Metallic Pigments

By Christine Canning Esposito | August 16, 2005

With interest in and demand for the metallic look still high, metallic pigment suppliers are developing new products that can help paint formulators put a new spin on silver and other metallic finishes.

From cars to consumer electronics, the metallic look remains popular. And that's good news for metallic pigment suppliers. Silvers, golds and all things metallic continue to shine in consumer eyes, and because of that, product manufacturers are asking their coatings suppliers for newer, more exiting metallic finishes to help their products stand out in crowded and competitive marketplaces.

Metallic pigment suppliers Coatings World spoke with indicated there's growing demand for more intricate silvers and other metallic finishes, as well as for metallic pigments that can work in a variety of systems.

"Metallic is still a hot styling trend, and it will be for several years," said John Kruzel, director of sales-coatings and plastics at Eckart America.

"We still see a growing demand for aluminum effects in the consumer electronic markets," added Thomas Schaller, product manager-industrial at MD-Both. "There is a lot of development work being done to expand the use of metallic pigments in more environmentally friendly systems, such as waterborne, powder coatings or high solids systems." Schaller also said he's seeing demand for so-called vacuum metallized pigments (VMPs) to achieve liquid metal or chrome effects.


One of the main users of metallic pigments continues to be the automotive industry. Although its popularity has declined slightly since its peak, the silver streak has hardly ended. But, as silver vehicles now crowd the roadways, auto designers are looking to put a new spin on the slick shade, according to industry experts at leading coatings companies.

According to BASF Coatings, the "silver of the future" will be more colorful and will be augmented by whites. In Europe, silver colors will be enhanced with a touch of green, blue or beige, replacing conventional silver shades and adding new color nuances to vehicle bodies, according to BASF Coatings designer Michaela Finkenzeller.

Color expert Jon Hall of BASF Coatings says in North America, there will be a trend to fine-grained, silky silvers and gray silvers revealing various color nuances. Brushed metal, he said, will reduce the glitter effect and give gray and silver tones a fresh new look.

DuPont is also forecasting a shake up in the silver sector, but the company says it is seeing a rise in another metallic in the auto market-light metallic brown. According to its 2004 Automotive Color Popularity Report, light metallic brown captured double-digit percentages of the overall vehicle market.

In the North American luxury car segment, while silver and gray remain leading colors, their hold on the market is declining as light brown metallic is growing dramatically-rising to 11 percent in 2004 from just four percent in 2003, according to DuPont. Light brown metallic is also surging in the light truck, van and SUV category-a sector that had been a stronghold for white.


Eckart's new Silvershine (above) and Ferricon metallic pigments

Taking metallics in a new direction is the future of the market. Eckart America's Kruzel noted interest in metallic greens, tinted silvers and even tinted blacks which use metallic pigment technologies to achieve a unique look in the auto sector. BASF's Hall said he expects blue will continue to be in demand and will be beefed up with new sporty metallic colors featuring turquoise effects.

For suppliers, delivering new products that can help designers achieve these new looks is critical. Along those lines, Eckart has recently launched two new metallic products, Silvershine and Ferricon.

Silvershine pigment has a homogeneous and fine appearance, which can be used in finishes for a wide range of products from high-quality plastics to industrial to automotive applications. Extremely thin aluminum Silvershine pigments offer excellent opacity, 2.5 times higher than corresponding silver dollar pigments, according to the company. Eckart contends Silvershine bridges the gap between PVD and standard silver dollar pigments. It has excellent flop, extremely high brilliance and an extraordinary bright and metallic look, allowing for nuances that range from gloss to metallic to matt chrome.

For its new Ferricon metallic pigment, Eckart used high-purity carbonyl iron and new grinding technology to develop a product that it contends matches the application characteristics of silver dollar pigment. However, Ferricon's color flop from metallic grey to metallic black marks a breakthrough. Such a dark flop effect could not previously be reproduced using single effect pigment, according to the company, making Ferricon ideal for creating dark shades and strong metallic effects.

But there's more to metallic pigments than good looks. Metallic pigments are functional products too, and Kruzel said there's been an increased interest in the performance these pigments can deliver to a finished coating. For example, companies are exploring aluminum-filled epoxy mastic for industrial coatings, where the aluminum provides the benefit of a barrier. In addition, copper pigments can be used for conductivity or zinc pigments for corrosion resistance.

While the functional use of metallic pigments is growing, aesthetics and design remain essential with designers. But paint formulators have to focus on delivering innovative looks in more environmentally sound systems.

"Our customers are concerned about the stability of aluminum pastes in their systems," said Schaller. MD-Both offers its Aquamet aluminum series with a variety of different stabilization technologies to accommodate a number of different systems and applications. "As the VOC value of the aluminum and bronze pastes for waterborne systems can be of concern to our customers, we are offering our Aquamet aluminum and Aquador bronze pastes, free of any solvents and pasted in water only," he said.


On the business side of the metallic pigments industry, the Metasheen line of vacuum-metallized, high-reflectance aluminum pigments has found a new home at Ciba Specialty Chemicals. Acquired from Wolstenholme International in March, Ciba's ?5 million purchase included manufacturing facilities owned by Wolstenholme. "This acquisition allows us to expand our product offering and complement our existing range with new effects," Armin Meyer, chairman and CEO of Ciba Specialty Chemicals, said in a statement.

According to Meyer, Ciba has recognized the importance of offering designers an expansive palette that includes the versatility of metallic pigments.

"These versatile metallic pigments give a wide choice of shiny, sparkling and mirror-like effects, allowing manufacturers and designers broad scope and high flexibility in meeting today's market demand for exclusivity, and bright, lustrous shades."

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