Metallic Pigments

By Tim Wright | June 17, 2007

As the metallic look continues to be a hot styling trend among consumers, metallic pigments suppliers are developing new technology for paint and coatings manufacturers who depend on differentiation as a major key to success.

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 aluminum 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.

In 2006, metallic pigment sales were very strong while the market continues to grow in 2007 but at a slower rate, according to Brian J. Kelly, president, Schlenk-Both Metallic Pigments. "The market will continue to expand as coatings makers grow comfortable with the ease of use of the newer products and refine their expertise in manufacturing metallic coatings," he said.

Technological improvement continues to drive the metallic pigments market forward. "Vacuum metallized pigments continue to expand the range of silver tones for reflective silver coatings, and new fine silver dollar pigments make coated items appear as if they are actually made of metal," Kelly explained. "The number of new aluminum products offered to solve a variety of application problems has been astounding in recent years."

The market is trending toward aluminum pigments with exceptionally smooth and brilliant masstones and clean vibrant colors, according to Tony Reed, director global automotive marketing, Silberline. "Achieving a 'liquid metal' look continues to be the Holy Grail for metallic effects."

Thomas Hughes, product line manager, flex products group, JDSU, added his thoughts. "The metallic pigments market is also looking for a bright aluminum pigment with the brightness of a large flake aluminum but with a low light appearance of a fine particle flake," he said. "Having a metallic flake that is easily incorporated into the base paint and has excellent stability is always a challenge for most metallic pigments."

Auto applications drive the market

The strongest demand for aluminum pigments continues to come from the automotive market including automotive coatings, plastic parts and wheel rims.

Key drivers for the automotive market continue to be cost and efficiency. "Finishes containing metallic pigments offer the auto industry lower costs versus expensive organic coloration," said Jonathan Rogers, industry manager, Ciba Specialty Chemicals.

In the automotive arena particularly, environmental regulations resulting in lower VOC coatings systems continues to affect the market fo aluminum pigments. "As the use of waterborne coatings systems grows worldwide, specifically in the automotive OEM and refinish markets, demand for pre-passivated aluminum pigments has grown," said Reed. "In addition, the desire to achieve a 'liquid metal' look is driving advancements in vacuum metallised flake technology to produce smooth, mirror-like metallic effects."

As metallic pigment technology has expanded over the years, so too has the field of application areas that are now using metallic finishes.

Shown here on a special edition GM TRAX introduced at the New York Auto Show, JDSU's ChromaFlair pigments are multi-layer pigment flakes that give paint, coatings and plastics the ability to change color when viewed from different angles.
Photo: JDSU
"While automotive OEM has been and will continue to be a major market, consumer electronics and the appliance markets are consistently increasing their use of metallics as the consumers' desire for new colors and styling options continues to increase," said Hughes.

In terms of market size, while the automotive industry continues to lead, other markets are picking up speed. "Packaging, cosmetics and sporting equipment are niche markets where metallic effects are showing more popularity," said Rogers.

For Benda-Lutz, it is the automotive industry and the office furniture industry that currently have the strongest demand for metallic pigments, according to William G. Pofahl, vice president, sales and marketing, Benda-Lutz Corp. "The strongest growing industrial sector for aluminum powder metallic pigments is the architectural market," he said.

Color is the key to differentiation

For the seventh consecutive year, silver has held its lead as the predominant color choice for vehicles globally while there has been a broadening of the range of tones in silver and in gray, another top choice, according to DuPont Automotive's 2006 Color Popularity Report. The trend for the future includes the infusion of these neutral colors with greens, reds and purples, which provides customers a broader palette of choices, the report said.

Another trend the report found is a stronger showing of higher chroma colors throughout the world, which points to a desire by consumers for more personalization of their vehicles.

Black also remains a top choice across the global landscape. It is among the top five colors in the regions examined and has gained ground in specific segments in North America, which closely follows the European acceptance and growth of metallic black.

