I consider myself a novice when it comes to working with concrete and cement pigments. I know there are many types of pigments and many ways to color concrete so I have been anxious to start experimenting with types of cement pigments and techniques for coloring concrete crafts. There’s no better way to learn, than by experimenting.
As I mentioned in my post on Techniques For Cement And Concrete Crafts, there are two methods for coloring your concrete crafts. One method is called integral color, where the pigment is integrated into the cement mixture. The other coloring technique is called topical, where it is added to the dry concrete after it has cured.
Integral Coloring Of Cement And Concrete
The first part of my concrete crafts pigment experiments was testing integral concrete pigments. For this set of tests, my goal was to check the levels/depth/loads of color and what the saturation point would be. The saturation point is the point in which a deeper level of color can no longer be achieved by adding more pigment.
In other words, if you want your cement craft to be a deep navy blue, you can add 25% color, then another 25%, then another- and eventually, it won’t get any darker or bluer because you will have reached the saturation point. And once you reach the saturation point, you have also reached the point where adding more pigment may weaken your concrete craft.
I also suspected that not all pigmenting materials would be equal in terms of pigmenting concentration. So let’s see what happened.
Since powdered oxide pigments are the most common type of colorant used in integral concrete coloring, I started there.
So the question to answer was, how much powdered pigment is needed until it reaches the saturation point, and how different will the color levels/loads be until that point?
Note: I used a naturally white colored cement for all the integral coloring tests. Please see the update about this white cement in the cement mixtures comparison section of the cement tests post.
The Integral Concrete Pigment Tests
Coloring Concrete Crafts With Oxide Pigment Powders
Materials: White cement and red powder oxide pigment.
I used a silicone muffin mold to cast these pieces in since I could make everything the same size to properly test the pigmentation. I wasn’t terribly fond of using it for cooking anyway. :0} I’ll call the concrete muffins “discs” because it sounds silly to call these muffins. ;0}
First I filled one disc with the white cement so we’d have a baseline to compare.
Next, I added varying amounts of red pigment to 6 more disc molds. I’m listing the amounts here, but it is important to know that each pigment color- red, blue, white, green- has slightly different saturation points.
They aren’t the same across the board. Not only are the saturation points different between colors, but they are also different between brands.
These amounts are really low, but what’s important is the increase in %.
Each disc was about 1 cup of wet cement.
As you can see, the increases in color depth are incremental until you get to #6. The 83% increase is the same as the #7 at the 100% increase, so somewhere between 75% and 85%, I had reached the saturation point.
Adding more color beyond that won’t make the color deeper. In fact, once you reach that saturation point, adding any more will start to mess with the structural integrity of the cement.
Concrete Crafts Mix Types -Comparison
For this particular test, I added the same amount of pigment to each of these three types of cement. In the bottom row, the one on the left is Portland cement, which is naturally grey. The one in the middle is the off-white (sometimes beige) Cement All. and the one on the right is the white cement.
So when compared along with the added red pigment, the Portland cement (both top and bottom, on the left) shows the color of the natural Portland cement and directly above it has the added color. It’s hard to tell from this photo, but the Portland cement resulted in quite a brownish, dark grey/pink color.
In the bottom middle you can see the off-white Cement All which is the Cement All’s natural color and directly above it, has the added red pigment. It is more muted than the white cement with pigment (to the right). It is also darker and in comparison almost looks like it has a touch of brown to it, but still much less brownish grey than the Portland cement.
The white cement mix (far right, top and bottom) shows a much purer the color than the other two cements. Incidentally, I have been able to achieve the same color as the white cement with pigment- with Cement All. However it can only be done by adding white titanium dioxide pigment.
I don’t believe that you could add enough white to Portland cement to get the same pure color that the white cement achieved.
Concrete Crafts Pigment With Equal Saturation
Since I hadn’t used each of my pigment powders yet, I wanted to see how they would turn out. I also wondered if some colors would look like they were at a deeper level, even though I was using the same amount of concrete pigment.
Using ½ of a teaspoon of powdered pigment, I added equal amounts of each color of pigment that I had on hand, to each dish. This amount of powdered pigment ended up making each dish at about a 50% saturation. To me, it looks like the levels of pigmentation are all the same.
The next step in these colored concrete tests was to compare the colors of three cement mixes that each has naturally different shades/colors.
Coloring Concrete Crafts With Acrylic Paint
It’s true that you can use acrylic paint in your wet cement mixture to achieve pigmentation in your cement crafts. I had tried this a while back but the paint I used apparently wasn’t the best for coloring cement and it didn’t give it much color at all.
After trying the acrylic craft paint, I was initially super excited. It’s easy to work with, much less messy than powdered or powdered with water mixed in first. There are so many colors to choose from, you’d never have to mix colors to get a specific color if you didn’t want to. Plus the paint is cheap, but… guess what? It’s actually not more economical. Read on.
For this test, I used Craft Smart matte acrylic paint. Here are different proportions of the paint where I increased the amounts gradually by 2 increments.
