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Patina Demo by Shawn McCurdy, Metal Artist  

[Matt Weber] 7:12 pm: Ok, Lets get started
[Matt Weber]7:12 pm: ok here goes

[ShawnM] 7:13 pm: ok folks, we're going to get started! Welcome to the 4th monthly Demo on the Metal Artists Forum.
[ShawnM] 7:13 pm: Introduction

Just what is a patina? Patina in general means a change to the surface of metal, wood, or other material, because of age, usage, or exposure to the elements. In this demo, we'll talk about intentionally causing a metal patina by using chemicals.

I'll cover some general information on preparation, application, and protection that applies to all patinas, and then I'll talk about some specific patinas that I like to use.

There are thousands of patinas. You can mix chemicals to make your own or buy them ready-made. Tonight I'll talk mostly about commercially-available products' Solvent Dyes, Universal Patinas, Vista Patinas, Traditional Patinas, and Metal Coatings - all of which are available through Sculpt Nouveau ( I'll also talk about some ways to make rust, and highlighting with Gilder's Paste. Although all of these patinas are for steel, most of them can also be used on other metals as well.

[ShawnM]7:15 pm: I know a lot of you like to leave your metal bare, or use a simple darkening patina, or sometimes you get adventurous and go for Japanese Brown? nothing wrong with those, but my goal tonight is to inject some color into your life! Hopefully next time you get to the finish stage you'll at least consider trying a colorful new technique. Even just a touch of color on an otherwise plain piece can make a big impact.

Patinas can be categorized as acid or non-acid. This distinction is important when you're working with any ferrous metal (ferrous means it contains iron). Acid-based patinas have a chemical reaction with the metal. They may make a beautiful color on copper, brass, or bronze but can cause rust and pitting on steel. Sometimes that may be what you want, sometimes it may not!

Non-acid patinas can be thought of as dyes or paints for metal. They contain pigments and Don't react with the metal surface so Don't cause rust or pitting. They range from transparent to opaque.

[ShawnM] 7:16 pm: Disclaimer

Patinas are chemicals - in some cases, very potent ones. Always exercise care and make sure you follow precautions with regards to storage, ventilation, personal protection (skin, eyes, lungs), and disposal of patinas and the other chemicals that you'll use.

Patina products may not always be labeled with safety information. If you're not sure, do your research before using them. I'm not going to present safety cautions for everything in this demo, nor do I take responsibility for any mishaps. Use of any of the information presented tonight is done at your own risk.

My intention is that this demo will serve as a basic guide to working with patinas. It's geared more towards the beginner and intermediate user, but hopefully you experts will learn something too. There are no doubt a lot of other techniques that work, and there are a whole lot of patinas that I am not going to talk about. Further experimentation is left as an exercise for the reader!

I live in Florida and work in our barn, which is not climate-controlled. My demo includes some advice on dealing with moisture from humidity, since I have to deal with that all the time. You may not have the same issues where you live.

Let?s get started!

[ShawnM] 7:18 pm: Exactly What Will It Look Like??

The exact result you'll get depends on the particular piece of metal, what kind of prep and cleaning you?ve done, temperature, humidity, and other factors too numerous to list. It's difficult if not impossible to get exactly the same result every time.

If the look is critical, do a test run on a scrap prepared in the same way or on an inconspicuous part of your piece. The clear coat that you use may affect the way the patina looks, so include it in your test run too.

Just keep in mind that even if it doesn't turn out the way you expected, you might love it anyway! that's called a ?Happy Accident?.

[ShawnM] 7:19 pm: Supplies

Here are some of the supplies that I use when working with patinas.

Brushes of various sizes

sea sponge

spray bottle (chemical resistant)

rags, shop towels, paper towels (I use Scott Shop Towels a lot,  they are throwaway towels that are more like cloth than regular paper towels)

respirator mask

eye protection

nitrile gloves

scotch brite pads

steel wool

heat gun

denatured alcohol


metal cleaner


Permalac (a good clear coat finish)

glass containers

air compressor with attachments

[ShawnM] 7:20 pm: General Finish Preparation, Application, & Protection


The patina result will be more uniform on a surface that's sanded or blasted to a consistent finish as opposed to one that has a lot of variation. However, most patinas will not bond well to a real shiny surface so Don't go overboard with the polishing. A nice satin finish works well.