"We are seeing a growing convergence in color preference globally," said Karen Surcina, color marketing and technology manager, DuPont Automotive Systems. "But while the world is becoming flatter and tastes are harmonizing globally, we think that it is also important to look deeply at the cultural and taste differences in large and growing markets, such as Asia."

After silver and black, white has the potential to be the third most significant color on the global automotive market, according to BASF Coatings' color stylists in the company's annual color trend forecast.

According to the company, fashion, furniture and consumer electronics are all pioneers in the white revolution. One of the best known examples is the iPod. "From the point of view of society, the new trend toward white is rooted in the search for new values and a new aestheic purism," said Michaela Finkenzeller, color stylist, BASF Coatings.

BASF Coatings is working on solid-color and metallic paints, as well as special colors like white with soft mica effects, white with extreme sparkle or white in variants with gradated hues such as cream colors and silver-white.

"Silver has been a leading color since the millenium, and looks to remain strong through the coming years," said Kelly. "However, there has been a broadening of the ranges of tones from white reflective silver to darker chrome colors. Although no colors are expected to catch silver in the coming year, brighter colors and metallic black are making inroads in North America."

"While silver still maintains its dominant position in popularity, its effect is being redefined or highlighted through the use of chromatic pigments," said Rogers. "In addition, other shades such as highly chromatic blue metallic and copper/bronze are garnering renewed interest."

According to JDSU's Hughes, black and white are consistent contenders for the top color spot. "The trends are to develop new shades of black that may fall towards a dark chocolate brown," he said. "Black is being redefined and whites are being developed with pearls or a subtle spark."

Challenges ahead

Moving forward, environmental concerns related to VOC limitations, technical challenges for corrosion resistance in waterborne applications and development of high brightness/fineness silver dollar aluminum will all be factors influencing the market.

"Opportunities exist for chromatic highlights that add accents to silver and new, fine bright effects," Rogers said. "Customers are also looking to expand their styling options with liquid metal finishes covering light to dark shades without discernable sparkle effects. In addition, corrosion resistance of metallic pigments in waterborne systems continues to be challenging for the industry."

Growing regions of the world, particularly Asia-Pacific, are having a dramatic impact on the metallic pigments market, according to Silberline's Reed. "As countries like China, India and Vietnam, as well as those in Eastern Europe, open their doors to the world they help to drive trends in color and technology," he said. "It is impossible not to notice the interesting and varied color palettes of India and China and their effects on trends throughout the rest of the world.

As a result of this influence, most metallic pigment manufacturers are increasing their presence in the Asia-Pacific region, specifically China. "In addition, new manufacturers continue to emerge in these regions of the world contributing to a fierce competitive environment."

Also the trend toward environmentally friendly products and technologies requires manufacturers to continue to reduce their environmental "footprint" while developing products that offer metallic effects that are suitable for use in high solids and especially waterborne systems, according to Reed. "With a majority of car companies applying coatings with electrostatic spray equipment, aluminum pigment manufacturers have had to quickly adapt to this technology and better understand the impact of electrostatic spray technology on flake orientation."


Thomas' Kitchen Art offers liquid stainless steel

This image shows a refrigerator after Liquid Stainless Steel has been applied.
Thomas' Kitchen Art, Inc. based in St. Louis, MO has developed a product called Liquid Stainless Steel. The company claims it to be the world's first stainless steel that can be rolled and brushed over numerous household appliances including refrigerators, stoves and dishwashers.

According to the company, the product is made with 100% stainless steel that undergoes a micrometal process, which combines particles of stainless steel with a hybrid polymer so the metal will flow.

The resulting liquid is a water-based, automotive grade coating which is as durable as a car finish, will not fingerprint, and is as safe and easy to use as latex paint, the company said.

Liquid Stainless Steel is designed to transform textured and smooth kitchen appliances, cabinet hardware, wood cabinets, chrome faucets and light fixtures or any other area consumers are looking to achieve the metallic look stainless steel offers.

Related Market & Technology:

Related Raw Materials: