Camouflage Fabrics: Manufacturing and Applications in Defense Textiles

Camouflage Fabric and Its Application in Military Protective Clothing

Shubham Anil Jain
Department of Textiles (Fashion Technology)
DKTE’S Textile & Engineering Institute, Ichalkaranji, India
Intern at Textile Learner


What is Camouflage Fabric?
The uniform color adopted by the first permanent regiment of the British was Red color. In 1645 when the first permanent army was raised this color was adopted. Rather, every army adopted different colors as their national colors. French soldiers leaned to wear blue; Russians wore green; British wore red. It was not until the late 1800s that a Khaki uniform was issued, the British Army finally realized that drab colored uniforms gives better camouflage.

Camouflage fabric is utilized for hiding personnel or equipment from enemies. Camouflage fabric gives a unique effect to the personnel or equipment by making them disappear or appear as a part of the natural surroundings from enemies. To make this the fabric or the garment is dyed in patches of multiple colors, so as to make the user unidentifiable from the surrounding environment.

Military Camouflage
Figure 1: Military Camouflage

Camouflage fabrics are used:

  1. For making the uniforms for officers and soldiers in defence forces.
  2. For making armored vehicles and other equipment’s unnoticeable.
  3. For covering airplanes, guns and boats.
  4. For creating deceptions.
  5. While making tents for living and storage purposes.

Methods for Production of Camouflage Textiles
The concept of manufacturing textiles that can easily change the color has long been an anathema to the textile colorist for whom adapting permanency of color has been a primary goal stretching back into former age. Consequently, colorant manufacturers have endeavored for many years to develop fast colored materials by hunting for dyes and pigments that are chemically inert and physically unresponsive once they have been applied to a substrate.

Following are the methods for producing camouflage fabric:

1. pH changes
As we know that molecules can change color dramatically in the presence of acids and bases, as the fabric is dipped into solvents of different polarity. Because of this the change in color can occur due to change in polarity, but as in this process the reagents and the solvents required to transport them, which make this method very difficult to execute in the applications.

2. Oxidation state changes
The color of the fabric changes due to change in the oxidation state. When we see the oxidation state of copper such as 0, +1, and +2, with this different state different colors are observed. This is also highly effective method, but requires the migration of ions. Here the response time can be fast in solvents, but this complicates the device. Gel-type devices might also be possible, but physical robustness, oxygen stability and response times are very serious challenges. Similar to a polymer LED a device is built on this principle.

3. Bond breaking/making
There are a various systems which are available that undergo reversible bond-breaking and bond-forming processes which result in changes in color. Commonly, these processes are light-initiated. For example, enol is colorless but when there is a rearrangement of atoms the orange color is observed for cis form, whereas for the transform it showed the red color.

4. Mechanochromism
It is seen that certain compounds undergo color changes as a result of applied stress, due to this mechanochromic system is constructed by surface modification of conducting polymers. It is simply works on the principle of sensing receptors.

5. Electric or magnetic field effects
When there is the presence of electric or magnetic fields some highly polarizable systems have been observed to change color. For example, if the color of the solution is red and when we keep the magnet closer to the solution, we can observe the color change and the solution attains the blue color.

Principles of Camouflage

1. Resemblance to the surroundings:
Some animal’s colors and patterns similitude a particular natural background. This is an important aspect of camouflage in all environments. For example, tree-dwelling parakeets are mainly green; woodcocks of the forest floor are brown and speckled; reed bed bitterns are streaked brown and buff; in each case the animal’s coloration matches the hues of its habitat. Military uniforms, also generally resemble their backgrounds; for example khaki uniforms are a muddy or dusty color, which is generally used in South Asia. Thus fabrics can be prepared in such a way that they resemble to surrounding which make it more difficult to be spotted by the enemies.

2. Disruptive coloration:
Disruptive patterns use strongly contrasting in nature, non- repeating markings such as spots or stripes to break up the outlines of an animal or military vehicle, or to hide signifying features, particularly the eyes, which is common in frog. Generally leopard use disruptive camouflage to help them approach prey, whereas potential prey like the Egyptian nightjar use this principle to avoid detection by predators. This principle is commonly used in designing military uniforms and military vehicles.

3. Eliminating shadow:
There are different animals such as the Horned Lizards of North America, have evolved elaborate measures to eliminate shadow. Usually their bodies are flattened, with the sides thinning to an edge; these animals habitually press their bodies to the ground; and their sides are fringed with white scales which successfully hide and disrupt any remaining areas of shadow there may be under the edge of the body. The theory that the body shape of the Horned Lizards which live in open desert is adapted to minimize shadow is supported by the one species which lacks fringe scales, that is  the round tail horned lizard, which particularly lives in rocky areas and resembles a rock. When this species is exposed, it makes itself look as much like a rock as possible by curving its back, by highlighting its three-dimensional shape.

