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Integral Color Synthetic pigments. Alabama Pigments Company, LLC in McCalla, AL

Integral ColorIntegral coloring admixtures are typically a blend of synthetic or natural iron-oxide pigments and surfactants (or wetting agents) that are mixed thoroughly into fresh concrete before placement to achieve uniform, homogeneous color. Integral colors are available in powdered, granular, or liquid forms. For convenience, contractors can order the color directly from the ready-mix supplier for addition at the batch plant. However, many integral color manufacturers have made it easier than ever for contractors to add the color to the truck mixer at the jobsite by packaging their dry pigments in premeasured quantities in disintegrating bags that can simply be tossed unopened directly into the mixer. Liquid pigments, which typically come in pails or buckets, are also easy to add onsite to the concrete mix.

AdvantagesThe biggest advantages of integral color are convenience and labor savings, says Bob Harris, president of The Decorative Concrete Institute and author of Bob Harris' Guide to Stamped Concrete. Because the integral color is mixed into the concrete, you can simply place and finish the concrete as usual. There's no need dust the color onto the surface and float it in during finishing, as is the case with shake-on hardeners.

Another plus: Integral color is permanent because it extends throughout the entire concrete slab. So even if the slab surface is accidentally chipped, scratched, or abraded, the color will remain, unlike with surface-applied treatments. Manufacturers also say that the pigments in integral coloring admixtures are chemically stable and won't fade over time from exposure to the weather or ultraviolet light.

LimitationsThe chief disadvantage of integral color is that the hues are more subtle and less intense than what you can achieve with color hardeners. You're generally limited to soft earth tones or pastel shades. In fact, iron-oxide-based integral colors are only produced in three basic hues: red, yellow, and black. Manufacturers concoct all the other shades, such as browns, tans, and mauves, by blending the basic hues in different ratios, says Chris Sullivan, vice president of sales and marketing for ChemSystems Inc. (a Houston-based manufacturer of architectural concrete products). The exception is blue and green tones, which are possible to produce but typically cost at least two to three times more than iron-oxide pigments because different mineral oxides are used, according to Sullivan.

Cost can be another hindrance. Because you're coloring the entire batch of concrete, rather than just applying color to the surface, you'll generally pay more for integral color than for a shake-on color hardener. Integral color manufacturers also warn that due to the graying effect of most cements, some integral colors should only be added to concrete mixtures containing very light or white cement, which can further boost your overall costs.

Because integral color is mixed into the concrete,it is convenient and labor-saving.Brickform in Rancho Cucamonga, CA.

What to consider before buying

  • Only use products that meet or exceed ASTM C 979 standards for pigments for integrally colored concrete. You can usually find this information on the technical data sheet for the product.

  • Most integral pigments on the market today are made from synthetic rather than natural iron oxides. While you can still buy the natural form, synthetics offer two to three times the tinting strength, says Sullivan.

  • When it comes to powdered versus liquid forms of integral color, one is really no better than the other, according to Sullivan. "They are really the same product and offer the same tinting strength. One just happens to be suspended in water," he says. A downside of liquid pigments is that you'll end up paying more because they contain 30 to 40 percent water. "One pound of dry pigment equals 1.3 to 1.4 pounds of liquid pigment,' he says. Liquid pigments may offer advantages during mixing, however, because they are less messy to handle than bulk powders and they blend in faster. They also can be dispensed with computer-controlled metering systems, which some ready-mix producers use in their plants for more precise dosing and to simplify the blending of custom concrete colors.

  • Ask your ready-mix producer or integral color supplier about the effects other admixtures could have on the workability, set times, and color consistency of integrally colored concrete. Manufacturers say that most admixtures have no detrimental effects on colored concrete, with the exception of calcium-chloride-based accelerators, which can cause discoloration and blotchiness. Some admixtures, however, may shift the color slightly lighter or darker.

  • Because the dosage rate of integral color is based on the cement content of the concrete, some manufacturers warn against using cement substitutes, such as pozzolans and fly ash, because the final color could be affected.

  • In addition to straight integral pigments, you can find "engineered" integral colors that contain admixtures such as water reducers, set retarders, and conditioners. These products are designed to improve the finishability of the colored concrete. Examples include Chromix Admixtures from L.M. Scofield and Color Tech-E from QC Construction Products.

  • If you plan to add the integral color to the concrete mix yourself, be sure to consult with the color supplier for guidance on the proper dosage per sack of cement and the required mixing times. Most suppliers offer dry pigments in disintegrating bags of various sizes, ranging from 1 to 25 pounds or more, so you can buy the exact quantity needed for a particular project.

  • Ready-mix producers generally use integral color from one supplier, which may limit your options somewhat. However, Sullivan says that shouldn't be a big concern because the integral colors from the various manufacturers are chemically similar and there's a lot of overlap in color options. "What it comes down to is service and availability," he emphasizes.

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