Some thoughts on camouflage

I’ve always wondered what the good characteristics of a good camouflage pattern are. I’m no expert but here are some of my thoughts on camouflage:


I always thought camouflage tries to achieve two things:

  1. It must ‘break up’ the image of the person – the ‘dispersing effect’.  By this I mean that your shape must not be easily discernable.   Your shape is not that easily discernable and defined.  It can actually be hard to determine where your shape begins and ends. This is the ‘dispersing effect’. 
  2. It must blend in to the surroundings – the ‘blending effect’.  This is when you actually blend into the surroundings and you can’t see the person.


It seems that there are several common ‘styles’ of patterns:

‘Dispursed’ pattern. This is like British DPM, lizard camouflage, etc. It looks like they get a paintbrush and quickly made arcs randomly all over the cloth.


(British DPM – Dispersed Pattern Material)

‘Fleck’ pattern. This is similar to German flecktarn. It is made up of small circular or oblong shapes of different colors.


(German Flecktarn)

‘Blob’ pattern. This is like the old U.S. woodland camouflage or French F2 pattern. It usually has large oblong shapes of different colors. 


(U.S. woodland camouflage pattern)

‘Geometric’ pattern. This is like Swedish M90 pattern. It is made up of patterns that entail geometric shapes, often with straight lines, that may be triangular, polygonal, etc.


(Swedish M90 camouflage pattern)

‘Digital’ pattern.  This is a pattern that has square geometric edges giving it a digital or pixel-like quality.

Canadian CADPAT_digital_camouflage_pattern_(Temperate_Woodland_variant)

(Canadian digital pattern woodland camouflage)


Here are some further thoughts I have on camouflage:

  • I seem to think that the colors should not be too dark or too bright or too light.
  • I feel that having a cloth that doesn’t fade the colors is best. Faded camouflage is not effective at all.
  • I also feel that color contrast is very important too. Many patterns, for example, have shades of green and black that look the same at 15-20 feet. Without contrast a pattern isn’t effective, particularly at farther distances. I seem to think all the colors must be distinguishable at close and long distance range.
  • I think that using small details in camouflage patterns is useless. British DPM, for example, has dots along some of the edges. Digital has all the raggedy edges. What for? Who’s going to see it?
  • Along the same lines I think having shapes that are too small is useless. A good example is German flecktarn. All the little shapes are only good for a short distance. They blob together at a distance. In general, I don’t feel the ‘fleck’ pattern is a good pattern for camouflage unless it’s going to be for close range. It also has a low dispursing quality.
  • Any effective pattern should not have any “regular pattern”.  That is to say, there can not be a pattern that repeats itself or establishes any sort of a pattern to the eye.  The best example of this, I think, is Vietnamese tiger stripe camouflage.  The very name states a regular pattern. 

Vietnamese tiger stripe

(Vietnamese tiger stripe pattern)

  • I tend to think that desert camouflage is one of the hardest patterns there is to develop.  This is a number of reasons for this.  Firstly, in the desert a person is standing out in the open, often in a terrain that has few color alterations.  Because of this, a person tends to stand out more prominently.  Under these conditions, to use a dispersing pattern can make the person stand out even more.  Not only that, even though it may not seem like it, a desert has many different terrains (sand, rock, scenery with rock outcrops, grass, etc.).  To develop a pattern that will fit in all these situations would probably be almost impossible to develop.


A big part of how camouflage works it how it affects the eye.   In many ways, camouflage is meant to trick or decieve the eye.  It seems that, in regard to camouflages effects on the eye, there are three main effects:

  1. The ‘leading on’ effect.  This is where the shapes actually ‘lead’ the eye.  Its as if the eye ‘follows’ the shapes and, in so doing, gets confused of all the shapes.  The colors seem to have a direction. Putting many of these over one another has a tendency, it seems, to confuse the eye, making them unable to see where things begin and end.  In this way, it sort of tricks or deceives they eye.
  2. The ‘confusion’ effect.  This is where there are shapes that actually confuse what you’re looking at.  They do not ‘lead the eye’, typically, but the multitude of shapes become confusing to the eye.
  3. The ‘motley’ effect.  This is where there are a number of shapes and colors that create a ‘motley’ effect of shapes which tends to cause some confusion to the eye, though not as much as the ‘confusion’ effect.  In some respects this is a mild ‘confusion’ effect.

