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Basics of pigment technology
Mar 12, 2018

What makes effect pigments so special? How do pearlescent pigments reflect light? Learn more about the science behind stunning color effects.

Play with light

Few things are as versatile and colorful as pearlescent pigments.Thanks to their particular layered structure, light is reflected at different levels in the pigment. The reflected waves interfere with each other, causing amplification or cancellation. Depending on the structure of the layers in each case, this effect creates the brilliant interference color that gives the pigments their unique character.

Other pigment types

The effects pigments industry uses three key pigment classes: absorption pigments, metal effect pigments, and pearlescent pigments. We are familiar with absorption pigments from watercolor paints, for example. They represent "true" colors, as they absorb part of the light that hits them and scatter the rest. This phenomenon gives them their own body color. In contrast, silver metal effect pigments reflect almost all the light like lots of tiny mirrors. This gives them their great surface luster, which is sometimes considered dazzling.

The physics behind the effects

Behind the attractive shimmer of pearlescent pigments is the simple process of refraction. At boundary layers, such as between air and glass, white light is broken up and divided into its components – the colors of the rainbow. The greater the difference between the refractive indexes of the adjacent materials, the stronger the refraction. Depending on the angle at which the light hits the boundary layer, it may be completely reflected or may pass through unchanged.

Refraction dependent on metal oxide layer thickness

A piece of nature at its core: mineral mica

Mineral mica is a natural inorganic pigment. The mineral is the starting material for some of our effect pigments. After extraction, it is cleaned, ground, and then coated with one or more metal oxides in a precipitation process. The result: a layer-substrate pigment that interacts with light in a specific way with called interference. The result is a specific interference color, depending on the thickness of the metal oxide. A wide variety of effects can be achieved, from matte shimmer similar to that of pearl or mother of pearl, to interference looks with significant shimmer in all colors of the rainbow.

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