I have used mica pigments for many years for artistic purposes. They are cheaper and less toxic than many other pigments.
In this article, I will discuss several options that can successfully produce a metallic iridescent paint in virtually any medium. Mica pigments can be applied as semI-opaque or nearly completely transparent coatings for multilayered depth effects. The methods to make metallic and pearlescent coatings are as follows:
- Simply mixing 2 or more micas if different colors
- Adding dry pigment powder to pearl white mica
- Tinting a colored mica with universal tints or pigment dispersions
- Adding a pigment to interference mica
- Adding artist paint
About Mica Pigments
Mica pigments are mineral-based powders in flat, flake-like forms that give an iridescent shine. The mica pigments are so easy to disperse in just about any medium that they can simply be stirred by hand in most cases. Manufacturers take advantage of the natural pearlescent qualities of mica and they modify them to make many different colors. Even so, they can be further mixed and modified to create the exact look you are going for.
Mica pigments are used in art and interior design, cosmetics, automotive paint, and even soaps and toiletries. Their low price, low toxicity, and ease of use mean they are widely available online.
Mixing Two Different Mica Colors
The simplest method of making special-color pearl paint is just mixing two colored micas together. This is the same as with any paint color, and a basic knowledge of color theory applies here. For example, a blue mica and a red mica should give a purple or violet mica, depending on the brightness and purity of the original colors.
Mixing Dry Pigment Powder With Pearl White Mica
White pearl mica comes in various grades. Some are very fine, iridescent pearl white powders. Other grades consist of rather large flakes with an enhanced shimmer. In any case, add a bit of dry pigment powder to the pearl white pigment and thoroughly mixing results in a dry colored mica ready for any paint medium.
The best results are obtained using transparent or translucent pigments. Opaque inorganic oxides can be used somewhat but sparingly to prevent loss of the iridescent property of mica pigments.
Tinting a Colored Mica Pigment With Universal Tint
Mica pigments are widely available in a seemingly endless array of colors. Sometimes, you will want to tweak the color a bit for a certain look instead of buying a whole other mica pigment. Universal tints are concentrated colors without a paint binder that are in liquid form and can be added to many coating mediums. In the example below, a rather light purple mica is dispersed in alkyd tint base, and a violet Mixol tint is added drop-wise to create a darker, violet-based pearlescent purple paint.
Adding Pigment to Interference Mica
Interference micas are white micas with a thin coating of tin oxide that bends light to create a shimmer of a specific color. The thickness of applied layer determines what color is produced. These pigments “come to life“ when applied over a black or dark surface. Also, mixing a small amount of a dark colored pigment has the same effect. By adding a color a similar hue as the interference pigment, an enhanced pearlescent color is produced. Colors that are complimentary to the interference pigment can produce interesting effects.
Adding Artist Paint
Sometimes, a pigment dispersion or dry pigment might be too much of a capital investment if you just want to slightly adjust the hue of a mica-based paint. Small tubes of acrylic or oil paints can be had cheaply and readily in any craft store.
NOTE: If you are handling an oil-based or solvent-based metallic paint, it's very important that you verify that the metallic pigment is NOT aluminum! Aluminum powder is completely opaque and any pigment or color you choose to add will simply disappear. Don’t ask me how I found out!
How to Source Mica Pigments
With all the DIY madness on the internet, there certainly is no shortage of online vendors to source mica pigments from. The key is knowing where to look. The widest selection will be at the venders that sell supplies to making cosmetics. Cosmetic suppliers will likely have at least 100 different colors and the prices are cheaper than you might find at an artist pigment supply shop. Amazon or eBay are a sure bet as well. Frequently, I buy 10-gram samples very inexpensively on eBay to test out a color.
Rebecca on July 21, 2020:
Thank you! That has really helped. I had been waiting for weeks for my 50g to arrive by mail and was worried it wouldn’t be enough but that would be spot on 5%.
Jason (author) from Indianapolis, IN. USA on July 13, 2020:
As a sculptor, I’m quite familiar with mica pigments. So with that said, I will give some tips. If you want a transparent to translucent metallic affect, use 5% Or less mica by weight to acrylic medium. For more opaque metallic finish I would mix 12-16% mica pigment by weight. Also, you can bias your finish with a similar colored base coat. Example, using a flat magenta base coat under bright fuschia mica pigment. You could tone that fuchsia down by using a maroon base coat. Hope that helps!
Rebecca on July 10, 2020:
Do you have any handy ratio tips of adding mica to 1litre of acrylic paint? I want to have a go at making my own light pinkish pearl effect acrylic paint to paint a small dresser.
Jason (author) from Indianapolis, IN. USA on October 23, 2019:
It most certainly would. You need to consider how you would normally paint plastic models. For water based acrylics, you just use a spray primer that bonds to plastic and then mix mica with acrylic emulsion medium and apply on primer. For solvent based, you can add mica pigments to clear lacquer and spray. You might also be able to add micas to model paints if they are not too opaque. A little experimentation will help you learn. Oh, I have leaned myself. I should mention that white primer might need many coats of mica paint to hide it. You could pick a solid base color that matches the color of your mica metallic paint or you might try tinting the primer too.
Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on October 23, 2019:
Very interesting. Do you think this would work on plastic models? (I'm into model railroading and can see some of these finishes on some of the cars and structures.)