Settling on the best CS:GO skins largely boils down to personal preference. That said, giving your inventory a pop of colour will make your weapons more appealing. While earning respect from your teammates in Counter-Strike usually depends on substance over style, pulling off an ace is made all the sweeter when you're flaunting a fancy weapon skin.
There's a lot of time to spare when you're patiently waiting for the Ts to push onto your bombsite, so it's nice to have something pretty to look at in the meantime. However, from getting free skins, to trading, there's more to CS:GO's cosmetic market than you may realise. So, here's a breakdown of the types of cosmetic items you can get in CS:GO, how to trade them safely, and a list of my favourite CS:GO skins.
Best CS:GO weapon skins
There aren't any advantages to owning CS:GO skins, but if you spend a lot of your time racking up wins on Mirage, you might as well do it in style. There are plenty of cosmetics to choose from and most weapon and knife skins also offer a StatTrak variant that keeps track of how many eliminations you score with that weapon. On guns this appears as an orange LED counter, with the number etched on the blade on knives.
Valve has released far too many weapon cases for me to compile my favourite CS:GO skins from every crate into a neat list, so here are my top picks for a selection of the most popular weapons.
AK-47: Aquamarine Revenge
The AK-47 is one of the best weapons in CS:GO and is likely your main choice on T-side. Send your opponents to Davy Jones' locker while admiring the vibrant sea creatures floating on the sides of the Aquamarine Revenge.
M4A1-S: Golden Coil
The Golden Coil perfectly encapsulates the lethality of the silent shots you can achieve with the M4A1-S. You can fully embrace the sneaky nature of a serpent by patiently holding an angle and striking your prey as they rush into your line of fire.
M4A4: Desolate Space
Nobody can hear you scream in space and likewise, you won't hear your opponents over the bursts from your M4A4. Its moody blue and purple tones stand out against the backdrops of maps like Dust2 and Mirage. Beware of losing yourself in the gloomy eye sockets of the astronaut skull, though.
Glock-18: Oxide Blaze
Case: Danger Zone
Bring the fire to pistol rounds. This skin is also available for the XM1014 and Desert Eagle, but I think it best suits the Glock-18 with its weathered, rusty look. Not all cosmetics have to break the bank to be worth equipping, and the Oxide Blaze is a great example of an affordable skin that looks great.
Landing headshots with the USP-S is one of the most satisfying sounds in Counter-Strike, and this skin is a colourful depiction of that. There's something about the wobbly pink brains scrawled on its sides that make the Cortex a fun skin with which to kick off a match.
Desert Eagle: Kumicho Dragon
Case: Operation Wildfire
Deagles are powerful hand cannons that are most frightening in the hands of disciplined players. Pulling off impressive one taps that'll have the enemy team scrambling to report you is somehow even sweeter when your handgun is shrouded in the scales of this mythical beast.
Galil AR: Chatterbox
The Chatterbox's tiger-striped tail makes it an easy choice if you're a fan of vibrant skins. It's also one of the few weapon skins that has a unique animation. Keep an eye on the cheeky skull on the side of the skin and watch its mouth chatter away as you hold down Mouse 1.
AWP: Hyper Beast
The Hyper Beast has proven its popularity far beyond the confines of CS:GO. NZXT previously created a special edition H440 case wrapped in this iconic piece of art. There are three other weapon skins that share this design, but a concept this gorgeous demands the majesty of the AWP sniper rifle to truly show it off.
Case: Gamma 2
Sometimes you just want something simple, and the Airlock delivers. While it adopts a fair few scratches as its condition diminishes, its red accent keeps it looking neat and fun. The MP9 is already a popular SMG, but it's difficult to resist switching to this one when you find it on the ground.
MAC-10: Disco Tech
Case: Prisma 2
Keep the party going long after the round ends with the Disco Tech. Standing in well-lit areas makes it impossible not to keep mashing F on your keyboard to inspect this shiny beauty. Perfect for a run-and-gun approach.
Best CS:GO knife skins
Case: Gamma and Gamma 2
The Karambit has a distinct shape that is undoubtedly the inspiration for the much newer Talon knife. Its hefty price tag is certainly no joke, but the Lore finish exudes an unrivaled grandeur that sets it apart from the rest.
