OEMs look to new pigments and effects to differentiate color
Las Vegas—From a retina-searing orange pearl to a cool “liquid metal” gray, color is often used as a styling element for custom cars and new cars. Distinctive paint evokes an emotional response, said Charley Hutton, who’s painted four Ridler Award-winning cars in his shop, Charley Hutton’s Color Studio in Nampa, Idaho.
“It’s what catches your eye. It’s seeing a beautiful woman. When you see her, you’re automatically drawn to her. You might not notice her features, such as her eye color. But once you’re drawn to her, that’s when you start noticing the details. It’s no different in the automotive world. The OEs want to draw your eye to their vehicles. Color plays a major part in that, and we all want to be different,” said Hutton, who was a special guest at the recent SEMA Show panel discussion “Color Matching & Styling: More than Painting by Numbers,” which featured PPG experts.
As OEMs look for ways to differentiate their color offerings, the refinish market has more challenges in matching colors because of complex pigments and application processes, said Gareth Hughes, director of Technology at PPG.
“As the pigment suppliers generate new technology, fancier effects, and the OEMs start putting together complex layering systems, the way you achieve the final color is getting more and more complicated,” he said.
Bill Eibon, director of technology acquisition at PPG, said that while achromatic white, silver, gray, and black colors remain popular, commanding 70 percent of new-car sales, they use technology to make them appear different from their predecessors.
Other colors using new effects sometimes blur the line between an orange and a red, as an example. For European car lines, the red color space is still relatively small, at about 9 percent, but that is a 50-percent increase over recent years, he said.
“More OEMs are doing red-tinted clear than ever before, and we’re also seeing it bleed into the blue space,” Eibon said.
Nanotechnology creates ‘extreme’ color
Together with polymer technology to stabilize them, nano-dispersed pigments create “incredibly bright” colors with great transparency and color that offer high chroma, candy-like looks, Eibon said. Conventional pigments, more coarsely ground, result in less light scatter and create a hazy, milky flop, he said.
“We are making something that approaches a dye color space, but it’s actually very durable, and it handles better than a dye,” he said. “Whether you use it to create high-chromatic colors such as a lime green or an orange, or you’re using it to make a deep cherry or root beer saturated color, this will get you on both ends.”
At the same time, aluminum pigment technology has progressed from conventional “cornflake” metallics, with jaggy edges that scatter light, to rounded “silver dollar” flakes, which give “nice color travel,” and the newest, vacuum-metalized flakes (VMF), which gives a chrome look, Eibon said.
“They are so thin, there is no scattering,” he said. “Your eye doesn’t understand or see that there is a flake there, and the whole surface looks continuous.”
For pearlescent effects, synthetic micas are replacing naturals, because the surfaces have fewer imperfections, resulting in more color purity, especially noticeable in silvers or white tri-coats, Eibon said. Glass, which gives “awesome sparkle,” has the downside of protruding through the color layer, requiring additional clearcoat to bury it. But PPG developments will drive down those particle sizes, too, he said. The latest developments, black flakes, will be in the OEM marketplace in the next three or four years, he said, while coming in 2018 is a Generation IV pigment, iron oxide deposited on VMP, with “spectacular travel.”
Newer effects mean more paint company research, attention to labor and material reimbursement
Ideally, PPG’s refinish division works alongside its OEM-supplier counterpart in an assembly plant to optimize formulations, Lab Manager Frank Jemiola said.
“If our competitor has that OEM’s business, we don’t necessarily have access to what the pigmentation is or what’s been used to achieve that color,” he said.
Using a powerful microscope, the lab technician can examine the coating’s various layers to determine the type of pigments and layering used to achieve a particular effect, he said, including if a mid-coat is used.
A number of newer specialty finishes, available at extra cost, use a traditional basecoat and clearcoat application, with the clearcoat sanded with 1,000-1,200-grit, perhaps even finer, to provide a smooth base of the final layer of metallic and final clearcoat layer, he said. It means collision repair shops need to be aware of special processes sometimes needed, and the need to charge more for the labor and material required to repair them.
Nissan’s KAB Bluish Silver, as found on its flagship GTR, is one example, and using a similar process is this year’s latest special-effect color, Mazda’s 46G Machine Gray, which uses high-brightness, small aluminum flake over black to provide a unique look.
“The reason for the sanding and smooth finish are because any imperfections in that clear, whether it’s orange peel, pitting, or sand scratches, will cause the flake to disorient instead of lying parallel to the clear. The smoother you apply it, the closer to the liquid metal look you’ll get.”