The metal surface should be completely free of grease, dirt, dust, and residue from surface prep before starting your patina. I use an acid-based metal cleaner called Industrial Metal Supply (IMS) Cleaner/Degreaser. Sometimes it leaves a whitish residue which can be removed with a scotch brite pad.

Clean, bare steel can start to rust immediately so after you clean your piece, the sooner you start your finish the better.

Once your final cleanup is done, try real hard to keep clean gloves on your hands throughout the patina and clear coat steps. Even when your hands are clean, the natural oils from your skin can transfer to the metal.

[ShawnM] 7:22 pm: During:

You can apply patinas with paint brushes, sponges, rags, cotton balls, sprayers, air brushes - the best advice I can give you is to experiment with different applicators until you find something that works for you. There is no right or wrong.

I usually pour a little of the patina into a glass and apply it from there. That way I don't risk contaminating the original container with anything.

If possible, position your piece so that you are applying the patina on a horizontal surface in order to get a good even coat and minimize dripping. Drips can be a design feature though, so if that's what you're after, go for it!

Patinas can be applied hot or cold. Cold patinas are applied to unheated metal and hot patinas are applied to heated surfaces, about 200 degrees. There are some patinas which can be done either hot or cold. For those patinas, generally a hot application will result in a darker and more even color while cold will give you more variation and a lighter shade.

[ShawnM]7:23 pm: The drying time will vary depending in part on temperature and humidity. With non-acid patinas you can usually hurry up the drying process with a heat gun set on low, but acid-based patinas often need a slower drying period in order to activate properly.

Even after they're dry, acid-based patinas will need some time to develop fully - anywhere from a couple of hours to a day or more. Development is a chemical process during which the appearance of the patina will change, sometimes quite dramatically.

Some patinas, especially rust patinas, may not want to quit developing when you're ready for them to quit. There are a couple of things you can use to help halt the patina. These are known as ?stop outs?.

One option (which I haven't tried but is sold by Sculpt Nouveau) is potassium dichromate, which is a toxic chemical that's applied in a very dilute solution of ¼ teaspoon to 16 oz. distilled water.

Another choice (which I use frequently) is acetone. It can be sponged on or sprayed from a chemical-resistant spray bottle. Acetone also has the added advantage of drying the surface really well, an important step which I'll talk about next.

[ShawnM] 7:25 pm: After:

There are various protective finishes that you can use. A coat of wax or a hot oil finish may work well enough for an indoor piece. I usually clear coat so that's what I'll talk about.

After your patina is done, wait about 12 hours before clear coating, or however long the specific patina instructions tell you to wait. Make sure the surface of your piece is completely dry before applying the final protective finish. Some patinas really hold a lot of moisture. In Florida It's always an issue. Use a heat gun to drive any moisture off the surface, and if the patina can handle an application of acetone, apply it also, then clear coat as soon as the acetone dries.

NOTE: Acetone can act as a solvent for some patinas and will remove them, so be sure and test in an inconspicuous place before you apply acetone to any patina.

I spray my pieces with a good quality lacquer & then wax them. I generally use Permalac, which is supposed to be one of the best and most durable especially for outdoor use. Permalac comes in liquid form in various sized containers. You can also get it in spray cans for easy use on small projects or touch-ups.

[ShawnM]7:26 pm: I use a spray gun that runs off my air compressor. In humid climates, It's a good idea to dry the air before it goes through your sprayer. There are 2 methods I use.

You can attach one of these little dessicant dryers between your spray gun and air source. The filter starts out blue and turns pink as it absorbs moisture. When completely pink, It's time to change to a new one. These can be bought at Harbor Freight.