Here are some of some thoughts on these effects on camouflage patterns:

  • The ‘dispursed’ pattern, as in British DPM, is like drawing random arcs on the cloth using a paintbrush. Doing this makes the eye sort of ‘run off’ with its direction.  In this way, it sort of ‘leads the eye’ (the ‘leading on’ effect).   I would say this shape can be called the ‘free flowing’ type of pattern.
  • The ‘geometric’ pattern, it seems to me, has the best effect after the ‘dispursing’ pattern, depending on how it’s done. The straight lines running together can create a confusion to the eye similar to the ‘dispursed’ pattern.  It seems that the random straight edges might have a slight ‘leading on’ of the eye as well.  This seems more effective at a distance than up close.  We can call this the ‘confusion’ type of pattern.
  • Other patterns, such as the ‘blob’ pattern, much like the older U.S. woodland camouflage, tend to have shapes with what might be called ‘controlled’ shapes.  That is, it is defined shapes placed randomly here and there. They do not ‘lead the eye’ as they have no ‘direction’.  This effect can be referred to as the ‘controlled’ type of pattern.
  • Putting all sorts of details in the pattern, such as digital pattern, creates what, to me, can be called a ‘blurring’. At a distance it takes the shapes and blurs its edges, taking away any ‘leading the eye’ effect it may have. It also seems to take away any ‘confusing effects’ as well. It also makes the colors blur together, which can make the pattern almost useless. To me, this is one of the least effective way of doing a pattern. I call this the ‘blurring’ type of pattern.
  • Some camouflage is just a multitude of different colored shapes put together.  A good example seems to be the camouflage pattern used by the U.S. Marines in the Pacific during WWII. I call this the ‘motley’ type of pattern.  I tend to view this type as the lowest effect of camouflage.


(USMC camouflage WWII)

Overall, any pattern with various shapes and colors has some camouflage value to it. The question is how effective it is. 


Camouflage, to be effective, must blend in to the surroundings.  That is to say, it must have a ‘blending effect’.  The colors, and their shade, must match its surroundings. 

I’ve always thought that a good camouflage would have at least three color types:

  1. The lightest color.
  2. The mid-range color.
  3. The darkest color.

These give good contrast and variety in the pattern.  These colors, of course, must match the colors found in the surroundings.  In a woodland pattern the bulk of the colors should be varying shades of green.  Brown should not be used, in my opinion, unless the trunks of the tree’s, or the earth, are somehow prominent in the surroudings. 

The quantity of shapes should also match the surroundings.  I can see three scenarios:

  1. A varied environment.  That is to say, when there are many leaves, shades, and colors, such as in a jungle.  If there are many leaves then you can have many smaller shapes, reflecting the many shades and colors.   
  2. A mixed environment.  This is when there are areas with varied leaves, shades, and colors and areas where there are little, or no, varied leaves, shades, and colors.  For example, it could be an area where there are areas of tree’s and areas of bushes and areas of grassland and a person can go from one to the other at any time.
  3. A non-varied environment.  This is like a  winter, grassland, or a desert where there can be hardly any variation in color at all.

In general, in regard to the two purposes of camouflage described above (the ‘dispersing effect’ and ‘blending effect’) I see these associations with the surroundings:

  1. A varied environment.  The ‘blending effect’ is what should be sought here in camouflage.  The shapes can be small.
  2. A mixed environment.  There should be a mixture of ‘blending effect’ and ‘dispersing effect’ in the camouflage.  Because the colors and shades are more varied there should not be as many small shapes as they’d make you stand out more when you are in the open. 
  3. A non-varied environment.  I tend to see that the best camouflage here is an attempt at achieving a ‘blending effect’ as is possible.  In a desert or grassland I think that will never be achieved that effectively.  In this sense, the purpose is more to “decrease your obvious location” more than camouflage it.  A ‘dispersing effect’ will probably only make a person stand out as, in order for it to work, there will have to be contrasts in colors enough to create the ‘dispersing effect’.  This may be so pronounced that it will, in the end, make the shape of a person more obvious than not. 

I don’t see any reason why the shapes of the colors have to resemble any leaves, tree trunks, or anything else.  In the natural world, what is generally seen is a multitude of varying shapes, colors, and shades and this is what should be imitated.  The randomness of these shapes, colors, and shades also help to create a ‘dispersing effect’ as well. 


I can see that a big, and difficult, aspect of camouflage design is the color. I don’t think its the color thats so difficult but more the shade of the color that is so tricky. This is further complicated by the fact that the color shade, as designed, can vary with the manufacturing (different batches give different shades) as well as an altering of shade as the clothes are laundered over time. Camouflage that is laundered too much is so faded it’s practically useless.

