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What can I use to color concrete?

Concrete is one of the most versatile and commonly used building materials. It’s strong, durable, and relatively inexpensive. One of the great things about concrete is that it can be colored to suit any design aesthetic. Coloring concrete opens up endless possibilities when it comes to driveways, patios, flooring, countertops, and other concrete projects. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll look at the different methods and materials for coloring concrete to help you determine the best options for your project.

Dry Concrete Colorants

One of the easiest ways to color concrete is by using dry colorant powders. These are mixtures of pigments, cement, and fillers that you mix right into the concrete before pouring. Dry colorants come in a wide variety of colors from earthy tones like terra cotta and brick red to vibrant hues like cobalt blue or lime green.

Here are some key advantages of using dry concrete colorants:

– Easy to mix into the concrete consistently
– Available in many different colors
– Economical way to color concrete
– Colorfast and UV-resistant for long-lasting color

The main downside is that the color can look blotchy or uneven if the concrete is not mixed thoroughly. Using a high-quality colorant and taking care to mix it in well can produce good results. Integrally colored concrete with dry colorants will last for many years.

Liquid Concrete Colorants

Another option is to use liquid concrete colorants. These work like dyes or stains that penetrate into the surface of cured concrete to produce color. There are two main types:

– Concrete dyes – These contain transparent pigments that infuse color into the concrete. Dyes produce vibrant colors and patterns like mottled effects.

– Concrete stains – Made of semi-transparent pigments suspended in a carrier solution. Stains give a flatter, opaque color effect.

Liquid colorants can be applied by brush, roller or sprayer onto the concrete surface. Multiple coats may be needed to achieve the desired color depth. Here are some benefits of liquid concrete colorants:

– Wide range of colors from pastels to saturation levels
– Can create unique mottled or variegated effects
– Colors can be layered or blended for custom looks
– Enhances the natural texture and appearance of concrete

It takes more skill and labor to apply liquid colorants evenly. But they allow you to create stained concrete finishes that would be impossible to achieve with dry colorants.

Integral Concrete Pigments

For custom concrete color-blending, integral pigments are a good option. These are pure, concentrated liquid pigments that you add to the concrete mix during batching.

Integral pigments have some advantages:

– Produce uniform, consistent color throughout the concrete mix
– Available in many colors to create custom blends
– Allows for lighter pastel concrete colors that are hard to achieve with dry colorants
– Color goes all the way through for long life

The downside is that they require access to a concrete batching plant to mix up custom colored concrete. This involves a minimum load of concrete, like in a truck mixer. But for large paving or building projects, integral liquid pigments can provide vibrant and durable concrete coloring.

Color Hardener

For coloring concrete surfaces like driveways, patios and pool decks, one good option is color hardener. This is a powdered coloring agent made with finely ground pigments that is broadcast and worked into the top surface of freshly placed concrete.

Color hardener offers these benefits for exterior flatwork:

– Provides durable, fade-resistant and abrasion-resistant color
– Available in a multitude of colors from earth tones to bright colors
– Less messy than liquid dyes or stains
– Minimizes surface dusting of concrete
– Can be combined with other coloring techniques like antiquing

The drawback of dry shake color hardeners is that they only color the surface. So if the concrete does chip or flake, the natural gray concrete color will show through. They are ideal for horizontal surfaces that will receive foot traffic and need excellent wear-resistance.

Antiquing vs. Acid-Staining

Two specialty coloring techniques for concrete are antiquing and acid-staining. Here is a brief comparison:


– Involves applying accent colors onto fresh concrete, then going back to create highlights and lowlights to make the color variation look aged and weathered

– Accomplished by using two contrasting powdered antiquing colorants, often in black and white

– Requires skill and artistic eye to create authentic antique effects

**Acid Staining**

– Uses specialized acidic solutions that react with calcium hydroxide in cured concrete to deposit color effects

– Can create mottled, variegated finishes that look like stone or marble

– Multiple acid stains can be used to achieve stunning artistic effects

– Can be paired with decorative sawcuts or exposed aggregates

So antiquing provides an old-world, weathered finish, while acid-staining opens up modern artistic possibilities. Either method requires proper preparation and application to achieve successful results.

Choosing the Best Concrete Color

With so many color options available, choosing the right concrete color may seem tricky. Here are some tips for selecting a color:

– Think about the overall design style you want to achieve – traditional, modern, rustic, minimalist, etc. This will help narrow suitable color families.

– Consider the setting – exterior concrete will look different in natural light than interior spaces. Shadows and weathering affect the final color appearance.

– Look at color cards and samples to get a sense of how the pigments look in actual concrete. Colors seem different when applied.

– For custom blending multiple colors, ask your supplier for recommendations to achieve the color you have in mind without going to extremes in any pigments.