An alternate method is to run your air line through a drying filter like this Motor Guard filter. These filters are also great to use with your plasma cutter or blast cabinet too. Motor Guard filters can be purchased at any number of online stores.

[Matt Weber]7:27 pm: one more little bit
[ShawnM]7:27 pm: When sprayed, Permalac should be thinned with about 20% xylene. I apply 2-4 coats of Permalac, waiting about 2 hours between coats.

The last thing I do is to apply 1-2 coats of wax. I usually heat the surface with the heat gun and use a small brush to dab on the wax. It will melt from the heat and get into cracks and crevices. Buff with a soft rag after it hazes up. Wax is just another layer of defense. It won?t hold up forever so should be re-applied once in a while (just like you wax your car periodically).

Next I'm going to talk about some specific patinas.

[ShawnM] 7:30 pm: Solvent Dyes

Type: Non-Acid, solvent-based

Apply To: Any metal

Application temp: Cold

Cleanup: Denatured alcohol

Solvent dyes provide bright, transparent color. They come in a very concentrated form and are thinned with a special dye thinner. Permalac can also be used as a solvent dye thinner. Denatured alcohol is used for cleanup.

These dyes are transparent except for the white dye, which can be mixed into the other colors to make them more opaque. Solvent dyes do not develop (change after application) and do not darken or change color when a clear coat is applied. What you see is what you get! Because they are transparent, anything you see on the surface of the metal (scratches, discoloration, etc.) will show right through.

Solvent dyes will not bind well to a real shiny surface so be sure to leave a little texture.

Make sure to wear gloves -these dyes work on skin just as well as metal. Nothing like having multi-colored fingers!

Start by mixing dye with thinner. The proportions are a matter of experimentation. You can start out with 6-8 drops of dye to ½ oz. of thinner. Try it and adjust from there. I like my colors pretty saturated, so I tend to use more dye.

[ShawnM]7:31 pm: I use a sponge or brush to apply solvent dyes. In either case, you can brush or stipple (dab) the thinned dye onto your metal surface. The dye will tend to self-level, creating a fairly uniform application. Being solvent based, it dries pretty fast. If you want more streaks or splotches, keep working it with your sponge or brush as it is drying to ?bunch? it back up. If you want real even coloration, try using an air brush.

You can re-apply over the first coat while It's still somewhat wet or after It's dry. You can create a lot of different effects by layering different colors on top of each other. If you Don't like the effect you got, It's pretty easy to change or remove what you?ve done using a brush or rag wet with dye thinner.

These samples show some of the colors you can get with Solvent Dyes. Every other sample is a single color. In between are the two colors layered on top of each other. The last set shows how adding white makes the colors more opaque.

[ShawnM]7:33 pm: Let the solvent dye application dry for about 12 hours before clear coating. Acetone acts as a solvent - DO NOT apply acetone to dry the surface prior to clear coating it. Stick with a heat gun.

Because Permalac is a solvent dye thinner, there is a possibility that your dye may sag or run when you clear coat with Permalac. It helps a lot of you keep the surface you're spraying horizontal. Applying a few light coats also will help rather than applying a full wet coat right away.

Solvent dyes can also be applied over other patinas. You can even add a little solvent dye to Permalac to get a transparent color in your clear coat.

Here are some pieces that I colored with solvent dyes. You can see some of the different looks you can get by varying the proportion of dye & thinner and by applying it with different methods. For clear bright color and variety in application, I haven't found anything that matches Solvent Dyes.

[ShawnM] 7:37 pm: Dye Oxides

Type: Non-Acid, water-based

Apply to: Any metal

Application Temp: Hot or Cold

Cleanup: Water

There is another set of metal dyes that you can get from Sculpt Nouveau called Dye Oxides. I'm not going to talk about them a whole lot, but they are water-based as opposed to solvent-based and come pre-thinned, ready to use. I Don't use them as much as Solvent Dyes because being they Don't give me as the same versatility and effects, but they are another option for transparent color. They can be applied over other patinas or even mixed into them. Here's a quick look at the Dye Oxides:

[ShawnM] 7:38 pm: Universal Patinas

Type: Non-Acid

Apply to: Any metal

Application temp: Hot or Cold

Cleanup: Water

Universal patinas are non-acid so they Don't cause rust on ferrous metals. They do not develop or react so the color stays the same after application. They are more opaque than Solvent Dyes. They can be applied either hot or cold - these samples were done hot, which is the recommended technique for application over bare metal.

