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Metal Coatings Color Trends

David C. Story

Metal Coatings Color Trends

Posted: April 24, 2020 | Tradewinds, Project Management

Color options influence decisions we make every day — from the fruits and vegetables we select for our families, to larger, more important purchases like cars, homes, and business renovations. Making color choices is part of our daily lives.

It is for this reason that metal coaters are keeping their fingers on the pulse of 21st century color trends, monitoring and taking clues from the global marketplace to better prepare what customers’ changing palettes will desire.

The purpose of this article is to explore just a few of the clues that are driving current metal coating color trends, and how they’ve evolved into an increased demand by the architectural community. Some of these demands are for new, innovative shades, and some for personalized color designs, to adorn multi-million dollar structures.

By way of disclaimer, let’s begin by stating the obvious: Color is a highly subjective topic, so this is by no means an authoritative thesis, but rather a few observations from years of interacting and collaborating with architects and metal coating clients, both here and abroad.

Color Trending

What are some of the drivers for current metal coatings trends? Certainly, new pigments and special effects play a part (we will dive into those later); however, engineering advancements also have an important role. Both coil and extrusion metal applicators, along with their post-formers, are combining art with science to create metal coating designs that were not even considered possible as recently as 10 years ago.

Color trends are also steered by societal influences. Events happening around the world can affect how we see things, and ultimately influence the colors we gravitate towards in our personal and business environments.

For example, when the global economy collapsed in 2008, there was a broad cultural shift in color preferences from whites and bright colors to more somber shades of gray and silver. This permeated fashion design, and eventually moved into appliances, flooring, fixtures, textiles, and other industries. Gray maintained its popularity, finding its way into the automotive market, where it eventually superseded silver. In the past three years, passenger vehicles painted with gray shades, such as graphite, pewter, steel metallic, and others, have begun to outsell those finished with silver colors.

While the architectural community continues to use silver, designers have become sensitive to criticisms of “sterile glass box” colorscapes. This has led to the introduction of more sophisticated shades of silver and earth-tone colors, like those used on award-winning projects such as The (Passive) House at Cornell Tech and Bloomberg Center in New York City.

At first glance, the exterior metal skin of the 28-story Passive House looks like a soft, smooth silver; however, as custom-designed with Handel Architects, that silver color, in sunlight, evolves into a shimmering champagne tint.

Next door, the Bloomberg Center features a multistory rainscreen, also finished with custom polychromatic coatings. Formulated to animate more than 300,000 pixel-like perforations, the color-shift built into these coil and extrusion coatings enables the rainscreen to produce a continuous image of the New York City skyline.

Color Shifts and Special Effects

Polychromatic paints for coil coatings were first viewed with skepticism when launched in mid-2000. Some regarded these color-changing finishes as “niche” coatings — solely for use on buildings like kitschy restaurant exteriors, retail storefronts, or other specialty applications.

Fifteen years later, these coatings are more popular than ever. Due to innovation and ongoing upgrades to their formulation, today’s polychromatic coatings produce subtler, more elegant color shifts.

The addition of infrared-reflective (IR) pigments to these coatings also helps buildings become more energy efficient. This point is important because sustainability is no longer just a catchword, but a movement crossing multiple industries and lifestyles, becoming part of the DNA that drives metal coating color trending.

Advancements in pigment and special effect technologies have also led to new opportunities for color scientists and stylists to offer architects striking three dimensional colors that were once available only on highend luxury vehicles. These “best in class” effects were used on the Bloomberg Center mentioned earlier, and for other notable products, such as the newly released Wanderlust finishes by 3A Composite USA.

A selection of 29 new ALUCOBOND PLUS aluminum composite material (ACM) finishes, the Wanderlust collection is curated to inspire architects and builders by connecting them with nature. Many of the palette’s earthtone colors align with PPG’s Global Color Trending forecast for 2021 and 2022.

The Transition from Liquid to Powder

Beyond the emerging era of customization, new challenges lie ahead. In the coming years, coatings manufacturers will have to focus their research and development efforts on transitioning special-effect formulations from liquid coatings, which are North America’s most prevalent form of high-end architectural metal coatings, to less environmentally restricted powder coatings, which represent the wave of the future.

While the attributes traditionally associated with powder oatings are toughness and solid colors, architects are gravitating toward the new menu of looks available with this technology, including high-gloss powder, as well as textured, terra cotta, and speckle coats. As the trend toward powder coatings accelerates, look for coatings manufacturers to deliver greater levels of innovation and sophistication in this arena.


Moving forward, there is a growing consensus taking shape in the metal coatings color world — despite the COVOID-19 crisis. Based on research by PPG’s Global Color Trending team, and input received from global architects and designers, consumers in 2021 and 2022 are going to embrace colors that convey comfort, optimism, and a connection to nature.

Building designers will be looking for innovative earthen hues capable of harmonizing with their urban surroundings. The previously mentioned Wanderlust finishes are a good example of this trend, as they feature a color series specifically designed for this purpose, called the “Element Series.” In shade, the colors display a rich, organic, earth-tone-like brick or masonry; yet when exposed to sunlight, they radiate a soft three-dimensional sparkle.

Other metal coatings colors, like silvers, will remain popular, as will grays, but expect architects to ask for more nuanced, expressive versions of those shades.

One trend sure to remain constant will be the increased desire by architects for customized stylings to personalize their building designs.

These are all positive signs that the global market believes the pandemic will end, and as a result, is continuing to drive innovation in both color science and metal engineering. We join our industry colleagues in looking forward with eager anticipation to what lies ahead in this new, colorful metal coatings world.

About the Author: David C. Story is Chief Stylist and Manager of Color Science, Coil & Building Products, Industrial Coatings, PPG. He has held the roles of manager, color services, and manager, color science, within the coil and building products business for the United States and Canada. He was recently asked to lead a new team in the Center of Excellence that will focus on expanding global color capabilities for the industrial coatings business through color styling initiatives and new color platform developments. David’s achievements include development of the first color-changing coatings to be commercialized in the coil industry (now known as PPG DURANAR™ VARI-COOL™ coatings). He was also part of the team that launched ULTRA-COOL™ coatings technology (now DURANAR™ ULTRA-COOL™ coatings), the first cool-roof coatings technology to be commercialized in the coil industry. David has also designed a number of award-winning color stylings for high-profile building projects. This successful track record has made him known to architects globally, who seek his services when they are looking for new and innovative color stylings.