Pool builder Randy Beard has just completed two pools — one with a plum finish and another in emerald green.
It’s a far cry from the nearly colorless world the pool industry has inhabited for nearly half a century. But pool builders, plasterers and renovators seem to be embracing eye-popping hues thanks to a variety of pigment products now on the market.
“Five or six years ago, it was just black or white,” says Beard, president of Pure Water Pools in Costa Mesa, Calif. “It was like when Henry Ford first started with his cars: You could have any color you wanted as long as it was black.
“But today, there are so many things you can do [with pools] — crazy blues, greens and yellows. The possibilities are endless,” he adds.
Because of the variety of pigment products available today, cool colors are finding their way into all aspects of the backyard aquascape, from decks to waterfeatures.
Pigments may be relatively common within the cement and plaster markets, but they’re new to pool applications. That’s why experts say it is important for applicators to understand pigments and how they’re used. They are available in many forms, from organic to inorganic, and liquids to powders. Some pigments come pre-mixed in the plaster straight from the material provider, while others are custom blended at poolside.
Here’s a closer look at this colorful world:
Dry vs. liquid
Pigments are made available to end users in several forms. Some are already incorporated into the plaster mix, while others can be purchased separately and added at the job site.
“You add the water and pigment, mix it — and then add your other ingredients,” says Greg Garrett, owner of Applied Materials Technology, a manufacturer and consulting firm in Chandler, Ariz. “Most of the time, it’s mixed on site.”
When pigments are mixed at the job site, the plasterer usually has two choices: dry or liquid. The pre-mixed formulas use dry pigments, which come in powders or granules.
The drawback of dry pigments is that they can clump up, according to Garrett. “You can get what I call pigment balls that show up on the surface and take the form of a dot with a tail, looking like a tadpole,” he says. “This ball gets plastered into the pool and shows up during the [curing] process.
“[The mix’s] ability to clump, though, depends on how high the humidity level,” he adds. Humid weather means a greater potential for clumping.
Some say the clumping problem that takes place with dry pigments is associated more with the granule incarnation of the product, not the powders. The powders mix better than the granules and will avoid the aforementioned pigment balls that cause the “tadpoles.”
Others note that the powders are more consistent and can be more accurately measured. That’s why Michael Yon, president of Pyramid Cement Products in Charlotte, N.C., prefers to use dry pigments.
“We are all about the precision of hitting colors dead on the nose,” he says. “You can measure [dry pigments] to the gram and match them up better. With liquid colors, you are pouring them into the mixture and you can have separation.
“We believe in the powders, and we use a dispersion additive to make the colors more consistent,” Yon adds.
But Garrett prefers the liquid, saying the colors are less prone to streaking. This is because liquids are “pre-dispersed,” and are more consistent from batch to batch.
Kirk Chapman, president of Poolscape Unlimited, a Lakeside, Calif.-based plastering firm, also prefers the liquid pigments. Ease of application is one reason, but another is that they’re not difficult to store.
“With pigment powders, they are ruined if they get wet,” Chapman says. “Liquids are less prone to cross contamination.”
Plasterers also might consider the organic and inorganic versions of pigments. Though it may seem like a contradiction, the ingredients that comprise inorganic pigments are minerals that come from the earth.
“Inorganic is the more traditional pigment, and they’ve been used for many years,” says Nick Paris, vice president of marketing at Rockwood Pigments in Los Angeles. “They’re based on metals such as iron for the reds, yellows and browns, or chromium oxide for green and cobalt for blue.”
However, when it comes to colors, there is some crossover between inorganic and organic. For example, black and blue pigments can be found in both categories. On the organic side, carbon provides the black. For inorganics, the black comes from iron oxide. With blues, the inorganic product comes from cobalt. The hues known as phthalo (pronounced thallow) blue or green are organic.
As for inorganic pigments’ durability, there are variables to think about. Most plasterers and manufacturers agree that inorganic products are more durable thanks to their mineral content.
“[Inorganic pigments] are more widely used because they have a long track record of durable use,” Paris says. “Because of their mineral content, such as iron oxide, they are more sun- and fade-proof.”
Then there’s price: Inorganic pigments generally tend to be less expensive. There is one exception, though. “Cost depends on color and the composition of the pigment,” Garrett says. “Anything with iron oxide is inexpensive; however, cobalt-based blues can be expensive in terms of price per pound.”
While organic pigments are found in cementitious materials, their most common application is in fabrics and paints. They are extracts derived from flowers, bugs and various oils.
Organic pigments tend to be less durable than their inorganic counterparts, according to Paris. Some can’t even be used in cement or plaster because the chemistry will cause them to disappear.
Another drawback to organic pigments is that they tend to be more expensive. This is the result of the manufacturing process, which is slightly more complex.
One advantage of organic pigments is that they are available in a wider range of colors. They also tend to be brighter and more dynamic. “You can achieve more vibrant colors such as purples and reds,” Paris says.
Though organic pigments can be livelier, they tend to be less durable. This means it’s better to use them for indoor applications or permanently shaded areas. Talk to the material providers and understand the strengths and weaknesses of the pigments you want to use.