[ShawnM]7:39 pm: Universal Patinas are something like paint, except they can be applied directly to metal with no primer. If applied lightly, the metal will show through but if applied heavily they will cover the surface. Universal patinas can look somewhat chalky and bright initially but when clear coated the color will deepen a bit.

They also work well when combined with other patinas or layered over darker patinas. You can get some nice effects by putting Vistas and Universals next to each other. Here's some Universal patinas paired with Vista Rust on the garden bell I made. It's a little over the top but you get the idea ;o)

[ShawnM] 7:40 pm: Vista Patinas

Type: Acid & Non-Acid combined

Apply to: All metals except Aluminum

Application temp: Cold

Cleanup: Water

The Vista patinas contain both acid and non-acid components which Don't mix well (like oil and water) and result in a marbleized effect. They react to the metal and will develop over a number of hours.

When used on steel, the acid part makes rust and the non-acid part makes a color. Think of it as different shades of rust. On other materials (copper, brass, bronze) they make green plus a color. There is also a special Vista green made just for steel which only makes a very small amount of rust compared to the other Vista colors. It looks on steel more like the normal Vistas look on copper, brass and bronze. It's one of my favorites.

[ShawnM]7:42 pm: Vista patinas are essentially a coating and will obscure the surface completely. On steel you will also end up with nice texture from the rust. Here's a closeup of Vista Rust texture.

Make sure you mix the Vista patina before you start, and stir it occasionally during use to make sure you're getting both components of the patina. I generally use a brush and dab it on. You can reapply if needed but I usually get good coverage from one coat. Allow about 12 hours for development. These Vistas were photographed the day after application and before clear coat.

[ShawnM]7:43 pm: The Vista patinas literally draw moisture from the air. If left in a real humid place, you may find the surface dripping wet after a few hours. If you live in a humid location It's best to keep your piece in a climate-controlled place until you get it clear coated. Otherwise the rust just might take over!

Before I clear coat, I heat the surface with a heat gun then apply acetone to help halt the rust and get it good and dry. Then clear coat as soon as the acetone dries. I recommend several full coats of Permalac over Vista patinas. Note that the color will darken when the clear coat is applied.

Other patinas can be layered on top of Vista patinas for even more variation.

[ShawnM] 7:44 pm: we will now pause to let you ask any questions you might have.

[ShawnM 7:46 pm: If everyone's caught up and there are no questions I'll continue, OK?
[Stretch] 7:47 pm: OK
[Devine] 7:47 pm: Regarding the Vista Patinas: Were these applied on rusted steel?
[ShawnM] 7:47 pm: Traditional Patinas

There are a bunch of patinas that are lumped into the ?traditional? group. They are, as the name implies, are traditional and usually old formulas. If you have a chemical supply place handy, you can probably Google a recipe and concoct many of them yourself.

Many Traditional Patinas are acid-based and will just rust if used on ferrous metals. However, here are some which work really well on steel.

[ShawnM]7:49 pm: Sorry Devine, I didn't see your question. Those were applied to clean steel. The rust developed overnight from the acid component of the patina.
[Devine] 7:49 pm: Thank you ;)
[ShawnM] 7:50 pm: You're welcome! Now I'd like to give you some info on a few of the Traditional Patinas that I like to use.
[ShawnM] 7:50 pm: Japanese Brown

Type: Acid

Apply to: Any metal

Application temp: Hot or Cold

Japanese Brown produces a rich deep brown patina. For more consistent color, the surface should be sanded smooth (blasting works great) and heated prior to application. For more variation, do less surface prep &/or apply cold.

Japanese Brown is perfectly clear before application. It's also very watery and will tend to drip and puddle. I find it easiest to use a rag for application.

