Camouflage Printing and the Evolution of Military Uniforms

When you say military, what pops into your head? Men and women, in a camouflage print, with a beret, standing to attention?

Perhaps one of the most synonymous terms that come to mind when you think of the military is a uniform, but where did the idea of a camouflage print come from, and how have military uniforms changed over time?

Camouflage has been used for centuries, before the very notion of uniforms, and even clothes came into existence. In ancient times, think the Stone Age, hunter gatherers would mask their bodies from their prey, and indeed rival tribes, with grass, leaves and mud, in order to blend in with their environment. Often, more extreme measures would be used to mask their scent, but we won’t go too much into what they used for that… you get the idea!

As humanity grew more and more advanced, and we lived in larger and larger groups, developed tools, clothing etc, this principle was adopted by the various tribes. They would add some form of camouflage to their uniforms in order to hide their location from their enemies. At this point, camouflage was of great importance to tribal fighters and hunters alike.

But as we continued to grow, tribes became towns, and cities, populations increased, and armies got larger. At this point in history, throughout large areas of the world camouflage lost its strategic importance as armies stood face to face on open battlefields, waging in hand to hand combat.

Camouflage – A Resurgence

It was only during the era of colonialism, with armies involved in wars over territories on foreign soil, and when fighting in unfamiliar surroundings against the native inhabitants, that the need for camouflage arose once more. This was especially true in forested environments, as camouflage techniques were often being used by the natives, and the colonials adopted these techniques, and often, brought some notion of the home.

Throughout the 19th Century, as the British military forces were at their most prevalent in India, they adopted Khaki as the primary colour for their uniforms, this would later become the standard colour for British Military uniforms in the 1980s.

During the first world war, it was the French who first applied the idea of camouflage printing to their uniforms, and they created a dedicated camouflage unit. The British soon followed suit, and then so did almost every other country across the globe. Each country adopted a slightly different methodology when undertaking their camouflage printing endeavours, depending on the type of terrain they would usually find themselves in.

Fun Fact – The word camouflage actually comes from the French verb which translates to “to make up for the stage”.

Multi-Cam® Print

Pre-2002, while being widely used across the globe, camouflage was rather primitive compared to now. While often being effective in a specific environment, there were difficulties if armed forces encountered various types of terrain.

Enter Multi-Cam® print. It effectively limited the visual signature of the wearer, in a wide range of environments, terrains, and seasons. In fact, there are only 4 main Multi-Cam® patterns:

  • Multi-Cam® Arid – Camouflage printing designed to mask the visual signature of a person in desert environments
  • Multi-Cam® Tropic – Camouflage printing designed to mask the visual signature of a person in tropical environments
  • Multi-Cam® Alpine – Camouflage printing designed to mask the visual signature of a person in snow-covered environments
  • Multi-Cam® Black – Camouflage printing designed to mask the visual signature of a person operating in high-risk environments

While Multi-Cam® Black is primarily for domestic environments, as it offers a more professional, authoritative look, the remaining 3 Multi-Cam® prints cover virtually every type of terrain found on earth.

In 2010, Multi-Cam® was officially unveiled by the US Military as its official issue uniform camouflage pattern.

The British armed forces have also adopted a derivative of Multi-Cam®, known as Multi-Terrain Pattern (MTP), this style of camouflage printing incorporates the colour palette of Multi-Cam® but retains simpler shapes to their previous camouflage uniform. Many other countries, including Australia, have also followed suit.

Read more about our Multi-Cam® prints here: Multi-Cam®.

Modern Camouflage Printing – IRR Fabrics

As modern technology became more and more advanced, visual camouflage, while highly effective to the naked eye, was suddenly not as effective as it once was. Armed forces around the globe now have access to infrared cameras, with equipment such as night vision goggles being standard issue items in many militaries.

This type of technology can pick up the infrared (IR) signature of a person, and of the terrain. Simple camouflage does not work against these new technologies, so camouflage printing had to evolve once again.

Infrared reflective technology suddenly became one of the most sought after, must have aspects of any military uniform. It works by disrupting the IR signature of the wearers, as it is closely matched to the surrounding terrain. This can effectively mask the IR signature of the wearer, allowing them to remain undetected. 

It is often combined with Multi-Cam®, or Multi-Terrain Patterns, to produce a camouflage fit for the modern era. Not only disrupting the visual signature of the wearer, but also their IR signature.

Read more about our Infrared Reflective Material capabilities here: Infrared Reflective Material 

But as technology progresses further, the question that remains is, what will the next evolution of camouflage printing look like?

If you are in need of modern day camouflage, on a commercial scale, Contact Us