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How do you mix color shifting paint?


Color shifting paint is a special type of automotive paint that changes color based on viewing angle and lighting conditions. This unique paint effect has become popular on high-end sports cars and custom vehicles. While color shifting paints produce stunning visual effects, they require special mixing techniques compared to regular automotive paints. In this article, we’ll discuss what color shifting paint is, what makes it shift colors, how to mix it properly, and some tips for applying it to your vehicle.

What is color shifting paint?

Color shifting, or chameleon paint, contains special pigments that cause the paint to change hue at different viewing angles. This is achieved by using pigments that refract and reflect light differently. Common color shifting pigments include mica, titanium dioxide, and aluminum flakes. Mica pigments tend to produce a flashy, sparkly effect while titanium dioxide has more of a deep, pearlescent look. The pigments are suspended in clear binder resins. When viewed head-on, one color is seen but then quickly shifts to another color when viewed from the side. This creates a dramatic prismatic effect on the vehicle’s exterior.

How does color shifting paint work?

The color shifting effect occurs because of the ways the special pigments interact with light. Let’s take a closer look:

Mica pigments – Mica is a mineral that forms thin, transparent platelet-like particles. When suspended in paint, the mica platelets are oriented randomly. Light hits the edges of the platelets and reflects off, interfering with other wavelengths. This causes different colors to be seen from different angles. Mica provides a sparkly, metallic color shift.

Titanium dioxide – TiO2 is a white pigment commonly used in paints. But in color shifting coatings, titanium dioxide forms very thin flakes rather than round particles. This flakey structure allows light to pass through the titanium dioxide and bounce between the layers, producing a luminescent quality and amplifying shift.

Aluminum flakes – Aluminum is machine shaved into thin flat flakes for automotive paints. The flakes reflect light similarly to mica but with a brighter, chrome-like finish. Aluminum provides a very dramatic shift.

Diffraction – When light hits the layers of pigments, it bends and splits into different wavelengths. This diffraction separates the wavelengths and allows different colors to be seen from different viewing positions. The pigments essentially act like miniature prisms.

So in summary, the flat mica, TiO2, and aluminum particles refract light in a prismatic way, making the color appear to shift dramatically as the angle changes. The pigments and binder resin must be carefully balanced to produce the maximum shifting effect.

How to mix color shifting paint

Mixing color shifting paint requires care to properly disperse the pigments and achieve the right paint viscosity. Here is the general process:

1. Start with a compatible clear coat – Not all clear coats work with color shifting pigments. Use a high-quality polyurethane clear coat designed for special effect pigments. The clear should have a high gloss finish when cured.

2. Choose your pigments – Pick mica, titanium dioxide, and/or aluminum flakes in your desired colors. Consider mixing pigments for unique effects. Use very fine particle sizes for maximum shift.

3. Pre-mix pigments – Disperse the dry pigments into a small amount of clear basecoat before adding to the full amount. This helps wet out the flakes.

4. Add pigments to clear base – Add the pre-mixed pigments to the full amount of clear coat. Mix thoroughly to evenly disperse the flakes.

5. Strain the paint – Pass the mixed paint through a fine paint strainer to catch any clumps or globs. This ensures flawless finish.

6. Check viscosity – Color shifting paints should be slightly thicker than regular paint. If needed, add a viscosity modifier or painter’s naptha 5% at a time.

7. Test spray cards – Spray out cards to test the color shifting effect and make adjustments. Achieve full coverage in 2 coats.

The specific mixing ratios will depend on the pigments used and brand of clear coat. Follow the product directions closely. Taking the time to properly mix the paint is crucial for getting the full color shifting effect.

Spraying tips for color shifting paint

Applying the color shifting basecoat requires some finesse to get a flawless finish:

– Spray in a clean, dust-free spray booth using high-volume, low-pressure settings. HVLP guns are ideal.

– Coat the entire car with 2-3 coats of high-quality clear basecoat. Allow 10 minutes between coats.

– Use a “cross coat” technique – apply a light coat horizontally, then a second coat vertically. This helps achieve full coverage.

– Keep distance Consistent when spraying – about 6 to 8 inches from the surface. Avoid dry spraying.

– Allow each coat to flash off completely before applying the next.

– Make sure to spray panels within 5 minutes of each other to avoid lap marks. Maintain a wet edge.

– The basecoat does not need to be sanded or buffed to produce the color shift. A final clear coat provides the gloss.

With care taken in the mixing and spraying process, color shifting paints create one of the most visually stunning custom paint effects around. The colors seem to dance and move on the surface of the car. While it takes some effort to master, the eye-catching results are well worth it!

Best practices for mixing color shifting paint

Here are some top tips to keep in mind when formulating and spraying color shifting paint:

– Always use a flexible clear coat designed for special effect pigments. The binders must move freely for the best color shift.

– Carefully measure out pigments and basecoat using precise scales. Color shifting paint is very concentration dependent.

– Thoroughly mix in small batches – don’t mix more than a quart at a time. This prevents settling.

– Make sure paint is finely strained multiple times through increasingly finer mesh sizes down to 100 microns.

– Check that viscosity and flow-out are good by spraying test panels first. Adjust as needed.

– Allow proper flash times between coats for solvents to fully evaporate. Rushing leads to solvent trap.

– Keep spray gun nozzle and distance consistent when applying. Change spraying technique and the colors will shift differently.

– Apply the complete color shifting basecoat system first. Follow with standard clear coats.

– Consider a final topcoat with nano ceramic polymers to protect the finish and enhance gloss.

The art is in the details when formulating these special effect paints. With careful craftsmanship and patience, you can achieve stunning, one-of-a-kind paint shifts on your custom vehicles.

FAQs about mixing color shifting paint

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about working with these unique paints:

How much mica powder do I add to the clear coat?

Start with 5% mica powder by weight mixed into the clear coat. Adjust up or down 1% at a time for desired effect. Too much mica can reduce durability.

Should I use dye or toner with the flakes?

Yes, add small amounts of dye or toner to tint the base color of the shift. Start with a 1:1 ratio of dye to mica.

Do I need a base coat under the color shifting paint?

It’s best to apply color shift over a standard base coat in a complementary color. This provides vibrancy.

How do I create custom color shifts?

Experiment by mixing different color mica and titanium dioxide pigments. A blue to violet shift is popular.

What reducer should I use?

Use the reducer recommended by the clear coat manufacturer. Most call for a urethane grade reducer.

How long does color shifting paint last?

With proper care, the paint job can last many years. Waxing will extend the life and maintain the effect.

Color shifting paint allows for amazing creativity and custom paint effects. Ask your paint supplier for help getting started and enjoy the process of painting something truly unique!


In summary, mixing color shifting automotive paint requires special techniques but creates stunning visual effects. The key steps are choosing compatible products, properly dispersing the special pigments into clear coat, straining the paint, and spraying with careful technique. With patience and practice, you can produce incredible color shifts using mica, titanium dioxide and aluminum flakes. Custom color shifting paint gives vehicles a beautiful, one-of-a-kind look that seems to change right before your eyes with the viewing angle. While it takes some skill, formulating these magical paints is rewarding and opens up amazing possibilities for custom painters.