Weapon skins are a big part of what makes games like CS:GO and CS2 stand out from the crowd, and their addition to the classic Counter-Strike formula has had a huge impact on the long-running franchise. With every weapon offering a wide variety of cosmetics, from the lowly Glock to any incredible knife, you have an ever-expanding set of options to choose from.
But just what are the best weapon skins in Counter-Strike? Read on to find out more about them and which ones you should snag for your collection.
What are weapon skins in Counter-Strike?
Skins were first introduced to CS:GO in the Arms Deal update of August 2013, offering a set of map-themed weapon collections to allow players to put some personality into their arsenal. It’s tough to overstate just how big of an impact these cosmetics had on Counter-Strike and gaming history: in many ways, this update kickstarted Global Offensive’s massive growth, as the skins, coupled with Steam’s robust Marketplace, became a cottage industry of their own, while also launching the careers of many talented artists whose creations were steadily added to the game over time.
Thankfully, none of these weapon skins offer a gameplay advantage to the players, as they are only cosmetic in nature, avoiding the “pay-to-win” phenomenon that is all too common in more predatory free-to-play titles.
That said, we must note the presence of “agent skins” in the game, which impact the visuals of your character: despite Valve’s best efforts, certain color schemes can blend in on various spots of individual maps, offering a momentary advantage. It’s a controversial matter in a game as pure as Counter-Strike, but with CS2’s more contrasting and vibrant color scheme than CS:GO’s, the issue’s impact is thankfully minimal at best – and no such issues exist with weapon skins in the game, which are a different beast entirely. They just look super cool, which is why they are so popular in the first place.
The game also features StatTrak weapons, which, as the name suggests, counts the number of kills scored with the gun while you have that particular skin equipped. These skins are even rarer and more expensive than their regular counterparts, though you do have the option to add a “swap tool” to transfer the counter from one skin to another of the same class.
CS2 weapon finish types, explained
Counter-Strike skins come in many different forms. Weapon finishes are the methods used to create the finished look of a weapon, and Valve researched real-world techniques to incorporate in the game in a realistic manner. On top of these techniques, wear and scratching is also included on the skins, applied on top of the actual finish.
The following weapon finish types are present in the game:
Solid Color Style – The most straightforward of them all, this weapon finish is just a flat color on up to four different sections of the gun. Examples of this include the Nitro, the Whiteout, and the Ultraviolet.
Spray Paint – With this finish, the weapon looks as if they were spray-painted through a stencil pattern with multiple coats. Think the Safari Mesh, the Crimson Tsunami, or the Zirka.
Anodized – Simply put, these are the shiny ones. In real life, this is an electrochemical treatment, one which can’t actually be applied to all weapon materials, but there are ways to mimic its effect. It can be a single-colored style, a multicolored one, or it can also be applied via freehand airbrushing. Some of these skins even have the effect in their name, like the Anodized Navy and the Anodized Gunmetal, but perhaps the best-known such skin is the Blaze for the Desert Eagle.
Hydrographic – The real-life method of applying this weapon finish is to lower the disassembled weapon parts through a floating hydrographic film on the surface of a water tank, and the film covers the primed weapon parts in a pattern. In the game, they can come in up to four colors, with the pattern directly applied to the weapon model. The various DDPAT skins are of the Hydrographic type, just like the Crimson Web and the Bright Water.
Patina – This is the name of a chemical reaction that forms a thin, non-reactive, hardened shell over metallic parts. Think oxidization or case-hardened designs. In the game, this also allows for the use of four colors and a pattern by the artist, with specific options for how the various shades will appear depending on the skin’s ear level. Examples of this include the Case Hardened family of designs, the Damascus Steel¸ or even the Rust Coat. (Hey, we told you it’s a chemical reaction!)
Custom Paint Job – “This style enables extremely customized looks in a full range of colors,” goes Valve’s own cryptic description, and what this means in practice is that skin creators can use regular and UV mapping to create some incredibly elaborate designs. The Asiimov is the quintessential example of this, or something like the Legion of Anubis or Printstream could have also caught your eye at some point.
Gunsmith – A combination of the Patina and Custom Paint Job styles, with the option to apply the effects individually across the separate weapon parts. Fuel Injector¸ The Empress, or Mecha Industries: just three examples of the many possibilities offered by this weapon finish.
Beyond the finish, each weapon skin has a certain level of wear applied to it. The weapon skins do not accumulate wear as you keep on using them: It is merely a set value, called “float”, for each specific one, ranging from 0 to 1. They are as follows:
Factory New: from 0 to 0.07
Minimal Wear: from 0.07 to 0.15
Field-Tested: from 0.15 to 0.37
Well-Worn: from 0.37 to 0.44
Battle-Scarred: from 0.44 to 1
Most players prefer lower wear levels, but sometimes it can look quite cool to see the gun all scratched up as a sign of veterancy. Nevertheless, Factory New and Minimal Wear weapons are rarer than the rest, and they will cost more on the marketplace. Certain weapon skins only come in specific categories: the Fade AWP will only ever appear in Factory New condition, while the Asiimov’s best possible condition is 0.18 on the sniper.
