Metallic Pigments Make Their Mark

By Christine Esposito | August 9, 2005

From automobiles to audio equipment to accent walls, consumers are flocking to metallic finishes.


Consumers are going for the gold-and silver and bronze, or anything metallic for that matter. Metallic finishes are growing in popularity in many consumer product categories from cars to personal electronics to home decor.

"Silver and metallic colors are hot now and their use has exploded across all types of products ranging from consumer electronics, furniture, cell phones and more," said Richard M. Thomas, president, Eckart America.

"We certainly are seeing an increase in the popularity of silver," said Thomas Schaller, product manager for industrial products at MD-Both. Mr. Schaller said silver is seeping into other product categories such as "bike and helmet coatings as well as so-called teletronics-TV sets, stereos, computers and laptops. It's hard to find a stereo or laptop which does not contain any silver coating these days."

What's driving this trend? Look to the street. According to DuPont's global color popularity survey for 2000, silver has become the most popular color for cars and trucks in Asia, Europe and North America. Many in the industry contend the trend towards silver and other metallics started here. "The automotive industry usually works as a trendsetter for colors and many other segments do follow," Mr. Schaller said.

The decorative coatings market is one segment that is taking a cue from cars. Many paint companies are adding and promoting metallic finishes in their collections to capitalize on growing consumer interest. Three UK-based companies-Craig & Rose, Plasti-Kote and ICI-are among them.

Craig & Rose's Feng Shui range includes gold, silver and bronze metallic paint in 750 mil tins and sample containers. Plasti-Kote's Brilliant Metallic range of spray paints for the DIY market features gold, silver and copper paint which can be used on wood, metal, ceramic and glass. ICI's Dulux range has also made a move towards metallics. Dulux's Discovery line incorporates shades such as copper pot, eastern gold and brushed steel. The metallics have exceeded Dulux's predictions by as much as 200%, according to some published reports.

"The question everyone keeps asking themselves is: is it just a styling trend or has there been a change in the basic color palette," said Mr. Thomas. "Strong opinions exist on both sides of this issue. However, our conversations with both automotive and industrial designers tend to a belief that silver, as a full-tone color, has managed to work its way onto the basic palette of colors�Several designers have posed that silver has become the 'conservative' color of the millennium."

The Color Marketing Group (CMG) agrees that consumers' love affair with metallics will continue. "Consumers are increasingly intrigued by products and spaces that are sensory. Special effect finishes allow us to experience color in dimension, and that seems to be fueling the demand for pearlescent, iridescent, metallic and textured finishes," said Terrie Buch-O'Dell, consumer color directions co-chairman, CMG. "Special effect finishes add perceived value and have become an expected product attribute."

Formulation Issues
Adding a metallic finish may seem like an easy way for an OEM to give their SUV, PDA or MP3 player visual punch in a crowded market, but metallic pigments offer unique challenges to paint and coatings formulators.

"Metallic pigments are a different animal and they don't always behave as one might expect," said Martha Davies, technical director, Eckart America.

"A common tendency in the coatings marketplace is to attempt to process metallic pigments in the same manner as traditional organic or inorganic pigments," said Steven R. Gingras, director of marketing at Silberline. "Metallic pigments require much more 'TLC' in order to avoid altering flake geometry, which in turn will affect the appearance of the final coating."

The move toward waterborne and powder coatings has also created a need for specialized metallic pigment technologies. "The issues with formulating aluminum pigments into aqueous systems are well-known since aluminum reacts with water and produces hydrogen gas," added Ms. Davies of Eckart. Her company offers the Hydrolan series for high-performance water-based paints, described as "the next generation for use in the OEM automotive market." This product line is based on a proprietary encapsulation technology that not only delivers high-performance stabilization but also increased circulation stability and enhanced inter-coat adhesion when used with aggressive resin systems, according to Eckart.

MD-Both has also reported increased demand for products that can work with waterborne coatings. The company's Aquamet and Aquasilber series of non-leafing and leafing aluminum waterpastes "offer products which are stabilized to overcome the typical reaction between water and aluminum," said Mr. Schaller. "Gassing is no longer an issue for aluminum pigments in a great variety of water-based systems."

