How do you Make a Transparent Paint?
We often get asked if we can match a color in a transparent paint. We can, but it is an interesting process and a bit more complicated than you may think.
Paint is usually an opaque coating designed to cover whatever is being painted. Paint is comprised of pigment particles suspended in a binder. These pigment particles form an opaque barrier that blocks light and hides whatever is being coated.
But what if you want the paint to be transparent? What if you want to change the color of clear glass or plastic and maintain the transparency? Can we make a transparent paint that will accomplish this goal?
Back in the early days when we were just starting, and learning, we were asked by a lighting manufacturer to provide a transparent paint. Our first attempt to create a transparent paint tried using less pigment in the formula relative to the clear binder. We learned (the hard way) this works if you are painting something that doesn’t need to transmit light. The paint coating will be translucent and allow the underneath surface to show through, but it didn’t work for the lighting manufacturer. Once you shine light through you see that pigment particles do not transmit light. The pigment particles appear as little black dots - not at all the result we were expecting. We had to go back to the drawing board and figure out a different way.
We learned that we could use dyes instead of pigments to create a transparent color. As discussed above, pigments are particles that are suspended in the paint. Dyes on the other hand, are dissolved into the binder. Particles are not suspended in the coating, rather the dyes change the color of the binding becoming a solution. The coating becomes a transparent coating that can transmit light.
Matching a color into a transparent coating is a challenging process. Trying to duplicate a transparent coating is relatively straightforward (like when we created dye solutions to match colored transparent polycarbonate parts for Hasbro). We can see the target level of opacity and color in transparent form. But what if you are starting with an opaque color and want it in transparent form? How do you communicate how transparent you want it? How do you compare a transparent to an opaque color? These are two aspects that require a bit of back and forth when developing a transparent color for a client. It can be done, but it might require a few iterations to create the effect the client expects since the level of transparency is hard to communicate/quantify and the color itself may look very different when transparent.