Picture a concrete coloring material that produces a unique look whenever it's applied. No two floors or walls look the same after being treated with this material. That's the magic of the acid-etch chemical staining process–an infinite number of possible results limited only by the creativity of the installer. It's why installers get so involved with the process, and it's why their customers must have realistic expectations about the outcome. They should expect variability, not uniformity.

"We're trying to make concrete look interesting, not like some other material," says Mike Miller, president of The Concretist, a well-known consultant to the decorative-concrete industry. He often combines colors from acid-etch stains, dyes, and tints in his work, and extends the range even further by applying the stains to concrete already colored integrally or with color hardeners.

The variegated and natural look of the end product is its most attractive feature, but this variability can also lead to disagreements among owners, specifiers, and installers. Because so many variables can affect the final color, contractors should provide an approval sample of stain applied to a small, concealed part of the concrete to be treated.

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