There are three main types of pearl pigments. The main difference is the materials used to make them. They are;
- Natural/Mineral mica
- Synthetic Mica
- Glass flakes
Let’s explore each one them a bit closer.
Natural/ Mineral mica is mined from places that have high silica content. Some of the natural mica already has some color and luster at the time of mining. Such mica does not need too much processing. The mica is ground into a fine powder that is the pearl pigment.
To enhance the color and luster, the mica might be coated with a metal oxide. Titanium oxide is one of the commonly used oxides. The coating enhances the mica’s light interference tendencies and gives it a richer color and a brighter shimmer.
Synthetic mica is used to make pearl pigments in the same way that natural mica is used. The only difference is that synthetic mica is artificial. It is made from crystalline compounds such as silicon oxide and aluminum oxide. These compounds have that molecules are held together in sheets. The sheets lie over each other and have different refractive indexes. Synthetic mica has the same properties as natural mica.
Synthetic mica does not have natural color or luster. The color and shimmer are added to it by coating it with iron oxide or titanium oxide. Synthetic mica pearl pigments are the more expensive as compared to natural mica pearl pigments. That’s probably their production process is a bit longer. They look much better than natural mica pearl pigments though. Their color is richer and the luster is brighter.
Glass flakes pearl pigments are made from clear and transparent crystals of calcium aluminum borosilicate. The clear glass flakes allow the resultant pearl pigments to look more brilliant and sparkly. Unlike natural mica, glass flakes have no impurities that hinder light refraction when a layer of metal oxide is added.
The production of glass flakes is similar to that synthetic mica, only that glass flakes are made from calcium aluminum borosilicate. The compound is preferred because it has a bright shine and shimmer even before any coloring is added. They are particularly great for making chameleon pearl pigments.
The underlying scientific principle of pearl pigments is the same for all these types. The production process is almost similar. Synthetic mica and glass flakes pearl pigments give you better colors and appearance though. They are also more expensive.