Integral color can be of significant value when used correctly. As with any material or tool, it’s too easy to get the most out of integral color. By playing up to its strengths and designing around weaknesses, you can knock it out of the park on your next integral color job.

The beauty of integral color is its durability. As the pigment is throughout the concrete, not just on the surface, it chips, grinding, and other damage will not expose uncolored concrete. This makes it perfect for surfaces that are going to be ground, sandblasted, or exposed. Because the color is added before the concrete is poured, there is potentially less labor involved in coloring with integral pigments – finishers just need to make sure they follow good finishing practices.

Taking limitations into consideration is equally important. Avoid using integral color if there are better, more suitable options. For example, some colors are not feasible with integral color – specifically lighter and brighter colors. Additionally, because the color is mixed with the concrete, a different load of concrete must be used whenever changing colors. Be mindful that, between batches (especially on different days), there may be slight variations in color.  Be mindful of limitations; design around them when possible or select a different material if necessary.

Always work hard to set your customer’s expectations. Let them know about integral color’s benefits, limitations, and why you think it may be best for a given application. As with all things, honesty is the best policy. It’s also the best way to get a good referral and line up that next job!

Use bands and borders to "break up" pours and make variations less noticable.

Use bands and borders to "break up" pours and make variations less noticable.

Some integral color limitations are relatively easy to overcome. If your customer is put off by the chance of subtle color variations between pours, offer to undertake some mitigating steps. Pour as much on the same day as possible with all the concrete using the same mix design from the same plant. Alternatively, decorative borders in complimentary or contrasting colors are a common way to make variations less noticeable, as two slabs of the same color won’t be adjacent for comparison. Topically applied colors – stains, pigmented sealers, cementitious paints – are also a way to “even out” color or make variations less noticeable.

Integral color is versatile and applicable for a wide variety of decorative and architectural concrete applications. While flexible in application, it is most ideally suited for a few things:

Colored Flatwork 

If the customer only desires color, and no other decorative touches, integral color might be the best way to go. You can save on labor costs by using integral color as opposed to color hardener, stains, or other topical options. By reducing labor costs, the profit margins increase. 

Exposed Aggregate

Integral color and exposed aggregate finishes are a match made in heaven. Because in integral color is throughout the cement matrix, it will stay consistent no matter how deep the exposure level. Choose a color and aggregate that complement one another for a classic and functional look.

Polished Surfaces 

Polishing is often used to restore or improve existing concrete surfaces. Often, however, new slabs are specified to be polished. By using grays and blacks, you can get a more uniform color (within regular tolerances of integral color) that still appears to be regular concrete. Other colors, however, can be used to add a decorative appeal to a durable surface; one that will last far longer than other common decorative commercial/industrial finishes.

When employed in the right situation, integral color can be a phenomenal choice for coloring concrete. But, as with anything else, it’s all about choosing to use it in the right situation and with the proper preparation. Make sure your customer knows what to expect and you are prepared to meet those expectations.

Part 1; Part 3