Humans have been using paint for thousands of years, since Neolithic cave paintings were crafted in their earthy hues. In the first millennium, the Greeks and Romans were instrumental in forwarding the use of varnishes as we understand them now. In the Middle Ages, egg yolk-based paints mixed with ground-up semi-precious stones were used to ‘illuminate’ manuscripts, and in 1856, one of the first synthetic dyes, mauveine, was accidentally discovered during the quest for a Malaria treatment.
The fact of the matter is that we love paint. Paint gives new life to a space, which makes it a key design element, but it does more than just make things more appealing to look at. Painting is a protective measure, for your car, your boat, your house. The paint job of the Golden Gate Bridge is continuously being touched up by a team of painters, and not just because it is an international tourist attraction. The paint used on the bridge serves as a sealant against corrosive sea water and coastal weather. The fact that they always use the same shade—International Orange—is a fun bonus that makes the structure iconic.
What’s in Paint?
Paint is made of three components: pigment, binder, and solvent. The binder and solvent together make the vehicle. The solvent provides a medium for the other two components to dissolve into, allowing paint to be smooth instead of clumpy, and the binder makes it possible for paint to adhere to whatever is being painted.
Modern paint sometimes includes an extender, which consists of larger particles of pigment that improve the adhesion of the paint. Paint can also include different additives designed to fulfill certain roles, perhaps to make the paint more weather-resistant or even antimicrobial.
Pigment can be natural or synthetic. The source of the pigment (very often minerals like metallic salts) is crushed into a fine powder to be mixed with the rest of the components of the paint. For example, white paint is often pigmented with titanium dioxide (a vibrantly white chemical often found in sand). You need only look at Mars’ rusty color to suspect that red paint is derivative of iron oxide, though the compound can be found in yellow, brown, and orange paint too (looking at you, Golden Gate).
Black paints are loaded with carbon, much like marshmallows that have had a bit too much time over the fire. Have you ever wondered why purple is associated with royalty? It’s because such aristocratic rulers could afford the most expensive paint like hues of violet and plum. Purple paint was historically pigmented with mollusk shells—millions per pound of paint.
Without a binder, any time spent painting would always end with the frustration of all your hard work washing off or blowing away. Binders serve as the glue that holds paint to the surface being painted. They also hold the pigment particles together to give a cohesive veneer.
The solvent is the last critical component of paint. It serves as the broth in which everything else in the soup can mix. Solvent, also called thinner, makes the solution less viscous so that the final paint product can flow smoothly and spread evenly. Water is often called the universal solvent and serves that purpose in water-based paints like watercolors and emulsions. Oil is another common paint solvent.
The Right Recipe
The process to pigment a binding paint is no straightforward one. While manufacturers have their specific recipes to follow, developing those recipes—-either industrially or on a personal scale—is a matter of trial and error. Creating paint in the color and with the capabilities you desire is a process steeped in chemistry. Not all pigments react in the same way to binding and thinning agents, so there is no guarantee that your mixed paint will be the same shade you fell in love with when you first opened your pigment’s box. Experimenting with ratios and volumes is the only way to make that happen.
Once the recipe is perfect, ratios of pigment, binder, and solvent must be precise. There is very little room for error whilst weighing out each component, otherwise your seductive mauve may end up a fire engine red or a dusky pink.
Making a Splash
The precise process of paint manufacture is different between industrial and small-business or at-home settings, but the bottom line is that everything must be mixed together and then thoroughly homogenized. Pigment must be added to the vehicle slowly. To add it in all at once is to get paint that will not mix properly. Once everything is combined, the unfinished paint goes through iterations of a homogenization procedure to make sure each tiny pigment particle is completely encased in the vehicle. At Wilson’s Paint and Floor Coverings, we want to make sure you get the perfect paint for you. Come see us today to get started.