4. Transparency:
The marine animals which floats near the surface are highly transparent, which gives them almost perfect camouflage. However, transparency is difficult for those bodies which are made of materials that have different refractive indices from seawater. Some marine animals, for example jellyfish have gelatinous bodies, which are composed mainly of water; their thick mesogloea is a cellular and highly transparent. This conveniently makes them floatable, but it also makes them large for their muscle mass, because of which they cannot swim fast, making this form of camouflage a costly trade-off with movement.

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5. Motion camouflage:
Most forms of camouflage are ineffective when the camouflaged animal or object start moves, because the motion is easily visible by the observing predator, prey or enemy. There are some insects such as hoverflies and dragonflies which use motion camouflage. This camouflage is achieved by moving so as to be on a straight line between the target and a fixed point in the landscape; the pursuer thus appears not to move, but only to loom larger in the target’s field of vision. The same technique can be used for military purposes, for example by missiles in order to minimize their risk of identification by the enemy.

6. Changeable skin pattern / color:
Animals such as chameleon, frog, and flatfish such as the peacock flounder, squid and octopus have ability to change their skin patterns and colors using special chromatophore cells to resemble their current background (as well as for signaling), here each chromatophore cell contains pigment of only one color. In case of fish and frogs, color change is mediated by the type of chromatophores known as melanophores that particularly contain dark pigment.

Requirements for Manufacturing the Camouflage Fabric
It is seen that for manufacturing the camouflage fabric there are two main substances:

  1. Color type
  2. Fabric type

To produce the camouflage fabric both organic and inorganic substances can be used. Materials required for producing the camouflage fabric are as follows:

1. Color Requirements

  • Special or selected dyes are used like Procion MX and pigments like barium sulphate.
  • There should be Infrared absorbing pigment including both organic and inorganic materials, such as perylene black, phthalocyanine blue and organic materials includes ferric oxide, lead chromate, chromium oxide and isoindoline. Basically, these materials are mixed into the printing paste.
  • There are some infrared absorbing pigments which are mixed into the polymer in the fiber forming process, for example carbon black.
  • Infrared reflectance coatings are required, such as carbon compound coated over the synthetic fibers.

2. Fabric Requirements

  • The prepared camouflage fabric should meet some particular requirements before it is used for the military purpose or any other application. The synopses of these properties are given below.
  • The fabric should have high pilling resistance and should not have the burr and snag tendency.
  • Both tensile and tearing strength should be high, sometimes it may vary according to the end use application.
  • It should have fastness regarding light, wash and perspiration should be good.
  • The fabrics should have the special functional properties, for example being flame retardant, waterproof, wind-proof, breathable and having antimicrobial properties, etc.
  • The fabric should be non-glaring in nature.

Application of Camouflage Fabrics in Military Protective Clothing
Camouflage fabrics finds its application mainly in the defence sector and a small proportion of application in various other sectors like in fashionable clothing industry, for decorative purpose, etc. The application of camouflage fabric in military textile is discussed below:

In Military clothing it is found that camouflage fabrics have existed for more than 75 years and have become very popular from 1990, after the operation Desert Storm in the Middle East by US Forces with NATO Alliances. Today most of the armed forces, including army, navy, air force and paramilitary forces, are using camouflage fabrics, as this fabric increased the safety factor for each and every soldier and the nature of the fabric improved the comfort level and the roughness. It is predicted that total worldwide requirement of camouflage fabrics is more than 350 million meters annually. Military camouflage can be in the form of fabrics which is used for uniforms, protection suits, ballistic protection, tents, tarpaulins, backpacks or nets to protect assets.

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1. Uniforms
The role of uniform is not only to hide and protect each soldier, but also to identify friend from enemy. Camouflage uniforms need to be manufactured and distributed to a large number of soldiers. To design the camouflage uniforms, involves a trade-off between camouflaging effect, recognizability, cost, and manufacturability.

Military Uniforms
Figure 2: Military Uniforms

Armies doing service in different theatres may require different camouflage uniforms. The issues of temperate/jungle and desert camouflage uniforms are common. Patterns can to some extent be adopted to different landscape by adding means of fastening pieces of vegetation to the uniform. Helmets often have netting covers, whereas some jackets have small loops for the same purpose. Therefore being able to find suitable camouflage vegetation or in other ways modify the issued battle uniform to suit the local terrain is an important skill for infantry soldiers.

