Universal vs Specialized Colorants: What’s the Difference?

May 30, 2018

Universal Colorants: One Size Fits Most

Universal colorants are designed to fit as many systems and jobs as they possibly can. Point-of-sale (POS) tinting available at the big box stores, for example, allows customers to pick out a base brand and then use universal colorants to create the desired shade. This approach makes it possible for retail outlets to offer a wide range of colors within the least amount of space possible, relying on just one or two dispensers to tint any base product in the store.

While this example regarding architectural paints is familiar to anyone who has bought paint at a big box or local hardware store, the same approach is used for Industrial coatings, where coating performance may be equal to or greater than many architectural applications. In-plant tinting, a means of tinting where the colorants are added in the paint and coatings manufacturing facility, can also rely on universal colorants to offer an incredibly wide range of colors for large volume products or customer orders. By using the same type of colorants in-plant as are used at the POS locations, color consistency can be assured between both methods of tinting.

Universal colorants are compatible with most base paints and allow tinting of a wide range of colors in very small batches (usually 1 – 5 gallons). Because universal colorants are manufactured in large batches, the immediate cost is cheaper than more specialized colorants that may be made in smaller batches. In addition, much less floor space is needed to offer hundreds or thousands of different shades when a POS tinting concept is applied. For example, one set of colorants can produce over a thousand colors in with three or four bases from two or more coatings manufacturers.

Universal colorants must balance broad compatibility with individual coating performance. Sometimes, quality and durability are the features that may be sacrificed on the path to broad compatibility.

Specialized Colorants: The Right Formulation for the Right Job

Specialized colorants are those that have been formulated for very specific purposes, engineered to deliver optimal results in a particular coating chemistry or for a particular application. Overall, specialized colorants will provide better durability in coatings when paired with similar coatings chemistries. In the case of a two-component coating that uses a colorant line with a similar resin chemistry, the colorant resin will react within the final coatings matrix, thus, improving performance. While the choices are many, the most popular ones and their uses are as follows:

  • Epoxy – These coatings are made using epoxy resins and are used as industrial maintenance, secondary containment and concrete protective coatings.
  • Urethane – An acrylic polyol designed for use with an aliphatic isocyanate in two-component systems and are used in automotive, marine and protective coatings.
  • Polyester – Unsaturated polyester resin for gel coat or other thermosetting applications.
  • Polysiloxane – Used in silicone and silicone-modified systems. These coatings are designed for marine and protective coatings for severe environmental conditions.
  • Polyaspartic – Aliphatic polyurea derived from the reaction product of aliphatic polyisocyanate and polyaspartic ester and are used in concrete protective and industrial maintenance coatings.

Specialized colorants will often give a better overall coating performance, which appeals to those seeking to make no sacrifices on quality. The specialized chemistry of the colorant system typically improves durability and reduces the negative impacts of the colorant components on the coating. For example, ships require a highly durable coating to combat the corrosive effects of the moisture and salt spray. Using a specialized colorant geared towards the coatings chemistry can increase the quality and lifecycle of the coating and, therefore, the ship. In addition, downtime due to drydock maintenance of failed coatings is reduced.

The initial price tag is often higher than that of universal colorants. Also, the order quantity of the coating is larger because these colorants are generally used in-plant where batch sizes tend to be larger. However, the end user is paying for performance and not just aesthetics. Besides, the total cost may be lower when considering the entire service life of the coating.

Bottom Line

As with any project, there are several factors that will drive the decision to use a universal colorant or a specialized colorant from the type of job to the cost to client. While reducing cost may be an important goal, it is essential to take into consideration the long-term needs of the application.

Lowering initial costs may not be worthwhile if the coating or work is guaranteed for a specific length of time. A colorant that fades or a coating that breaks down within a shorter window of time may actually cost more in the long run depending on the guaranteed lifecycle of the product and whether the coating will have to be repaired or replaced. The cost of labor to repair or replace the coating is often overlooked when trying to reduce initial costs.

Whether you use universal or specialized, make sure your colorants are quality products from a trusted brand.

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