5 Ways to Make Metallic and Pearlescent Coatings With Mica Pigments

Updated on October 10, 2019
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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:

  1. Simply mixing 2 or more micas if different colors
  2. Adding dry pigment powder to pearl white mica
  3. Tinting a colored mica with universal tints or pigment dispersions
  4. Adding a pigment to interference mica
  5. 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.

Color Theory With Mica
Color Theory With Mica | Source

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.

Pearl Ex Mica Pigment and Mixol 11 Violet Universal Tint
Pearl Ex Mica Pigment and Mixol 11 Violet Universal Tint | Source
Pearl Ex Pigment in Alkyd Enamel Tinted with Violet Universal Tint
Pearl Ex Pigment in Alkyd Enamel Tinted with Violet Universal Tint | Source

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.

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