Should I Use Paint or Stains When Coloring Vertical Decorative Concrete
By: Nathan Giffin of Vertical Artisans [spacer]
This is a tough topic to talk about. There are many angles to this conversation, but I can only offer up my experience over the last two decades, and hopefully you will walk away with a little more understanding on the topic.
When I first started my career in Vertical Concrete Systems there were very few options. Color technologies were evolving, but the standards were acid stains, integral color, color hardeners, colored release, and household paint that you thinned out.
Acid stains did a good job but were dreadful to work with on vertical concrete. Every drip was a problem and you had to be very careful that it would not bleed into protected areas. That is still true to this day, so not much has changed. There have been some advances with taking acids and mixing them with a jelly that then can then be applied to the wall without dripping. This method of a spreading the jelly on the wall and staining is not the most efficient. There is a considerable amount of labor and cleanup to follow. You still should neutralize unless you have the time to wait for it to self-neutralize. Early in my career I used acids in spray bottles to speed up the process and then go back and touch up areas that had drips. It’s a long process and troublesome at times. I do not have any desire to go back to that process today.
There are reactive stains in the market place today and they are very effective. Reax does not require neutralization, and it takes a little bit of time to work. The benefit to reactives is that they leave the surface of the concrete open and are much easier to work with than acids. They are also water-based and can be painted or sprayed on a surface. Protection must still be used, but when establishing base color, they can really save time.
I also dabbled in color hardeners and antique release. This is quite messy and you are not able to get a huge variety of color variances in each stone without multiple applications. The other thing that I found troubling with this method is that the colors themselves were too “perfect” meaning unlike acid stains which created anomalies and mottling this method was devoid of all of that. I found myself either accepting the stark nature of the colors or adding more effects to change the overall look. Its sterile color appearance did not look as natural as the acid stains. So, this method needed help (big time) in order for me to really except it. Concrete driveways and patios could get away with it but with individual rocks on a wall was much more difficult to pull off. Another product that I am playing with more and more is Antiquing agent such as Tru Tique. That is a water-based color solution that will provide good contrast in the deeper texture of the surface. Very easy to use, and it’s most useful on more level surfaces since it is designed to run into low areas.
This now brings me to paints. I’ve found a lot of success with paints. Methods and new techniques came naturally, and as far as I know, interior work was not adversely affected. There is an entire industry in the faux-paint world that offers many nice elements to work with. These methods, however, can be somewhat sophisticated. As more and more exterior projects began to come about, I did begin to notice some adverse effects. The colorant that is found in paint is not in and of itself sticky, nor will it stay on a surface without aid. Thus, the acrylics and latex vehicles are meant to hold in place the color on a stone surface. Manufactures would have you prep and prime the surface of the concrete to ensure the lasting bond of the paint on the surface. The basic concept that most artists today rely on is the porosity of the concrete and the residual acrylic or latex that would trap the color in the concrete. For the most part, there is success but I have seen projects where rain and weather bleach out the weakened paint and ultimately wash off the color from the concrete surface. Running water over the painted rock work is by far the worst because the running water is very destructive to the finish. Running water is destructive anyway and weak application of paint doesn’t have a chance over time. There have been some advances in paints specific to concrete using Nano technologies. This has helped color stay embedded and secure. The one drawback when coloring with paint is when the porous nature of the concrete is filled with a thinned out acrylic or latex application, there is very little left for protective sealers designed to keep water out. Yes, I can argue that the paint vehicles itself will keep water out, but the weakened state of the paint leaves the door open for areas of the project that will break down and leave the concrete unprotected. Fully painted projects also require greater skill to perfect. Some of the most beautiful vertical concrete projects in the world are painted. There is a different skill level required to achieve this success, just as there is on with canvas on an easel. Paint is also cheaper than the other options because it is readily available everywhere.
This leaves concrete stains. Now I’m not talking about dye and seal stains that we can find on polished floors. I’m referring to water-based stains. Over the last several years I have used water-based stains for most of the rock work I have done. I have found good success with water-based stains. In this case I am specifically referring to Tru-Tint water-based stains from Walttools. These stains come ready-to-use, are my primary method of coloring, and are applied with squirt bottles or pump sprayers. One of the things I like the most about the stains is they do offer a nice blend of color that is very earthen and natural looking. It’s the difference between holding up white silica sand and then holding up white sand from Pensacola beach. Both are white but the beach sand has millions of variations of white thus looking more natural. The pure white silica sand is missing all the un-pure white colors. The Tru-Tint pallet of color has so many pre-made natural choices that work very well for coloring stone and rock work. So in a nutshell, I find it’s basically easier to work with. Because it is a translucent stain I can also layer colors and blend color easily. It penetrates better than paint and once dry is very locked into the surface. Working with paints and stains over the years has allowed me to enjoy the benefits of both. But for speed and efficiency I have leaned toward stains, and occasionally I will add paints as well. The biggest benefit of using stains is there is no weakness in the application. An invisible protective sealer can be used to protect the concrete and not give off a plastic appearance that leads to a more fake appearance. I also feel for the time spent on the wall stain applications are more natural. Paint can achieve these looks but sometimes takes more steps.
There are many who may disagree and who are “paint only” or “stain only” artists. I tend to be a little of both, but favor stains for their speed, effects, and convenience.