M9 Bayonet, Fade
Case: Found in 11 cases
A rainbow carefully dripped over a fearsome blade. The M9 Bayonet has a full set of menacing teeth on its edge. It's sharp, quite literally.
Butterfly Knife, Doppler
Case: Spectrum and Spectrum 2
The interesting curves of the Butterfly knife already makes it stand out in CS:GO, but its slick animations are enough to make any teammate envious. Time running between bombsites can be spent artfully spinning this collapsible tool between your fingertips.
Bowie Knife, Tiger Tooth
Case: Spectrum and Spectrum 2
The Bowie knives feature big sweeping blades. Kitted out with a classy rounded tip, as well as a nasty serrated edge, they certainly make an imposing statement. The tiger-tooth finish is a deep shade of orange with tasteful stripes.
Skeleton Knife, Stained
Case: Shattered Web
One of the newest knives in CS:GO, the Skeleton knife is alarmingly thin and pointy. It's possible to spin it around on your index finger when inspecting it, and occasionally even flick it around on your thumb, making it fun to show off.
Best CS:GO glove skins
Hand Wraps, Duct Tape
As someone that is frankly terrible at DIY, I often resort to duct tape to help get the job done. I'm honestly just in love with the absurdity of wrapping it around my hands in my favourite FPS, too.
Hydra Gloves, Rattler
Remember Operation Hydra in 2017? This set takes the badge from that event and plasters it across a pair of gloves. Naturally, the look is only complete with a snakeskin finish and shiny golden studs. These hand wraps look even better in their rough, battle-scarred form, which conveniently saves a few pennies.
Sport Gloves, Vice
Gloves can be painfully expensive, but the Vice pair ensure you stand out like a vivid peacock against every other player on the server. You can't interact with vehicles in CS:GO, but if you could, these would be the ultimate driving gloves.
Rarity and condition
CS:GO skin rarity and condition
Weapon grade/rarity spans from common Consumer grade items, all the way up to more valuable Covert skins:
- White: Consumer
- Light blue: Industrial
- Dark blue: Mil-Spec
- Purple: Restricted
- Pink: Classified
- Red: Covert/Knives/Gloves
- Orange: Contraband
Fun fact: The M4A4 Howl skin is currently the only cosmetic item in the contraband category as its artwork was originally stolen. It may just be CS:GO's most legendary gun.
Alongside the rarity of a particular skin, the condition also affects its overall value. There's no way for players to influence the wear of a skin as it's determined when it's unboxed from a case. Equipping the skin has no effect on its wear, either.
Battle-Scarred skins usually feature heavy scratches and wear that makes the skin appear faded, or not as vibrant. Factory New is the cleanest possible version of the skin:
- Minimal Wear
- Factory New
Wear varies between weapons, even if they're exactly the same item in the same condition band. Just because an item is 'Field-Tested' doesn't mean all skins in that category look exactly the same. The wear on CS:GO cosmetics fit onto a spectrum—known as a float value—so I recommend clicking 'Inspect in game' on the market listing to get a better idea of what you're actually buying.
Take extra care when picking CS:GO skins with varying finishes. Doppler, Case Hardened, and Fade all feature patterns that can lead to different results when spread across a weapon. For example, many Bayonet Fade knives have a purple tip, but variants that have a higher percentage of purple cover may be worth more simply because people like how they look. Some variants may not have any purple on them at all.
Free skins, sprays and cases
How to get free CS:GO skins, sprays and cases
The best way to reliably earn skins in CS:GO is by playing regularly; You earn drops when you level up. The first time you level up each week, the drop can contain a weapon skin or graffiti. Subsequent level ups in the same week award random cases.
To earn XP and work towards levelling up you need to play matches with at least one other real player. Hopping into Casual, Deathmatch, and Competitive matches all count towards building your XP, but Competitive matches offer the best returns.
A free skin is a nice addition to your inventory, although the chances of getting a rare cosmetic item are disappointingly low. Expect to see a lot of sprays and common weapon skins such as the ever-so-classy Forest DDPAT and Sand Dashed variants.
How do cases work in CS:GO?
