Metallic Pigments Update

By Kerry Pianoforte | June 13, 2006

As pricing pressures continue, metallic pigment suppliers look to R&D for growth.

Metallic pigments continue to be popular for a large variety of coating applications. Used in everything from automotives to electronic devices and appliances, the metallic look continues to be one of the most dominant styling trends. Although silver consistently tops the list of most popular colors for automotives, it is also gaining in popularity in appliances and other household items.

"Silver remained the dominant automotive color in 2005, holding this position during the past five years, and reportedly accounted for approximately 18% of the overall market," said Joe Balascik, director of marketing, Silberline. "Color stylists and designers have predicted that other colors will become more popular as consumers look for more choices. Medium-gray, and lighter and softer metallics such as blue, beige and green are predicted to gain popularity in the future. Although this predicted trend may eventually actualize, silver still appears to be at the height of favorability in 2006, and possibly beyond."

According to Ciba Specialty Chemicals, styling trends for the coming years predict a renewed interest in brighter, bolder colors. "Judging from 2009 styling shows, we anticipate a renewed interest in highly chromatic blue metallic shades," said Milt Misogianes, industry head, transportation coatings, Ciba Specialty Chemicals. "In addition, chromatic transparent reds will combine with new orange products to produce novel copper and bronze offerings."

Customers are constantly challenging metallic pigment suppliers to come up with brighter, more vibrant products.

"We are still seeing a big demand for extremely bright silver effects," said Elise Balsamo, marketing manager, North America, Wolstenholme. "This year Wolstenholme introduced Premial silver dollar aluminum powders and pastes, manufactured with a large, smooth 'silver dollar' pigment for extremely bright metallic effects."

Balsamo said that she has also seen an increasing demand for improved bronze pigment technology for aerosol paint. To meet this need, Wolstenholme has developed Premior 214 premium bronze powder, which produces a very bright gold effect and is stable in acetone formulations.

Silberline has been working hard to differentiate its products, while providing unique special effects and value-added benefits to its customers. "Products that provide both high sparkle and an extremely smooth patina have been introduced most recently," said Balascik. "Our innovation and technology are leading us in the direction of the brushed platinum or liquid metal look. Finer and brighter products, with shifting color at different angles appear to be in demand as well."

Although the use of metallic pigments continues to grow, rising fuel and raw material costs remain one of the key concerns affecting the metallic pigments industry. The rising costs have lowered margins, making it difficult to pass along price increases.

"Raw material costs remain the toughest issue to cope with," said Balsamo. "The cost of base metals such as copper and zinc have increased very dramatically in recent months. Copper has increased by over 50% this year alone and is now over four times its traditional pricing level. Zinc has also doubled in the last 15 months. These two metals account for approximately 98% of the makeup of our bronze pigments. In addition, aluminum prices began to rise steeply in quarter four of 2005, and have now increased by 50% since last June. As a result, it is necessary to pass some of this cost onto our customers so our R&D and service levels don't begin to suffer."

As a result of price pressures caused by raw material shortages and the subsequent price increases, metallic pigment manufacturers are relying on innovative R&D to drive growth.

Wolstenholme continues to invest in R&D. "As price pressure continues, it becomes increasingly important to remain committed to new product development," said Balsamo. "In addition to the great amount of new metallic pigment products Wolstenholme has launched, our R&D labs are working hard to develop new products on the carbon black dispersion side of our business. These new products are targeting areas such as plastic colorants, mulch colorants and asphalt. We are making great strides in these areas and are constantly working with our customers to tailor our products to meet the market's needs."

At the same time, Ciba is working to develop a variety of new pigments to meet their customers' demands. "We are developing new pigments to offer unique combinations, emphasizing those that create unusual 'flop'that is have shift changes based on different hue angles," said Misogianes. "These new pigments, of course, must deliver acceptable durability at reasonable costs."

In addition Ciba is examining offshoots and improvements to VMPs (vacuum metallic pigments), which will offer customers possibilities of increased application latitude to achieve liquid metal looks.

Wolstenholme has developed three new metallic products including Premior bronze powders, pastes and pellets for paint, coatings and plastic colorants available in oxidized shades, chemical and heat resistant grades and water-soluble pellets; Premial aluminum pastes, dust-free powders and pellets for paint, coatings and plastic colorants, which includes silver dollar premium aluminums and water stabilized pellets; and Pellex aluminum pellets are designed for use in plastic colorant applications.

Silberline's latest product offerings include new Sparkle Silver Premier 695, a very fine, bright product offering a smooth patina and very narrow particle size distribution. Sparkle Silver Premier 695 is a 12 micron, silver dollar flake product. SparkleBrite Ultra 012nl-PAC offers a solution to the growing demand for brilliantly reflective, small particle size, non-leafing pigments, according to Balascik. "In addition to its outstanding reflective brilliance, SparkleBrite Ultra 012nl-PAC has excellent coverage and transfer characteristics," he said.

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