enhancing visibility. I prefer fluorescent colors as they show up nicely under low light conditions. If you are one that is color-vision deficient, your choice of colors may differ from mine with yellow being the predominate color being used. Testors Model and Hobby have a nice set of fluorescent paints (Ultra-Bright Fluorescent Hobby & Craft Paint Kit) made with Ultra-Bright DAY GLO Pigments.
Another source for sight paint is Bright Sights. I would suggest reading the reviews before you make a decision and whether this is a viable option for you. With that said, remember that preparation is the key to success.
Initially, and for this project, I am using the Fluorescent Yellow for the rear sight dots and Fluorescent Green for the front sight dot. The color scheme is just enough to give the contrast that I am looking for and because the eyes are more receptive to green light, I hope to gain better visual acuity at lower light levels than with red.
Note that I do not have any color-vision deficiency. For a person with a color-vision deficiency, the choice of colors may be different. Those that have protanopia or deuteranopia could also use this color scheme, as all dots would be yellow to the viewer. For a person with tritanopia, the dots would appear as a very light shade of pink to almost white.
If you decide, as I have, to attempt painting your own 3-dot sights, you will need a few things.
- A clean, well-lit, and well-ventilated workspace
- Alcohol Prep Pads (optional)
- Toothpicks (round)
- Cotton swabs
- Denatured Alcohol or Acetone (nail polish remover)
- Padded Clamps or gun vise
As the sights found on my project pistol, one of the most common front sights found on pistols is the simple dot. An indent (cup) holds the paint for the sight. If the sight that you are painting is already painted white, you are halfway home, as the white will serve as a primer. If not, you will need to paint them a flat white to act as a primer and which allows the new-painted colors to stand out.
Regardless, ensure that the firearm is unloaded before you attempt any work on the firearm.
Although you do not have to field strip a pistol to paint the sights, field stripping helps in supporting the slide during the sight painting process. Follow procedures found in the firearm’s manual for specific fieldstripping procedures.
- Do not paint over a bare, unprimed pistol sight, or the paint will peel.
- Do not use an ordinary oil-based or acrylic latex primer on a pistol sight; the finish will fail.
If you have a padded gun vise, the vice can secure the pistol’s slide for painting. For pistol slides, I simply use an expandable, adjustable-jaws vise found at any big-box DIY stores and which allows me to secure it to the workbench through a vacuum clamping system. The jaws have a rubber covering that will prevent damage to the slide.
For my project, I laid out a series of steps that I needed to follow. The following is a modified version for those who would like to take on the endeavor of painting your 3-dot sighting system.
- Prepare a clean, well-ventilated, and well-lit workspace.
2. With a cotton swab dipped in alcohol, clean the sights to be painted thoroughly, using just enough pressure to get any dirt and oil from the sight cup; Remove any contaminants that will prevent the paint from adhering to the surface that is to be painted.
3. After cleaning the sights, allow the sights thoroughly dry.
4. While the sights are drying, thoroughly mix the paints that you will use. Close the paint jars after mixing to prevent accidental spillage.
5. Secure the slide assembly in a padded gun vice or clamp so that the sights are as level as possible. This may mean that you may have to cant the slide slightly to the rear, as some sights are sloped.
6. Open the bottle of paint that you are going to use for the rear sight.
7. Dip the end of the toothpick slightly into the paint. If you are using round toothpick either end may be used. For flat toothpicks, use the narrow end.
You will not need a lot of paint. The idea is to build up the sight cup with a little bit of paint at a time and not allow the paint to overflow.
8. Dip the end of the toothpick just into the paint and then remove it. If you hold the toothpick down, you will see the paint accumulate at the tip of the toothpick, as gravity does its work. You can roll the painted end of the toothpick against the paint jar to remove excess paint. Using the toothpick, place a dot of paint in the center of the sight cup that is to be painted. You can do this as well with the second cup; working back and forth until paint fills both cups equally with paint.
9. Let dry for a few minutes and then repeat the previous step, if necessary.
If you are satisfied with the painting effort at this time, close the paint bottle and discard the toothpick. If either cup is too full, take a new toothpick and place it in the center of the sight dot. Paint will flow onto the toothpick.
There may be what looks like a glaze around the dots. This is normal and can be removed as follows:
- Open the jar of paint thinner.
- Stick an unpainted toothpick in the jar of paint thinner. This will saturate the toothpick with thinner.
- While rolling the toothpick in your hand, swab around the painted area.
- Repeat Step 3, as necessary; gradually removing any residue and the newly painted dot will be as sharp as it can be.
10. Open the paint jar that you are using for the dot on the front sight.
11. Stir the paint until the paint is completely mixed.
12. As you did in a previous step, dip the end of the toothpick slightly into the paint. If you are using round toothpick either end may be used. For flat toothpicks, use the narrow end.
You will not need a lot of paint. The idea is to build up the sight cup a little bit of paint at a time and not allow the paint to overflow.
13. Place a dot of paint in the center of the sight cup. Repeat, as necessary, to fill the front sight’s dot cup.
Note: If the sight cups were already painted white, use just enough paint to cover the white. The sight cup is usually convex and the paint will draw towards the center of the dot.
14. If you are satisfied with the painting effort at this time, close the paint bottle and discard the toothpick. If the front sight cup is too full, you can take a new toothpick and place it in the center of the sight dot. Paint will flow onto the toothpick.
15. Once satisfied, allow the paint to cure for at least 4 hours. However, overnight is preferable.
Once the paint has fully dried, inspect your work. In most cases, the sights are going to have a professional look to them and you will notice the difference right away from your old sights.
If you do not like the color or the way the work turned out, simply use a cotton swab soaked in paint thinner to clean out the sight cups and then start anew with a different, or the same, color.
The enamel paint used to paint the sights, although durable, will not stand up to strong chemicals used for gun cleaning. Avoid cleaning around the sight area with gun cleaning chemicals. Some who re-paint their sights put a dab of clear paint or clear fingernail polish over the painted sight. Some DYI sight painting jobs can last a year. Most often, a touch-up at some point in time will be necessary. Most painting attempts fail due to the improper preparation of the surface to be painted.
You may have noticed in the finished project that the front sight is fluorescent red. After looking at the project upon completion, I decided that red was a better color due to the very small front sight dot, as it gave the sights more contrast. What were a worn out set of sights is now, at least, usable again on this combat handgun. In addition, the improperly drilled-out right dot was out of alignment with the left dot. What can you expect out of a pistol that was $250 at the time? With that said, this gun has turned out to be a performer above my expectations with few modifications.
I will probably change out the rear sight at some point, possibly with a XS 24/7 Express Sights arrangement (if I can find one for this gun); my little paint job will suffice in the meantime.