Powder coating formulators are faced with different issues. "Here the problem is that any non-oxidized surface of an aluminum pigment which is exposed to the electrical charges of the powder deposition process may cause an explosion or a fire," said Ms. Davies.

So what are some solutions? Silberline has developed dedusted and pelletized products for powder coatings, marketed under the Silvet banner. Powder coatings manufacturers can also turn to Omiya aluminum, a line of organo functionalized silica- and resin-coated aluminum flakes from U.S. Aluminum. Functionalized colored aluminum flake is also available, according to the Flemington, NJ-based firm.

Eckart provides a range of encapsulated aluminum pigments designed to provide optimal performance across powder coating applications. "Our products for powder coatings include PCR, PCA and our newest technology, Sillux, which is a multi-layer encapsulated pigment that delivers excellent chemical resistance and weatherability," said Mr. Thomas.

EM Industries' 307/9307 Star Gold can be used for powder coatings, paint dispersions, plastic coatings and general industrial paint, according to the Hawthorne, NY-based company.

More New Product Developments
Metallic pigment suppliers have been actively developing new technologies to suit the precise needs of paint and coatings formulators, such as products that can create mirror- and chrome-like finishes.

MD-Both's Metasheen is a vacuum-metallized aluminum pigment with an "extremely smooth and thin flake structure." According to the company, Metasheen has a "highly reflective mirror-like surface dispersed in a solvent carrier, resulting in chrome-like surface coatings."

Silberline touts the StarBrite family of vacuum-metallized aluminum pigments. According to the company, StarBrite's vacuum-metallized flake has a smooth flake surface and uniform thickness that promotes "mirror-like aesthetics in general industrial coatings and inks." The line is offered in a variety of solvents and metal content levels. Silberline also offers the Tufflake product line, which is "considered degradation resistant," and "a major advancement toward minimizing paint system recirculation issues," Mr. Gingras said.

Alucar, a non-leafing aluminum paste from MD-Both, is suitable for automotive applications, car accessories, plastics and decorative coatings. According to MD-Both, it exhibits "excellent brilliance and lightness" and offers "remarkable coverage" in a medium fine grade."

EM Industries' Bi-Flair pigment dispersions are suspensions of finely crystalline bismuth oxychloride pigments in a number of ink, coatings and polymer resin bases.

U.S. Aluminum's Metana aluminum pastes feature very thin flakes that allow for "excellent orientation and increased coverage with high brilliance." The line is available in an average particle size as small as nine microns. U.S. Bronze Powders' Aquafoil BC granules are free-flowing, dust-free powders which are VOC-free and have an average particle size of 3.5 to 35 micron.

Improving Operations
With demand and performance requirements on the rise-not to mention increased competition-metallic pigment suppliers have been investing heavily in their operations. That's good news for paint manufacturers looking to add more metallics and need R&D and formulating guidance.

Silberline has expanded milling capacity at all of its worldwide facilities and is reportedly "more than doubling" its capacity for vacuum-metallized pigments with the construction of a new plant in eastern Pennsylvania. Last August, the company opened a 86,000-sq.-ft. facility that houses technical service, R&D, quality assurance and a process pilot plant.

In 2000, MD-Both installed a technical center for coatings in Ashland, MA, and as this issue went to press, the firm was the on the brink of "considerably increased capacities" for non-leafing aluminum pastes via an "enormous investment" at its partner company, Schlenk Metallpulver, in Germany.

Eckart recently opened a new $10 million research center in Germany dedicated to metallic and special effect pigments. Since its 1997 acquisition of the former Reynolds Metals Company powder and paste facility in Louisville, Eckart has invested more than $20 million to revitalize the facility and add a technical center. The effort has "transformed the Louisville site from a producer of commodity pigments to a key supplier of our high-performance products that were previously only produced in Germany," Mr. Thomas said.

Faced with the need to deliver specialized products, metallic pigment providers-and the market in general�have evolved. "The metallic pigment business has changed away from just providing a one-dimensional metallic pigment to the development of products that require a commitment toward research that creates value-added properties to the basic metallic pigment," Mr. Thomas concluded.

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