Pearlescent colors are those that reflect white light with an intensity depending on the angle you watch it from. It gets its name from natural essence of pearl which also produces the same light-refracting effect.
A similar effect and one that people often interchangeably used with the term "pearlescence" is iridescence. Iridescent colors work the same way as pearlescents but reflect other colors of the rainbow instead of white. The similarity between these two effects has led to artists "crossing the streams" and producing colors known as "iridescent pearls".
The discovery of pearlescent pigments reflects humanity's advancement in paint technology. Pearlescent paints have only been discovered fairly recently, at least when compared to normal colors like black, brown, red, and gray.
As an artist, it's important to understand these lavish colors, how they're used in the past until today, what they mean and the different emotions they evoke, as well as their different shades, and how to produce them.
This article aims to help you do just that.
A Brief History of Pearlescent Colors
Pearlescent colors consist of solid color pigments with a reflective or iridescent quality which gives the resulting color its pearlescent effect. Unlike basic solid colors that have been used by artists since prehistoric and ancient times, pearlescent pigments have only been around fairly recently.
Pearlescent pigments are modern creations and only began development in the 20th century. At this time, chemists used such materials as mercury and arsenic salts to give the paint a pearlescent shine.
The first examples of pearlescent colors came from basic lead carbonate, bismuth oxychloride, micaceous iron oxide, TiO2 flakes, and natural pearl essence. The latter pigment is only available through fish scales and skin. No synthetic version of this pigment can be produced even today, making this particular pigment rather expensive.
Pearlescents would continue to use these same materials until the invention of mica-coated metal oxides. Mica is a relatively inexpensive natural crystal that's easy to cut into minuscule particles with varying weights. Mica-based pigments began development in the 1970s and saw accelerated development until the 1990s.
The discovery of Mica-based pigments fast forwarded pearlescent pigment development and eventually led to the production of silica-based and aluminum-based pearlescent pigments.
Pearlescent Colors: Psychology and Meaning
Solid colors have gathered various emotional meanings and associations through the centuries that they've been used by humankind. Pearlescent colors, on the other hand, found common use only at the turn of the century but have become more and more popular as time goes by.
Since "pearlescent" is more a paint effect rather than a "traditional color", it isn't a stretch to say that pearlescent colors share the same emotional meanings as their solid color counterparts – red for passion, pink for romance, orange for the sublime, and green for nature – albeit with some extra flair or extravagance.
A true pearlescent effect also gives colors a shine similar to metallic colors, albeit more subtle, so they can have the same association as their metallic counterpart (I.e gold for power, silver for simplicity, steel for strength, etc.)
An iridescent effect gives off a dreamy, otherworldly feel which can stand for uniqueness, individuality, spirituality, mystique, and mystery.
Examples of Pearlescent Colors
Pearlescent colors consist of a base color with a pearlescent/iridescent shine.
Since pearlescence and iridescence are simply paint effects, this means the exact number of pearlescent/iridescent colors will depend on the company producing the paint line.
Here are just a few examples:
1. Iridescent Pearl Red
Iridescent pearl red is a slightly grayish-pink shade.
This particular shade is somewhat translucent with an iridescent effect.
2. Orange Pearl
Orange pearl is a grayish-yellow shade.
This color is also slightly transparent with an iridescent effect.
3. Sparkling White
Sparkling white pearl is a bright pure white color. This shade is somewhat translucent but gives off an intense shine.
4. Silver Pearl
Silver pearl is a softer shade of metallic silver.
This opaque shade combines the calm color of silver with a subtle pearlescent shine.
5. Gold Pearl
Gold pearl is a softer shade of metallic gold.
This opaque shade combines the lavish color of gold with a subtle pearlescent shine.
6. Super Pearl Gold
Super pearl gold has a softer golden color. This shade is more opaque and gives off a more intense shine than gold pearl.
7. Red Copper Pearl
Red copper pearl has a deep orange-brown color.
This opaque shade combines metallic copper with a pearlescent effect to produce a polished copper shine.
Modifying Pearlescent Acrylic Paints
Now that you have a deeper understanding of pearlescent colors and their variations, it's time to learn how to make some of your own.
As artists, we usually look for the right shade of color to really make our painting pop. Pearlescent colors, in particular, can give your painting that special sheen that you just can't get with solid colors.
If you don't happen to have the exact shade you need, here's how you can modify your white acrylic paint to achieve your desired shade
How to Create Warmer Pearlescent Shades
To make a warmer pearlescent color just add some pearlescent red or orange to it. This results in a warmer shade while maintaining its shine.
In a pinch, you can also mix your pearlescent color with some solid red or orange but this will dull its pearlescent shine quite a bit.
How to Create Cooler Pearlescent Shades
Conversely, you can make your pearlescent color cooler by mixing in some blue or violets.
Again, you can use solid colors to modify your pearlescents but it's going to produce a cooler yet less shiny result.
How to Mute Pearlescent Colors
If you want to mute your pearlescent's base color, mix in some white/black/pearlescent color from the opposite side of its color spectrum.
If, however, you want to reduce your pearlescent's shimmer, just mix in the solid version of that color. For example: mix some pearlescent orange with some solid orange paint.