FDE! (Fifty shades of what, now?)

A rifle with a Cerakote finish in Flat Dark Earth.

You’ve been reading this for years (and thank you for that): Fifty Shades of FDE. Chances are if you’re one of our regulars, you know what FDE actually is, but some people do not. Let’s fix that.


Flat Dark Earth

FDE is the acronym for Flat Dark Earth. In simplest terms, it’s supposed to be a specific shade of earth-toned brown. Some people say it closely resembles some of the colors that can be seen in rural Afghanistan, which is probably why the guys at Breach-Bang-Clear call it “Mud Hut” or “Mud Hut Brown” when they’re trying to describe it.

We say “supposed to be” because as with any color in the tactical/gun industry, not everyone gets it right. Each letter in the acronym is indicative of something, i.e. “Flat” means it’s matte, with no shine.

FDE vs. Black - weapon contrast
A pistol in FDE and a distant cousin in black.

Cerakote (the actual company) defines FDE as a “…medium-dark, flat brown.” There are variations and gradations, of course, which is probably why they go on to clarify:

Notice: Flat Dark Earth (H-265) and MagPul Flat Dark Earth (H-267) are very similar in color and in some cases H-265 may be a closer match to MagPul’s OEM Flat Dark Earth color.

A war belt with lots of FDE (Flat Dark Earth).

FDE is different (though varyingly close t0) a number of other colors. Some companies make up their own names, some use a generic term, others go by specific color codes defined with great specificity by DoD contract.

Field Drab, for instance, is Military Color Code 30118. Yes, Military Color Code is a thing. As in, Army Green = #4b5320.


burning whiskey bottle mosquito torch
Bourbon bottles vs. mosquitoes. 

There’s much, much more to this, and as you can tell by our publication’s title it’s something we have an interest in. Check back periodically, we’ll be updating this article a lot!



Fifty Shades of FDE logo

6 thoughts on “FDE! (Fifty shades of what, now?)

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  • March 9, 2021 at 5:17 pm

    You got it right, 50 shades and counting. I really never would have imagined trying to get a finish to look like dirt, I mean earth could be such a problem. BTW the SIG P320/M17 in the picture above is not FDE, but 20150 Coyote Brown 476/498 per AMS-STD-595a, formally FED-STD-595. FDE is now giving way to Coyote, as the name for everything in the world of firearms/tactical that is Brown-ish. Be Wiley!

    The Fed did make a smart move and gave control of the “Colors used in Gov’t Procurement” to an organization that understands color, SAE.
    Also Flat and Matte are different in the world of gloss. Typically, and this is not exact, the scale for gloss goes:
    (Its relative, so there is some overlap in readings, typical for a 60° gloss meter).
    Flat 1 to 6 Gloss Units, (GU)
    Matte 5 to 11 GU
    Eggshell 10 to 25 GU
    Satin 20 to 35 GU
    Semi-Gloss 30 to 60 GU
    Gloss 55 to 80 GU
    High Gloss > 75 GU

    • March 9, 2021 at 6:44 pm

      Thank you for the the added insight! A lot of colors get generalized and bunched in together with the term FDE. I just like them all!

  • March 28, 2021 at 11:15 pm

    Do you have any idea what company with FDE… would closely match the davidsons dark earth color? I cant stand having two different shades of FDE on my AR

    • March 29, 2021 at 12:10 pm

      Honestly in my experience trying to match FDE is one of the most difficult things to accomplish. It’s just so different in different materials. The only way is to have someone cerakote the entire rifle in one setting.


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