There are over 25 cases in CS:GO and these operate as the game's loot boxes. You may receive them as a reward for levelling up, but you can also buy and sell them on the Community Market. Unfortunately, there's no guarantee you'll know what you'll receive from a case when you open it. Each cases' contents are listed when you click on them in your inventory. After busting it open, you watch all the available skins roll past before it settles on a random one.
Specific keys are required for opening each case. For example, if you want to open a Prisma 2 case, you need a Prisma 2 Key. These can be purchased in-game for $2.50/£1.99. In 2019 Valve introduced a new rule outlining that new container keys can no longer be sold on the Community Market to combat fraudulent activity. Keys purchased before October 2019 can still be sold and traded, though.
Each case follows a theme and contains skins spanning various weapons and rarities, from common to special items. Knives and gloves are often the most valuable cosmetics in these cases. The contents' values range from a few pennies to thousands of dollars on the Community Market.
CS:GO players in Belgium and the Netherlands can no longer open loot cases, but there are slightly different restrictions in other countries. Valve introduced the X-Ray Scanner in 2019 for French players. The scanner lets players scan cases to see what's inside before claiming the item using the corresponding key. As you'd expect, scanned containers cannot be traded or sold on the Community Market, and you can't scan another container without claiming the revealed skin. Each X-Ray Scanner is preloaded with a P250, X-Ray skin and French players need to claim it before using the scanner again.
Another way to earn free CS:GO skins is by watching live streams on Twitch. Specific events such as Major tournaments arrange for special Souvenir Packages to drop to Twitch viewers at random. There's no guarantee that you'll bag yourself one of these packages, so make sure you have your lucky socks on when cheering on your team at the next Major.
It's a good idea to ensure your Steam and Twitch accounts are linked beforehand so when Twitch drops are active, you're in with a chance of winning. Souvenir Packages appear in your inventory and don't require a key to open. Alternatively, you can sell them on the Steam Market.
Selling skins on the Steam Market
Individual weapon skins, unused sprays, and cases can all be sold using Steam's Marketplace. Keep in mind that Valve takes a cut of all sales, so pay attention to the amount displayed for what you receive when listing items.
Now is also a good time to check that you have Steam Guard set up for added security. Enabling 2FA keeps you protected from unscrupulous characters hacking into your account. When listing an item on the Steam Market, you also have to confirm the listing using the Steam Guard app on your phone. You'll receive an email when something sells, and your Steam Wallet will be updated instantly.
How to trade CS:GO skins
Trading with others
Trading CS:GO skins has been flagged as a dodgy business in the past, but there are ways that you can trade safely. Valve implemented strict restrictions on trading in 2018 in an attempt to curb criminal practices. There's a seven-day cooldown on items that are received from trades and purchased on Steam's Community Market.
It goes without saying that you should only trade with people that you trust, but Steam's built-in system is quite straightforward and should protect you from scammers. Here's how to trade skins:
- Open Steam.
- Find the person you want to trade with in your Friends List and right-click on their avatar.
- In the dropdown box, select Trading and Send a trade offer.
- Choose the skins you want to trade and click Make Offer.
- Your friend will now do the same.
- Once you're happy with the offer press Accept to trade the items.
You may have seen sites like CS.MONEY advertising during CS:GO tournaments. These websites use a trading bot to exchange skins, which essentially simulates the steps above but with a bot instead of a person. I haven't personally used this website and cannot vouch for its authenticity, but these services have become more popular in recent years.
Trade up contracts
If you have many CS:GO skins of the same weapon grade you can exchange them for something better. Trade up contracts allow you to exchange ten items of identical quality for one item in the bracket above. The item you receive is randomly chosen from one of the collections you submitted. For example, if you trade up ten purple items, you receive one pink item in return.
There's no way to receive a special item such as a knife from a trade up contract, so you cannot trade red weapon-grade skins, or orange ones. Both normal and StatTrak weapons can be traded up, but you cannot mix them together.
To begin a trade up contact:
- Launch CS:GO and open your inventory.
- Select the Trade Up tab at the top of the page.
- Click on an item and choose Use With Trade Up Contract.
- After selecting ten items, tick Ready to Trade Up and click Proceed.