2. Tents
Tents are manufactured in military that can give protection in extreme cold weather. The tent is stitched with a rubberized sheet at the base level to protect against dampness. It has olive green color on one side and white on the other side. Hence, it serves as the objective of camouflaging in different situations. Here the camouflage fabric comes in picture and utilized. The main reason to use camouflage fabrics to make tents is that it merge in nature and can’t be identified by enemy.

Camouflage Tent
Figure 3: Camouflage Tent

3. Ballistic protection
It is very important for the soldiers to protect them from bullets and other projectiles like sharpnels, metal fragments and flying debris of various sizes, shapes and velocity. Textile body armours may give protection against this. Development in the production of high strength fibers has been in very rapid pace. Currently ballistic protection is offered by aromatic polyamide fibers, fibers such as Kevlar, Twaron which are available in a wide range of decitexes and finishes. A range of ultra high modules polyethylene (UHMPE) fibers have been developed for this purpose. They are typically Dyneema and Spectra fibers. Camouflage fabric is used for this purpose.

Ballistic protection
Figure 4: Ballistic protection

4. Military backpack
A military backpack, is also called a MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load Carrying Equipment), is specifically designed to adjust the amount of equipment a soldier carries. The contents of a MOLLE are similar to what a backpacker would carry but they differ according to the location of the soldier, the length of the assignment and the soldier’s mission.

Military backpack
Figure 5: Military backpack

The essential items that are found in a typical US soldier’s backpack include the following:

  • Sleeping bags
  • Sunscreen
  • Fire kits
  • Medicine (usually inside the first aid kit)
  • Compass
  • Small flashlight
  • Night vision gear
  • Signal mirror
  • Shelter
  • Food

5. Tarpaulin
Camouflage tarps offer various advantages. It is very easy to install, they provide effective protection against bad weather and prying eyes. Their uses are similar to those of military nets, but they are very specific in their characteristics. The camouflage military tarpaulin is specifically made from materials that dry very quickly, which allows it to be stored quickly when it is needed. The camouflage cover is light in nature and not bulky. It can be easily attached to any type of support, specifically natural or designed for this purpose. The tarpaulins are designed to be strong and resistant in nature, for military purpose so that can be protected safely.

Camouflage Tarpaulin
Figure 6: Camouflage Tarpaulin

Future Trends in Camouflage Fabrics
Today camouflage is playing a passive role in the requirement of secrecy and deception. It is anticipated that nanotechnology is playing a vital role in the future development of camouflage systems on the fabric. Modern advancement gives the capability to scientists, engineers and researchers to modify the properties of substrates and surfaces at the molecular level, thereby having the advantage of controlling certain characteristics of materials and surfaces. Also a great research has been contributed to textiles with electrochromic properties for color change through electric stimulation. Earlier camouflage fabrics were made mainly from heavy cotton twill. This heavy fabric can be quite durable, but it is so hot to wear and becomes heavier when it wet. After this, the fabrics were manufactured from synthetic fibers, but they were unable to absorb sweat. The more effective solution here was blending cotton and synthetic fiber which resulted in stronger fabric without increasing weight. Nowadays, nylon and cotton blends became very common in military uniforms. The recent development in camouflage fabric is found which is nature raised fabric particularly used for special hunting purpose. So the camouflage fabrics will have greater role and application for military purpose in future.

It is analyzed that, on a strategic level, the art of camouflage is not in what a soldier wears, but rather it depends upon how well he blends with the environment, using what the environment has to color and camouflage design issues in military clothing. Camouflage textiles in military are considered to be one of the fastest growing, high value divisions. These fabrics not only help the to protect armed forces from visual ad IR detection but also with respect to their heat and sweat management capabilities and to see that the soldiers can manage and perform to the best of their abilities even under adverse climatic conditions. Generally, the cost of the camouflage fabric is higher than the normal manufactured fabric but if the production of camouflage fabric increases in future then the cost might decrease. The principles of camouflage are also used for decoration purposes which results in value addition.


  1. Textile & Leather Review: Camouflage Fabric – Fabric for Today’s Competitive Era by, Madan Lal Regar, Akhtarul Islam Amjad, Atiki Singhal.
  2. Advances in military textiles and personal equipment by, The Textile Institute and Woodhead.
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  4. Military textile- The Textile Institute and Woodhead Publishing
  5. Camouflage textiles for protective clothing by Ashok Athalye, Technical Service.
  6. Camouflage fabric from fibre to fashion,
  7. Military Camouflage by Wikipedia,

Image references


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