- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2001

The hottest vogue in car customizing may be paint that changes colors. That's right, it actually changes the color of your car right in front of your eyes as you walk around your vehicle.

These aren't subtle changes, either. We're talking dramatic alterations from deep purple to bright orange to some other vivid color, each tint emerging as your angle of vision changes. How about bright gold changing to silver, or dark blue becoming fire engine red? It's all possible.

Equally feasible are more subtle shifts, such as forest green to grass to lime for the less ostentatious consumer.

Whatever your preference, the sky is apparently very near the limit for this new paint because of "light interference pigments" developed by Flex Products of Santa Rosa, Calif. "ChromaFlair," as it is called, reflects light in varying wavelengths to change the color we perceive. The paint itself is absolutely colorless, and achieves its effect solely through reflection. Eight standard pigments can be mixed for almost endless variations.

How does this work? The answer is synthesized flakes one micron thick or about 1/50th the thickness of the hair on your head. Each flake is composed of several layers. At the center is an opaque, mirrorlike aluminum core covered on both sides by a layer of glasslike magnesium fluoride.

Light going into the flake and coming out again is affected by the aluminum core and the "glass" layers around it. Thickness of the layers determines what colors you see. It's all very carefully done to incredible tolerances, meaning measurements at the atomic level.

A number of major paint manufacturers including DuPont, PPG, BASF, Sherwin Williams, Kansai, Nippon Paint, Standox, NOF and Valspar/House of Kolor offer paints using ChromaFlair.

ChromaFlair can make wild flames and other vivid blandishments come alive as never before, but it can also be used to subtly accent a car, and here is where its production application probably lies sometime in the future. No car or truck sold in the United States today offers ChromaFlair on a production model. However, in Europe, Nissan's Micra Mystique is offered with DuPont ChromaLusion paint based on the ChromaFlair red-gold pigment.

The auto industry is clearly taking color-shift paint seriously. Although it has been around since 1996, when it was first exhibited on a custom Mustang, last year at the SEMA aftermarket show in Las Vegas, 20 vehicles out of the hundreds present used color shift paint. This year, the number jumped to 30, and our guess is that next year it will be nearly everywhere.

This startling paint treatment isn't limited to cars and trucks by any means. It has been applied to cell phones, surf boards, running shoes, cosmetics, portable electronics and even leather seating. For more information, on the Internet go to www.colorshift.com.

Another high-tech product that is new to the market is a urethane coating designed to replace chrome plating. Called Light Bright, it is used on aluminum wheels and other metal products, and purports to skirt the problem of chrome corrosion and chipping, which is common with chrome wheels. The urethane is also ultraviolet light resistant, according to Textron Automotive Co.

Don't look for Light Bright at the automotive parts store, as to date it is only being sold to manufacturers.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES


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