Metallic Pigments

By Tim Wright | May 29, 2008

The metallic look continues to be a hot styling trend among consumers.

As product manufacturers continue their search for that new color that differentiates their brand from the competition, the metallic look continues to grow in popularity. While the demand for metallic effects increases, paint and coatings manufacturers are developing newer, more eye-catching metallic finishes to help their customers' products stand out in crowded and competitive marketplaces.

Metallic pigment suppliers to the paint and coatings industry are at the forefront of this consumer styling trend, continually developing innovative technologies that produce cooler metallic looks.

Among the trends in the metallic pigments market, silver consistently tops the list of most popular colors for metallic effects. However, other metallic effect colors are catching up.

"Silver has continued to lead the metallics market in terms of popularity, however as seen in recent interior and consumer markets, bronze, copper and gold effects are beginning to make a push into the every day life of the consumer," said Martha Davies of Sun Chemical Corp.'s Performance Pigment Group. "Designers continue to style with aluminums by producing various shades of silver from very bright, bold silvers to the more muted grays expanding the palette of metallics. In addition, the use of silver metallics in combination with the classical pigments is also becoming a design of choice providing metallic shades of green, blue orange among others.

"The market continues to ask for the full spectrum of products from very fine, smooth and brilliant to the more sparkle appearance of coarser products depending upon the application," Davies continued. "The molten look is still a desire, and technology is driving to provide this appearance via products that are more universal than the VMP products in terms of coatings formulations and applications." �

Ciba Xymara stylings add shimmer, shine and shading to wood products.
"Gold will probably always fall right in behind silver's popularity in this area," said Rick Kistler, NAFTA business development, visual effects, coating effects, Ciba Corporation. "Ciba has tried to capture some of the other trends for effect colors on our website. The Effects Explorer can help designers, stylists and brand owners to envision how various colors might look on a variety of parts. Also our Color Trend Visions present more than 30 of the trend colors for 2008-2009 for inks, coatings and plastics."

According to Thierry Chevrier, director, performance chemicals-coatings, plastics and specialties fo BASF in North America color popularity varies by region. "In North America, tinted silvers such as light anodized blues and greens have been more popular during the past several years, but the trend now appears to be moving more towards charcoal and pewter shades of silver," he said. "These colors can be achieved by using high performance pigments and mica-based pearlescent pigments. While silver remains strong, even if the shade is different, colors such as black with a hint of white pearlescent pigment, and browns ranging from light cocoa to more of a maroon using a perylene red are also gaining popularity."

In terms of end use applications, the strongest demand for metallic pigments continues to come from automotive and consumer electronic applications. "Silver offers the perception of high end and futuristic design," said Chevrier. "Consumers also seem to be attracted to the liquid metal look, which offers a smooth, sleek appearance that can be achieved using BASF's Mearlite family of pigments.

"In anticipation of potential regulatory changes, the automotive industry appears to be moving towards waterborne coatings that require surface passivation of aluminum in order to prevent gassing and improve overall paint stability," Chevrier continued. "To meet this need, BASF offers Paliocrom Gold and orange pigments in passivated versions."

Kistler said metallic effects add new dimensions to design. "Shimmer, shine and sparkle effects enable the creation of new designs and imitation structures add variety and depth," he said. "Effect pigments can be used on their own or combined with transparent or opaque pigments to achieve a vast array of different designs, thus enabling companies to create a unique, readily identifiable brand and to add appeal to their products.

"Customers in different markets are looking for varying effects," Kistler continued. "Customers in the coatings markets are focused on color intensity and color travel as ways of enhancing design. Ciba Xymara Nordic glass-based pigments reflect the shades of frost, gold, heather, ocean, pine and sunset, enlivened with an added gem-like sparkle. These versatile products provide novel styling options and allow the creation of unique new shades and designs, emphasizing transparency or opacity, as required."

"Customers realize the value in metallic-based pigments because of their hiding power, but would like to move to new color spaces," said Chevrier. "BASF can coat metallic flakes to generate metallic pigments that are gold, orange and red. These pigments are marketed under the Paliocrom trade name. Recently, BASF began varying the size and type of aluminum to create more of a sparkling effect. This has broadened the metallic pigment choices in the BASF portfolio for color stylists. BASF can also provide a full pallete of mica and borosilicate effect pigments, high performance and functional pigments to aide colorists during the design process."

Metallic pigments will continue to be used in a broader spectrum of applications in the years ahead. "OEM is still a very dominant market however metallics are seeing increased usage in coil applications, consumer electronics and architectural," said Davies. "In scanning a home d�cor brochure you will see the expanded use in design with metallics from refrigerators to computers to floor coverings."

Sun is just now launching into the metallics market with its SunMetallics line of aluminum effect pigments. "The current portfolio is directed to the solventborne coatings market however Sun is rapidly developing new technologies to expand the line to offer the customer base novel technologies in which they will be able to develop unique designs and effects," said Davies. "The latest technology launched by Sun into the effects market, is based upon pearlescent effect pigments and was launched into the cosmetic market under the SunPRIZMA trade name. These products provide outstanding opacity and intense chroma combined with the desired luster of pearlescent pigments via Sun's novel technology. Sun is utilizing this same drive toward innovation with the metallics line to meet the request for products, which will provide unique styling tools and new color spaces for the designers."

Demand for metallic pigments and any effect pigment continued to be strong in 2007, according to Kistler. "Even though Ciba has only been in this market for a short time, we've already seen how our customers continually seek these sorts of effects as a way of product differentiation and answering the demands of brand owners and ultimately consumers," he said. "Novel new effects will always catch a designer's eye first. It then becomes our job to position the new product such that our customers can easily incorporate these new effects into their systems.

"The greatest challenge and hence biggest opportunity for us is to find the right solution for each customer without trying to pigeonhole a certain product across a wide market," Kistler continued. "Our customers are all seeking solutions that differentiate them from their competitors. We have to find the balance of resources that can respond to particular needs while addressing some common problems."

For Chevrier, the greatest challenge of operating in the metallic pigments market is that metallics traditionally have been thought of as simply silver. "But this also means that there is opportunity for more creative design," he said. "Effect pigment innovation is key to moving into new high chroma applications. BASF is working to help meet this challenge through new developments in the Palicrom, Lumina, Mearlite and Firemist pigment families."

The metallics market continues to have a modest growth rate, according to Davies. "2007 saw increased prices and the continuation of metal surcharges based upon economic conditions. In addition the market experienced continued mergers of the customer base as well as metallic pigment suppliers. Innovation will be the key to driving the market," she said. "As with all markets, the challenge is to provide new products that meet the customer needs and provide cost versus performance solutions. With ever changing technologies to meet environmental and consumer demands the challenge to suppliers is to develop products, which provide the desired appearance and performance across the variety coating technologies.

"Technology is continuing to push to green technologies with ever increasing global regulations on VOCs and the demand of customers for more environmentally clean products," continued Davies. "This is pushing the markets to waterborne applications as well as alternative coatings technologies such as powder and UV, and the technology for metallic pigments is continuing to grow to improve the performance and optical properties of the pigments in these alternative systems."

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