How can you get your weapon skins into Counter-Strike?
Users and artists are encouraged to submit their creations to the Steam Workshop by following the official documentation linked above, and the best and most popular weapon skins are then selected by Valve for inclusion in future content updates.
Unsurprisingly, there’s not much confirmed information about how much CS2 skin creators make from their monetized contributions, but reports suggest pretty impressive yearly sums ranging from five to six figures in US dollars. This is no doubt influenced by the rarity level of the skin in question: the rarer the skin, the less likely it is to drop from weapon cases, lowering the supply and increasing the demand.
Weapon skin rarities in CS, explained
These are the weapon skin rarity levels in Counter-Strike:
There is also a single Contraband weapon skin in the game: the M4A4 Howl, which was discontinued in 2014 after it was discovered that the skin creators violated the copyrights of other artists, and they received a lifetime ban from Steam. Valve then changed the skin’s design and marked it as Contraband, removing it from all drops, making it truly limited in supply.
Are your CS:GO skins still available in CS2?
Yes, your entire CS:GO skin collection was ported over to Counter-Strike 2 on the launch of the new game. In fact, the higher fidelity and better graphical capabilities of the new game also impact your weapon skins, especially the shinier ones like those made in an anodized style, which interact especially well with Source 2’s significantly improved lighting system.
What are the best weapon skins in Counter-Strike?
While the weapon skins are only cosmetic modifications, and therefore, their beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the prices on the secondary market and the preferences of pro players do give us a good idea of what the CS2 community considers to be the coolest visuals of them all. (These are not to be confused with weapon loadouts – again, these are merely the cosmetics.) Let’s dive into this based on each of the weapon categories, shall we?
The best pistol weapon skins in CS2
For the T side, no one’s really super keen on the Glock, which makes for some pretty affordable skins. As a personal recommendation, the Gamma Doppler has benefited greatly from the transition to CS2, so it’s an easy pickup. For the USP-S, if you’re a headshot machine, the CT-branded Guardian is a no-brainer, but The Traitor also looks beautiful. Sad, misguided users of the P2000, take note: it doesn’t matter what skin you pick, you already lost the battle on the inventory selection screen. (But seriously, the Space Race is pretty cool.)
The best rifle skins in CS2
If you’re a serious Counter-Strike player, you’ve got to get yourself an AK-47 skin. Unfortunately, the nice and clean designs like the Fuel Injector or the Redline (not to mention the Vulcan) will set you back by hundreds of dollars. If you’re looking for something more affordable, try The Legion of Anubis or even the Blue Laminate.
For the CT side, I have a soft spot for the aforementioned Guardian (like I said, it’s also my USP-S of choice), but man oh man does the Golden Coil look great. As for the M4A4, The Emperor and the Desolate Space designs crop up often on the popularity charts.
The greatest CS2 AWP skins
The Atheris is a nice budget option with a black-and-green color scheme. For those looking for a CS2 glow-up, the Sun in Leo now looks a lot better in the latest edition of the game. If you’re a high roller, the Asiimov is a no-brainer of a choice, even if some people with exceedingly awful tastes opt for the Lightning Strike instead. (Seriously, what is wrong with them?)
The best knife skins in Counter-Strike
Unsurprisingly, knife skins are the rarest and most expensive weapon skins in CS:GO and CS2 alike, especially because they come with unique weapon models. This has been the case for as long as the Arms Deal update was around: check out this classic Unboxafragathon video from WarOwl for a trip down memory lane (and an interesting selection of CS:GO weapon skins):
But seriously, get yourself a Karambit. It still slaps, even after all these years. Or slices, rather. You get the point.
Counter-Strike weapon skins, summarised
Weapon skins in Counter-Strike are popular cosmetics that are available as in-game drops and marketplace purchases
Every weapon type has its own set of weapon skins
Your CS:GO skins all carried over to CS2
There are seven different weapon finish types in CS: Solid Color Style, Spray Paint, Anodized, Hydrographic, Patina, Custom Paint Job, and Gunsmith
Weapon wear is determined by the “float” integer, and it ranges from Factory New to Battle-Scarred
Weapon skins can be submitted via the Steam Workshop, and the best ones periodically get added to the game by Valve, with the creators earning five- and six-figure sums annually
Each CS:GO weapon skin came with a set rarity ranging from Consumer Grade to Covert, and this system carried over to CS2 as well. Contraband exists as its own category for the M4A4, a skin that is no longer available for purchase because its original version and creators got embroiled in a copyright-related controversy.
The best weapon skins depend on your personal preferences, but some examples of the most popular choices are the Asiimov, Redline, and The Legion of Anubis skins.
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