– Think about function – brighter, warmer colors show wear sooner. Cooler grays and earth tones better disguise concrete wear.

– Choose colors appropriate for the concrete location – brighter colors work best on vertical surfaces while earth tones excel on horizontal exterior flatwork.

With some thoughtful planning, testing and expert input, you can achieve beautiful colored concrete results!

Preparing and Placing Colored Concrete

Proper methods for preparing, placing and finishing are key steps for success with colored concrete. Here are some best practices:

– Choose the right concrete mix design – lower water/cement ratios produce better color consistency and vibrancy.

– Ensure proper subgrade preparation – a smooth, compacted base minimizes chances for cracking that can ruin colored finishes.

– Follow manufacturer instructions for mixing in colorants evenly to avoid blotchiness.

– Pour and finish the concrete carefully to minimize color variations, mark and blemishes. Consolidate well.

– With liquid dyes and stains, apply to fully cured concrete following all preparation and application directions.

– Consider a sealer compatible with the colorant to enhance protection and appearance.

– Avoid excessive troweling as overworking the surface can cause discoloration.

With attention to workmanship, concrete colored using today’s modern pigments and dyes can look stunning and last for many years.

Common Problems with Colored Concrete

Coloring concrete does require some special considerations to avoid potential problems:

– **Uneven coloring** – Insufficient mixing of colorants or improper finishing leads to splotchy areas with inconsistent color.

– **Fading** – Low quality colorants or lack of sealer can cause colored concrete to fade prematurely from UV exposure and traffic wear.

– **Blotchy appearance** – Overworking the surface during finishing drives excess water and pigment to the surface unevenly.

– **Streaking** – Concrete setting at different rates on a hot day can make dark streaks appear during finishing.

– **Efflorescence** – White powdery deposits of salts leaching out can form on colored concrete surfaces.

With careful concrete practices and using reputable coloring products, these defects can be minimized for great looking results.

Popular Colors for Concrete

While concrete can be produced in nearly any color, some of the most popular colors for various applications include:

Concrete Application Popular Color Choices
Driveways Earth tones like tan, brick red, clay, warm gray
Patios Terra cotta, slate gray, natural stone colors
Pool decks Light blue, aqua, tan
Interior floors Gray, taupe, slate, lighter pastels
Countertops Whites, grays, earth tones, custom colors
Accent walls Vibrant colors like reds, greens, deep blues

Choosing a color within these popular palettes helps ensure a timeless, attractive look. More unusual colors can be harder to match if repairs are ever needed. Go bold or remain classic – colored concrete provides endless possibilities!

Costs of Coloring Concrete

What is the cost to color concrete? Here are some typical price ranges:

– **Dry colorants** – About $2-$8 per square foot depending on color and amount used.

– **Liquid dyes** – $3-$10 per square foot. Multiple coats or special effects increases costs.

– **Color hardeners** – Around $2-$6 per square foot depending on color.

– **Integral liquid pigments** – Adds $200-$500 for a full concrete truck load.

– **Antiquing** – About $4-$8 per square foot depending on complexity of effect.

– **Acid stains** – $4-$10 per square foot on average.

Concrete coloring does add some cost compared to plain gray concrete. But the aesthetic benefits and curb appeal often make up for the higher initial investment.

Maintenance of Colored Concrete

While concrete colorants provide longevity, colored concrete does require some maintenance to keep it looking its best. Recommendations include:

– Reseal concrete every 1-3 years with a compatible penetrating sealer to protect color.

– Routinely clean stained or antiqued concrete to prevent dirt buildup in textured areas. Avoid abrasive cleansers.

– Remove spills like oil or grease quickly to prevent permanent staining.

– Consider rejuvenation services every few years to restore faded color. This may involve applying more dye or stainer.

– Repair cracks, chips or damages quickly to prevent moisture intrusion or further deterioration.

– Evaluate usage and wear patterns annually. High traffic areas make require more frequent repairs or recoloring in extremely heavy use locations.

With proper maintenance and care, colored concrete can stay vibrant and beautiful for many years before recoloring is needed. The artistic, decorative and low maintenance possibilities make coloring concrete a great way to enhance driveways, walkways, interiors and more. Discuss options with knowledgeable concrete contractors to bring your colored concrete visions to life!


Coloring concrete opens up exciting design possibilities beyond basic gray concrete. With the array of colorants available – dry pigments, liquid dyes, color hardeners, antiquing releases and acid stains – you can achieve stunning looks for any space. Pay attention to proper coloring techniques and concrete practices for best results. Colored concrete requires some maintenance but provides years of enjoyment and curb appeal. With the right preparation and products, you can transform plain concrete into a customized work of art.