The Differences Between Digital and Traditional Camouflage

The Differences Between Digital and Traditional Camouflage

Nov 19, 2021

In the early years of the 21st century, military outfitting took a turn for the technological when the Canadian Forces innovated a new form of camouflage. The Canadian Disruptive Pattern, or CADPAT, was a marked departure from previous, organic camouflage designs. CADPAT used not just broad brushstrokes and blobs of color, but a pixelated matrix similar to what one may see on a computer screen after zooming in on an image.

Digital camouflage expanded to the United States soon after with the Marines’ MARPAT pattern and the Army’s Universal Combat Pattern; however, in 2015, the US reversed course and implemented the Operational Combat Pattern—a more traditional form of camouflage. Why the change? Which is better? We’ll take a closer look at the differences between digital and traditional camouflage and why we made the switch.

Digital Camouflage: Versatility at the Expense of Specialization

The reason digital camouflage served as the base of a universal pattern is that it could be moderately effective in all situations—woodland, desert, and urban—without requiring multiple sets of attire. However, by failing to specialize the camouflage to its surroundings, the universal pattern was less effective across the board. Think of it as a jack of all trades but master of none. The well-rounded UCP camouflage was not a good fit for the mountain terrain of Afghanistan, which necessitated the move to an advanced but more traditional camouflage pattern.

Traditional Camouflage: Working in Broad Strokes

The earliest forms of traditional camouflage, like the UK’s Disruptive Pattern Material, used broad applications of color. Designers felt this best approximated the woodland settings for which camouflage was first designed. Later research would show that, counterintuitively, using smaller segments of color made wearers harder to see from long distances than the larger shapes that would appear to blend into the foliage.

The OCP: The Best of Both Worlds

The Army’s latest camouflage design attempts to synthesize the differences between digital and traditional camouflage. With the advent of the Operational Combat Pattern, or OCP, the principles behind environment-specific camouflage designs met the smaller-is-better approach to digital camouflage. The OCP uses organic, curvilinear shapes that digital camouflage rejected, but at a much smaller scale. Today, the OCP effectively serves the troops, and for the OCP patches to accessorize your uniform, Kel-Lac has you—and your camouflage—covered.