- 1 teaspoon of acrylic paint
2. 2 teaspoons of acrylic paint
3. 4 teaspoons of acrylic paint
4. 6 teaspoons of acrylic paint
5. 8 teaspoons of acrylic paint
6. 10 teaspoons of acrylic paint
These cement pieces required a whole lot of paint to produce color. I mentioned earlier that not all types/brands of acrylic paint are made alike, and though this one isn’t highly pigmented, it does play nice with the cement. It mixed in easily and was easy to clean up. The paint I tried a while back -though highly pigmented, didn’t mix well.
I’ve done the math on this and if you were to make cement crafts that took ¾ cup of wet cement (a little less than the small dishes above) and wanted 100% saturation, the breakdown goes like this.
This calculation is assuming you use a color other than red and black, which you can get at a big box retailer for cheap, the other colors tend to come in between $14-18 per lb. And let’s assume you get the paint for $3 at 8oz.
Each colored cement piece will cost you .17 cents with the oxide powder. The acrylic paint will cost you .60 cents per piece. That’s quite a difference.
Hint: Since Craft Smart paint can be found at Michaels you could wait for the 40% off coupon and then purchase the 64oz-sized paint. Now the paint is only costing you .22 cents per piece! Here’s another hint- with Michaels, you can order online and pick up in the store. It makes life easier- I’m a big advocate. Plus they tend to have better coupons for the pick up in store option.
For additional information on integral concrete color, you may want to read this article from The Concrete Exchange.
Concrete Crafts Marbling Effects
I have been experimenting with marbling/ombre/two-tone techniques, so look for upcoming tutorials to get details on each of these effects. For now, here are brief descriptions of these cement coloring techniques.
One thing to note is that marbling can be done integrally and topically. These descriptions are for integral marbling effects.
A marbled look can be any effect that looks like marble. For instance, real marble stone can have layered veins, pronounced veining or blended, subtle veining. It can have blended or harsh ripples, waves or bubbles. Basically, it can be any form of smushed up colors. :0)
Ombre- Two colors that blend gradually. Ombre is often the effect of marbling, so I’m going to categorize these as the same thing and call it “marbling” for this article.
Here are some techniques for creating a marbling effect.
Premixed pigment, stacked and added to container.
Premixed pigment, abutted to each other.
Dry powdered concrete pigment sprinkled onto the cement in between layers- causes bleeding of the dry pigment.
Powdered pigment mixed with water to make a liquid colorant. It can then be applied to the top or between layers.
Two different tones of the same color. They may or may not blend to create a graduated color. This was created by separating white cement into two piles. I added dry powdered pigment to each pile of cement.
I then added the plum color to the mold, then the pale purple/grey to the mold. Once I added the inner mold, the pressure caused the cement to slide up and create a gradient color effect.
Topical Coloring Of Concrete Crafts
If you are making a planter or bowl, then your best bet is to pour a layer of cement into the container, then sprinkle color along the top edge, where it meets the container. Beware that although this technique has a beautiful, dramatic effect, the pigment is exposed after curing and can bleed.
I haven’t found a sealer yet that prevents this bleeding. A polyacrylic varnish and acrylic paint varnish will do the trick, but the two I tried very noticeably darkened my pieces. I love this look and will continue to search to see if there is a solution.
Alcohol Inks For Cement/Concrete Crafts
I had some alcohol ink laying around because I planned on using it for a resin project. It’s a very thin, usually transparent and quick-drying pigment. I was curious to see how this would look painted onto cement.
It has a really neat effect on the cement and I kinda love it. You will need to add water in order to apply it to the cement.
In this photo, I used a cotton swab and rubbed it in the alcohol ink and water and rubbed it around the cement planter. I wanted it to look like a watercolor and this did that. Note that you should seal this or some of the color will rub off onto your hand. This one is sealed.
For this cement planter, I did a combination of a q-tip dipped in the ink and water as well as used a foam paintbrush to blend it more evenly.
Be on the look-out for future tutorials using this concrete colorant!
Resin Pigments For Cement/Concrete
This one didn’t require testing since I have already used resin to paint on concrete. The resin pigments come in opaque or translucent and actually, alcohol ink is one of the pigments used to color resin.
Here are photos of two of my tutorials where I used resin to paint on concrete.
Acrylic Paint & Washes For Cement/Concrete
Painted with acrylic paint.
Paint with acrylic paint and water, to create a watercolor/wash effect.
You can always paint your concrete and cement crafts with acrylic paint. I recommend sealing them before and after painting to help avoid fading. For the Homemade Cement Bird Bath I made, I used acrylic craft paint and the Easy Seal concrete sealer.
It’s been 9 months since I made this and it has not experienced fading. It is also only in direct sunlight for about 3-5 hours a day.
Concrete/Cement Stains or Dyes
There are concrete stains/dyes that are specifically made for coloring cement and concrete. I have not tested these yet, but I will post here when I do.
In summary, there are probably endless ways to color concrete. Going forward, based on these results, my plan will likely be to use red and black/charcoal powdered oxide pigments from the big box retailers (Home Depot/Lowe’s etc.).
For the other colors, I will most likely switch over to the acrylic paints. I still like the look of sprinkling in the powdered oxides on the surface to achieve intensity, but will probably reserve those for that purpose the majority of the time.
And last, but not least – have fun with concrete pigments and don’t be afraid to experiment!