Pigment producers have been expanding the technical scope of their effect colors when hard economic times could be making the upbeat look less attractive to consumers.
They were displaying their eye-catching innovations at the European Coatings Show (ECS) in Nuremberg, Germany, last month with the aim that they could be used on products for market launch beyond 2010/11. But they may have had the misfortune to be presenting the results of several years of development work when the world is being plunged deep into a recession
The new pigments introduced a broader range of colors combined with glitter and glimmer effects to give coatings a greater depth and visual appeal. The additional excitement they provide, however,may not match the mood of sections of the public struggling with the impact of the economic downturn.
"As the economic crisis continues into 2010, we expect to see the consumer look for calm and reassurance in the home," said Justine Fox, creative director at Global Color Research, London.
He believes that due to the recession there will be changes in color trends so that softer and quieter colors will be more prominent. "The blue area of the color spectrum becomes more dominant and we expect to see a lot more 'red-based' or cooler blues entering the market," Fox added.
Nonetheless metallic effects, which have been gaining a higher profile in the fashion world, will at the same time become more widespread. "Soft gold and copper are expected to become more important as metal finishes on the most prosaic of low-cost household goods," said Fox.
Consequently the emphasis by high performance pigment producers on the mixing of colors with metallic and pearlescent effects is consistent with a need among people to remain hopeful about the future.
"People want optimism but they want to be realistically optimistic so they want colors and effects which are not too bright and conspicuous," said Jill Lawrence, head of JLD International, a London-based design company. "Combinations of color and iridescence remain popular because they move products off the shelves. But people seem to prefer them in accessories and small items or as a detail in larger products."
Paul Brown, automotive technical manager at the coatings application center of Ciba Specialty Chemicals, Basle, whose acquisition by BASF was completed in early April, believes that the new range of the company's effect colors introduced at the ECS could initially be more popular among buyers of electronic products than of automobiles.
"People will play safe by sticking to more conservative colors when buying cars because they will be thinking about the second-hand value of the vehicle," he said in an interview at the exhibition. "But they will be more adventurous when buying a mobile phone or other electronic device. They will then want more excitement in the colors. When iPods first entered the market, they had classical colors like silver, white and black but now they are much more colorful because their appearance has become much more personalized."
Ciba has developed systems of multi-layered coatings mainly comprised of colored or metallic base coats with transparent topcoats containing nanoparticles of effect pigments. These give an extra depth to the coating as well as optical variations depending on the ambient light and the viewing angle.
The layers do not intermingle. This allows light transmitted between the layers to produce different effects and also create distinct colors through reflectance or refraction from the particles in the coating.
To create new colors and combinations with effect pigments, Ciba has also been modifying the crystal structure of long established high-performance organic pigments, like the red-to-violet quinacridone, which has been on the market for around 30 years. "Much can be achieved by changing the crystallization of pigments," said Brown.
Sun Chemical, part of Dainippon Ink & Chemicals of Japan, introduced at the show an effect pigment with 10 shades of colors, including orange, violet, blue, green and red.
"The new product does not have any organic pigments, the presence of which can cause weathering problems," said Martha Davies, Sun's global product manager for effect pigments. "The colors are created through a mix of iron oxides with mica coated with titanium dioxide. With different degrees of oxidation, different colors can be created."
Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, displayed at the exhibition a series of different classes of effect pigments based on different materials to provide a variety of colors and textures with the objective of offering designers flexibility in their choice of colorants.
"This year we're using the trade show to introduce our new conceptual approach to the trade audience," said Peter Geier, Merck's marketing manager for coatings pigments. "Its core element is the fact that we are developing a series of effect pigments in which the variety of design and the performance in the coating are taken into account at the same time."
Merck has effect pigment brands based on natural mineral mica, calcium aluminium borosilicate, silicon dioxide, aluminium oxide and bismuth oxychloride. They produce different colors as a result of light refraction, interference and reflection. Its Xirallic range, which uses an aluminium oxide substrate coated with titanium dioxide can provide gold, red, blue, green, violet and turquoise with a glittering and shimmering appearance.
Its Pyrisma brand embraces a new generation of effect pigments comprising eight different titanium dioxide interference pigments of yellow, red, magenta, violet, indigo, blue, turquoise and green. The company claims they "encompass the largest possible color space that can be achieved with eight pigments."
The pigments were presented at the show for the first time in applications including plastic coatings on ski helmets, powder coated facade panels and in coil-coated aluminium designs.
Merck also displayed at the show an Audi automobile with a Black Violet color tone, which shows a strong glitter in sunlight and then a color travel appearance in shady lighting conditions.
Pigment producers are trying to satisfy the market's needs for a greater range of colors and effects but with the use of fewer materials and at the lowest possible expense.
"In today's economy, our customers are looking for more effect pigments, color options and additional ways to cut costs," said Myron Petruch, president of Sun's performance pigments.