You can re-apply Japanese Brown in multiple coats to get the depth of color that you want. I usually recoat quickly as soon as the previous coat is dry.

[ShawnM]7:51 pm: Allow about 12 hours after the last coat before you clear coat. Heat the surface with a heat gun to chase off any moisture, and then spray with acetone. Clear coat immediately when the acetone dries.

Japanese Brown will darken and get very rich looking when you clear coat it.

Japanese Brown is a favorite for many people here on the forum. Here are some great examples of Japanese Brown finishes created by other people.

Japanese Brown on The Chair (synapuscapus):

Japanese Brown on iron bowl with highlights of green & yellow Universal patina (Grizz):

[ShawnM] 7:52 pm: Traditional Tan

Type: Acid

Apply to: Any metal

Application temp: Hot or Cold

Traditional tan can be used on any metal. It can cause a little rust on steel but creates a really nice color. It looks beige in the bottle, but darkens to a pretty tan/rust color. It's applied cold and you can let it develop anywhere from a couple hours to a day. It is quickly becoming a favorite of mine!

Traditional Tan looks especially good when paired with greens. Here it is layered with Universal Verde.

[ShawnM] 7:54 pm: Birchwood Casey Products

Application temp: Hot or Cold

Cleanup: Water

The Birchwood Casey (BC) company makes a number of metal darkening products. You can sometimes find their products in sporting goods stores for use in restoring the finish on guns (usually called ?gun blue?).

BC products come in both liquid and gel form. The gel is easy to use on small projects and on vertical surfaces. Just rub or brush it on, then after it sits for a minute or two, the residue can be rinsed or wiped off.

Generally the liquid versions are diluted with water. Depending on where you purchase the liquid, it may come pre-diluted so check the instructions. The liquid can be used in a sprayer or ragged on, or the piece can be completely immersed.

[ShawnM]7:55 pm: They can be applied hot or cold. A hot application makes the color darker and results in a more even application. You can also burnish BC finishes with a scotch brite pad or steel wool after they dry to give them a nice, mellow look and produce highlights on raised areas or corners.

These products can be used alone or under and over other patinas.

Most BC products are meant for use on one type of metal or a group of metals. BC has products that work on steel, brass, copper, bronze, aluminum, nickel, silver, tin, and pewter. For future reference, you can find descriptions of their products on this page:

[ShawnM]7:56 pm: Here are three BC products that I like. Note that the name does not always necessarily describe the color it produces. They are all dark, but may have undertones of blue, purple, grey, brown, or bronze, depending on the temperature, particular piece of metal, surface prep, etc.

Perma Blue Paste Gun Blue is an easy-to-use gel for iron and steel that is especially good for smaller projects or on vertical surfaces. Applying it cold can result in a lot of color variation and almost a wood grain effect.

M38 Brown comes in either liquid or gel. Although this is described as being for bronze, brass, or copper, it seems to work OK on steel also.

PC-9 aka Presto Black comes in either liquid or gel and is used on iron and steel. It produces a dark grey or black color but can also have some color variations, with blue and purple showing up sometimes.

[ShawnM] 7:57 pm: Anyone have any questions about this last part?
[Matt Weber] 7:58 pm: Awesome demo so far Shawn. TONS of info

[ShawnM] 7:58 pm: Thank you! :)
[] 7:58 pm: Yes, tons of info. I'll be reviewing this again in the future. Thank you!
[Stretch] 7:59 pm: Makes me start to think of doing some different finishes, Thanks
[Metal Artist Forum]: duck has left at 7:59 pm
[Metal Artist Forum]: duck has entered at 7:59 pm
[ShawnM] 7:59 pm: Cool, that was the idea!
[ShawnM] 8:00 pm: If there are no further questions I'll keep going...
[Devine] 8:00 pm: Thank again!
[ShawnM]8:00 pm: Other Traditional Patinas can be used on copper, brass, and bronze. If you want to experiment with these on steel, the best way to do that is to use one of the Metal Coatings over your steel, then apply the traditional patina of your choice to the Metal Coating.

