Contrary to what the name might suggest, finishes like metallics or “pearlescents” are not simply a final touch, but instead an intentional element of a design from the beginning. They have production processes that can require weeks or even months, as well as their own trends.
For example, sheen and shine are showing up more and more across every category from fashion and furnishings to cars, consumer electronics and color cosmetics this fall. While golds, silvers and bronze have always enjoyed a special place in the world of design, the use of metallic finishes to enhance other hues — such as pastels and neutrals, as well as bolder tones — is growing. Metallics and pearlescents are especially apparent in color cosmetics and runway fashion, and designers are looking to these specialty finishes to stand out amongst a sea of colors and immediately grab consumer attention. Yet there’s a difficulty in bringing colors in a metallic finish to life.
Challenge 1: Limited Options
With only a more traditional range of metallics readily available on the market, even beginning the sourcing process can be difficult when a designer has a specific hue in mind. When hunting for metallic color samples, designers can get samples from various suppliers, but those metallics may not match or satisfy their design intent. Further, the color choices available are limited to the material and the suppliers’ capabilities.
Because there are no robust metallic color reference tools available, designers resort to using material samples — e.g. pieces of metal they find in sourcing, a button from another piece or clipping of an existing handbag, etc. — and ask their suppliers to try to achieve something similar. Often times, designers are limited to what their vendors can reproduce and as a result, are unable to achieve the look they originally intended. Even with the precise color located, this is not an ideal way to communicate and makes consistent achievability near impossible.
Challenge 2: Lack of References
Designers often turn to a general color system to select a color and merely add a metallic finish to it, but this actually makes it harder to accurately visualize the final product. Without a common language for communicating the color/finish intended, the added back and forth in trying to achieve and adjust the color during the manufacturing process slows down the overall process and delays getting the product on shelves.
The important process of color management then extends to material and finish, becoming even more complicated when brands must produce consistently across multiple materials such as textiles, print/packaging and more. Manufacturers become frustrated when the color is not easily reproduced or achievable on particular textiles and substrates. For example, will this metallic cosmetic packaging match the in-store display?
Challenge 3: The Right Tools for the Job
Once a designer has selected the right metallic color, the challenge becomes visualizing the effect and communicating it consistently throughout the development process. While digital or spectral data is a great solution for anticipating color appearance in most cases, the true brilliance of a metallic or pearlescent finish is nearly impossible to replicate on-screen. In the case of these specialty finishes, physical references are the best tool for working with the color, but referring to small color chips can be difficult for designers and suppliers to visualize.
Instead, larger format color references can be used to illustrate color on product or packaging, wrapped around prototypes and are ideal for evaluating color, enabling a more efficient process across the supply chain.
To address all these challenges, designers ultimately need a comprehensive system dedicated to each finish — be it metallics or otherwise — that also works across multiple materials. This will create production efficiencies and ensure that the final product matches design intent. References such as the new Pantone Metallic Shimmers also align with market demand and allow designers to design products relevant to the latest fashion, home and beauty trends, quickly. When a “finished” metallic look is properly executed, the reward far outweighs the effort put into development. And when you’re using physical standards specifically designed for metallic finishes, you can be certain that the color is correct, the process is simple and the final product is dazzling.
Adrian Fernandez is vice president and general manager of Pantone.