In some woodland camouflage shades of dark green, black, and brown can look like the same color at 20 or more feet, so that all you have is a darkish color and a light green to give the camouflage effect. This makes me think that black and brown should often be combined into one darkish brown color, with a mid-dark green and a light green for the lighter contrast. 

Overall, though, I tend to feel that camouflage should not have an extremely dark or blackish color in it, unless it is found extenseively in the environment (such as a jungle).  Colors that are too dark for the environment make a person stand out. 

There also needs to be a contrast between these colors that is noticeable to the eye. That is, they can’t blur and blend together, especially at a distance. But these contrasts can’t be so different that they stand out prominently side by side. It seems that determining these contrasts can be very difficult, if not impossible, to do effectively.

It seems that in desert camouflage you’d want a tan predominately, with at least one lighter shade (I don’t see any point for more than three shades). Here, especially, the shades need to be noticeable but not prominently different or else you’ll stand out.


A big consideration is under what conditions are the camouflage pattern going to be used.  This may have tremendous impact on the pattern.   Some examples of conditions, that may be impactful, include:

Distance.  It seems that camouflage has a “range” with the naked eye.  That is to say, some are good at close range and some are good at long range viewing.  Typically, it seems that what is good at close range is not good at long range and vice-versa.   There seems to be three “ranges”:

  1. Close range.  This is probably up to about 50 feet.
  2. Mid range.  This is probably about 50-100 feet.
  3. Long range.  This is probably over 100 feet.

At long range, though, a person gets smaller and the surroundings gets more pronounced.  In this way, one is ‘lost’ or camouflaged by perspective.  Perhaps, we could call this ‘perspective camouflage’?  This effect decreases the need of a long range camouflage.  Because of this, camouflage typically only needs to be effective at the close and mid ranges.  As a result, the question is primarily one of how distance affects the eye within this range.

There seems to be effects seen in close and mid range viewing of camouflage:

  • Small shapes, colors, and shades, which can be seen at close range, tend to be unnoticeable at mid range.  This can happen, in some cases, in a matter of 15 feet or so. 
  • Oftentimes, two colors will begin to blend together at mid range (such as black and dark green).  This decreases the color contrast and, accordingly, the camouflage effect.  A three color camouflage will turn into a two color camouflage, for example. 
  • In some cases, all the colors blend together, at mid range, creating a single shade of color or even a ‘blob’ which can look out of place (which, it seems to me, is seen a lot with digital pattern).

Most camouflage is ‘designed’, so to speak, for a close and mid range.  That’s where its camouflage is best with the naked eye.  ‘Perspective camouflage’ decreases the need for a long range camouflage.

If a camouflage was ‘designed’ for longer range, though, it seems to me that it would have to use larger shapes.  There may even have to be more contrast in the colors as well.  These would create a pattern that is not good at close range.

Time of day.  Naturally, camouflage is primarily designed for daytime.  It is ‘designed’ for a sunny day, typically, with an abundance of sunlight.  This allows for all the colors, shades, and shapes.

I know that they have tried to develop a night time camouflage but I tend to think that a dark uniform is the best, particularly one that is made of a ‘rough’ material like canvas. It seems, to me, that not only do you not want to be seen in night time but, if a light is cast in your direction, you don’t want to be obvious.  A dark ‘rough’ material will tend to ‘disperse’ the light shined upon it and have two effects:

  1. It won’t reflect any light shined upon it.
  2. It won’t look ‘solid’ in the lights glare. 

I’m not sure what the best dark color would be.  Pure black may not be the best.  Probably a black mixed in with another color or a dark dark color (such as brown, green, or blue) may even work better. 

Wearing camouflage during night time may actually make your more noticable, particularly if a light is shined upon you.  This is because of all the colors and shapes which tend to make it stand out in the slightest light.  Even something like a little moonlight can make a person noticeable.

The season.  Generally, a camouflage is used for spring, summer, and fall in forested areas . . . one camouflage for all.  This makes sense for a military from a logistics viewpoint.  Camouflage patterns have been made, though, for fall.  This is primarily because of the fall colors that appear, which may make the standard greenish shaded camouflage more noticeable.  As a result, these patterns tend to reflect the fall colors.  The SS during WWII, for example, developed a pattern specifically for fall.