Metal Coatings are kind of like paints that contain metal powder. They come in various colors, including bronze, brass, copper, pewter, silver, and iron. The idea is that the patina reacts to the metal powder in the coating the same as if you applied it to a solid piece of metal.

The original Metal Coating A sealed as it dried, so that a patina had to be applied while it was still wet. Metal Coating B was developed next ? it does not seal so the patina can be applied while the metal coating is either wet or dry. Metal Coating C is the latest. It is a multi-part coating and dries to an extremely hard surface. I?ve only used the Metal Coating B type.

[ShawnM]8:01 pm: You have to prime steel with a metal primer before applying the metal coating. That ?insulates? the steel from the dissimilar metal and keeps any corrosion from happening. You can also use texture paint in between the primer and the metal coating to give the surface a rough, cast look.

Metal coatings are applied cold. Two coats are recommended.

Here's an example of a steel box with some metal coating and traditional patina added for decoration. The box was made using the technique that Dan described in his box demo. I highlighted some areas on the lid using (in order) primer, texture paint, 2 coats of Brass Metal Coating ?B?, and Powder Blue traditional patina.

[ShawnM] 8:03 pm: Rust Patinas

As mentioned before, Vista and many Traditional patinas will make quick rust on ferrous metals.

In Florida, my lazy method is to put the piece outside and come back in a month or so. You can help the natural rust form by using an accelerator. Here are a couple of recipes to accelerate natural rust that Matt has provided on the message forum:

Matt?s Ferric Nitrate Patina: take a lump of ferric nitrate, put it in a spray bottle, add water, shake and spray.

Matt?s Magic Vinegar and Salt Patina (sounds like something you would eat): 16 oz bottle of Hydrogen Peroxide, (the kind from the drug store) about a cup of white vinegar, and about four teaspoons of salt. Make sure the metal surface is good and clean, heat it up (sizzling is a little too hot), and apply. Re-apply until you like the result.

Note that rust will generally darken when you clear coat it.

[ShawnM] 8:04 pm: Gilder's Paste

These colored wax-based pastes can be used alone or as highlights over other patinas. Most of them are metallic. They come in small tins and tend to dry out over time, but can easily be thinned with mineral spirits. Application can be done with a rag or brush, or with your fingers. Gilder's paste can be applied under or over a clear coat.

There are many colors that are available and I Don't have them all. The lighter colors show up best against a dark surface, and the darker ones look best on a lighter surface. Here are the ones I have ? the light ones over bare steel and the dark ones over Presto Black.

[ShawnM] 8:05 pm: How do I know what to use???

There are a lot of choices when it comes to patinas. Here's a simple flowchart to help you with the basic decisions.


Patinas are fun! Don't be intimidated by the process but follow good safety procedures. Try it out on a test piece for practice or to preview the result. If you Don't like the way it turns out, layer another patina on top ? you may invent your own unique finish!

[ShawnM] 8:08 pm: Here are sources for some of the things I've talked about:
[ShawnM] 8:08 pm: Commercial Patinas:

Sculpt Nouveau

Triple-S Chemicals



Manufacturer: Peacock Labs

Sculpt Nouveau

Metal cleaner:

Manufacturer: Industrial Metal Supply

Sculpt Nouveau

Gilder's Paste sources:

Architectural Iron Design


Baroque Art Gilder's Paste

Patina recipes: (includes a good list of chemicals used in patinas)


The Colouring, Bronzing, and Patination of Metals by Richard Hughes & Michael Rowe

Miscellaenous: The process of applying a patina is called patination. A piece with a patina on it is said to be patinized. A person who produces patinas is a patineur.

[ShawnM] 8:10 pm: Are there any questions about anything that I've covered tonight?
[Matt Weber] 8:11 pm: No. You did an excellent job with lots of detail!
[duck] 8:11 pm: Way to much for a senior citizen to digest in one night. Wonderfully done should be published
[Matt Weber] 8:11 pm: :clap:

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