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24 January 2018

A drive through paint design: pearlescent paint

By Vivek ShahVivek Shah
TVR are famous for their use of pearlescent paint.

Cars are perceived visually, and so the type of paint used can help define a vehicle’s character and styling. Often, the colour of paint used can even help to highlight key features of a car’s exterior design.

This series takes a look at different paint types such as pearlescent, metallic and matte, innovations in painting technology such as self-healing paint and trends in paint colours.

This week, pearlescent paint.

What is it?

Pearlescent paints incorporate shiny ceramic crystals (known as mica crystals) into the paint mixture. These crystals give the paint its namesake pearl-like effect. Like pearls, vehicles with pearlescent paint tend to ‘glow’ and shift colours under different types of light and the angle at which the car is viewed.

Mica flakes - Similar crystals are used in pearlescent paint. Mica flakes - Similar crystals are used in pearlescent paint.

How does it work?

Pearlescent paint contains approximately 1 teaspoon of mica crystals per litre of paint. These mica crystals not only reflect light, but bend (refract) it as well. This refraction works on a similar principle to light passing through a glass prism, or the creation of rainbows. The mica crystals in the paint act as tiny prisms.

White light is composed of all of the different colours of light, such as red, orange and green. Each of these colours of light, in turn, has a different wavelength. This means that when white light hits the mica crystal at an angle, not only is it bent, but also dispersed as each colour slows down at a different rate depending on its wavelength. Thus, these mica crystals cause the base paint colour to change depending on the type of light striking the vehicle and the perspective of the observer.

Mica crystals refract and disperse light. Mica crystals refract and disperse light.


Due to pearlescent paint’s ability to shift colour and create a ‘glow’, they tend to be used on higher end vehicles with a more conservative or luxury focus.

'Daytona Grey' pearlescent paint on the new Audi A4. 'Daytona Grey' pearlescent paint on the new Audi A4.

Due to the extra cost of the mica particles, pearlescent paint tends to be more expensive than solid or metallic colours. The complex paint formulations that involve the mica particles can also often mean it is difficult to touch up or repair in case the vehicle is scratched or damaged.

Pearlescent paint, can it be done tastefully? Tell us what you think.