SS camo fall oak_zelt_br

(SS camouflage, fall colors, WWII.  Source:

Logistics.  A military, though, needs to have a ‘general’ pattern that they could supply their troops, which can go into the thousands and even more.  In other words, they cannot have a pattern for every condition and situation.  As far as I know, no current military has a pattern for the fall, for example.  They could literally have a pattern for each requirement, if they wanted, but that would be difficult for a military from a logistics viewpoint.


My personal opinion is that the ‘dispursed’ pattern is best at close range in the forest during the day. At farther distances in the forest the ‘geometric pattern’ is best during the day.

I think desert camouflage can be very varied, depending on the terrain. Sometimes I think a simple khaki would do for most situations.  In some areas, though, that would make you stand out like a sore thumb.  I tend to feel that a good general desert pattern, other than khaki, needs to be several shades of tan, at least one dark and one light. They should not be too contrasting but enough to tell a difference at a distance. The best pattern type would be ‘dispursed’, ‘blob’, or ‘geometric’, it seems to me.

Personally, I don’t see the value of digital camouflage. I’ve seen them and I don’t see what would make them better than any other camouflage. In fact, they look less effective to me. I’m amazed they adopted it frankly and I still think it was a stupid move (I sometimes wonder if it makes them look “technological” in their minds).  Examples of problems I see with the digitial pattern include:

  • The colors tend to blur together or turn into a ‘blob’ at a distance.  Some of the desert patterns turn into a tannish grey at a distance or a ‘blob’ of colors. I’ve seen guys wearing it in the desert and you can make out their shape – exactly what you’re trying not to do.  Plain khaki is often better.  The woodland pattern tends to turn into a ‘blob’ of colors at a distance.  
  • The digital pattern also seems to have no, or low, dispursing quality.  Of all the camouflage pattern I’ve seen it probabaly has the least dispursing quality.  Because of this, it is lacking in one of the purposes of camouflage (the ‘dispersing effect’). 
  • The digital pattern makes the colors ‘fuzzy’ at a distance because of the jagged edges.  This makes the person look out-of-place and can make them stand out.  This is because shapes do not appear ‘fuzzy’ in the real world.  As a result, seeing them makes them more obvious from the rest of the surroundings.


I’ve always wondered why certain countries use certain patterns. Many patterns, I think, have almost no camouflage value at all but, yet, they are continued to be used.  I think there are a number of factors for this:

  • I feel that the choosing of a camouflage pattern is not a science and is very subjective. Different cultures will see a benefit in a pattern that another culture doesn’t. To add to that, different people see benefits in a pattern that other people see no benefit in.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the personality and logic of the person who makes the final decision may actually be a major factor in the choosing of one pattern over another in many countries.
  • They maintain a pattern which they have always been using, for whatever reason, because they identify themselves with it.  It’s sort of like how football teams each has its own color, allowing everyone to know who is who. The pattern tells what side they are on.  Because of this, they are not necessarily using the pattern for camouflage purposes. 
  • I think some countries choose patterns as a measure of solidarity with another country. I’m not sure but I often thought the East German strichtarn or rain camouflage was actually taken from the Czech strichtarn, after the Berlin wall went up, as a measure of solidarity.  Strichtarn, frankly, has almost no camouflage value at all but yet East Germany used it for most its history.


(East German strictarn camouflage)

  • They use a pattern that situation gave them . Many countries after WWII, for example, continued to use Nazi derived patterns because it was an available pattern.
  • Some patterns aren’t necessarily thought out but is something someone came up with, often out of necessity.  Because of this, it is something available for them to use.
  • Logistics, as mentioned above, influences the type and number of camouflage.


Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Other stuff, The military and war and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Some thoughts on camouflage

  1. Heinz says:

    ” Strichtarn, frankly, has almost no camouflage”

    Are you sure? Do you know a study?

  2. Matt says:

    An interesting observation me and some mates made , while out in a high land bush area in Australia.–The guy with the “aus-cam” 9Australian military cam) outfit stood out badly –the uniform really “glowed” in the surroundings we were in. The greens were far too bright . The guys with light grey button up farm work shirts , faded blue jeans , or faded Australian vietnam khaki army pants with ramdom thick strips of charcoal rubbed on , and old “Driza – bone coats – waist length or full riding length blended right in. The black stripes blended with the shadows and burnt tree trunks in recovery , the light blue or khaki seemed to absorb colour and light , blending in with the tall eucalyptus tree trunks.

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