Xirallic: what is it?

BMW price list spotters will have noticed something unfamiliar on the new BMW 5 Series tables: the option of Xirallic alongside regular metallic paint

It costs the same as normal metallic, and only comes in two hues: Imperial Blue or Sophisto Grey.

So, what is it? A special type of metallic paint, that’s what. It was developed and patented in Japan, by an outpost of Germany’s Merck KGaA. It is also produced in Japan; indeed, the world’s only plant making Xirallic is in Onahama.

Xirallic promises a lighter body colour, greater colour intensity and a stronger paint lustre. The ‘glitter’ effect is more intense, which has led some to dub it ‘glistening’ paint (although Xirallic itself is much cooler).

It’s created using a smart substrate invented by Merck’s Japanese boffins back in 2000: aluminium oxide platelets are synthetically produced, using a clever crystallisation process. They are then coated with metal oxides.

This means Xirallic paint is finely grained and boasts a narrow distribution of particle size, for a flawless finish: by playing with the substrates themselves, previously-unseen new metallic paint effects can be produced, although it is the sheer intensity of colour and sparkle that impresses most.

Coming to a car near you soon, then? Well, maybe: the company needs to gear up its production facilities first, because a sole plant won’t be able to feed the world.

Even worse, though, the plant is also yet another Japanese industrial victim of the earthquake. It was damaged and production has been hit, meaning supplies are in even shorter supply.

Indeed, this may well be another reason why you’ve heard of Xirallic recently: Ford’s recently been in the news for not being able to offer many colours in its 2011 range, due to shortages in Xirallic.

It has since used another pigment for its metallic colours, but it’s taken some time, and means wholesale changes across the board: brochures, dealer inventories, press photographs, touch-up paint kits, model codes, you name it. Many more makers are experiencing the same.

Xirallic certainly does shine, and it’s a paint technology many are going to love in the future. For now, though, with the plant remaining offline, it’s living under something of a cloud. Fingers crossed the situation is sorted soon: with a name so cool, it deserves no less.

UPDATE: The Onahama plant has restarted production, and is aiming for a return to full production by June. Merck is also to open a new plant in Germany making the pigment by the end of the year – finally adding additional production.

But will the demand be there? Already, many makers have been forced to switch to alternative pigments, due to the supply issues. Will they return?

  • What does Merck say about Xirallic?

From Merck Performance Materials:

Xirallic® – for Coatings with Strong Colored Sparkle Effects

Xirallic® combines lively sparkle with shimmer which has never been achieved before. The crystal effect pigments from Merck create an unexpected deep luster and extraordinary sparkle in coatings. Their high color intensity and purity are impressive. Direct light – such as from the sun – shows off their unparalleled brilliance to the full. In short, Xirallic® is unique in the world of effect pigments.

With its small particle size and tight particle size distribution, Xirallic® can be easily used in all application areas, from plastic coatings, industry and powder coatings, to dispersion paints. The main field of application for our crystal effect pigments, however, is automotive coatings: this is where their extraordinary color saturation and depth, as well as their universal technical usability, really come into their own.

At the center: a shimmering crystal 
The name ‘crystal effect pigments’ describes the key feature of the Xirallic® family: their strong sparkle effect comes from a crystal which is obtained in a brand new process. This produces alumina platelets with perfectly consistent, highly reflective surfaces and tight particle size distribution. Its uniquely fine particle size makes Xirallic® easier to process – a clear advantage over most other pigments, whose strong glitter effect is based on larger particles. Because the substrate of Xirallic® has no masstone color, pure effects can be produced even in white stylings. Its high level of transparency also makes it ideally suited to dark stylings without cloudiness.

Metal oxides for strong colors and resistance 
A layer of highly refractive metal oxides gives Xirallic® its extraordinary color saturation. Silver-white effect pigments as well as interference pigments in gold, red, blue, green, violet and turquoise can be generated using titanium oxide in varying degrees of thickness. Layers of iron (III) oxide produce copper-colored and red effect pigments. Xirallic® is outstandingly suited for exterior application due to their additional coating, which gives the pigments excellent weather resistance.
Xirallic® effect pigments can be combined with many other conventional color and effect pigments. The almost infinite options for combination with Merck effect pigments from the Iriodin® and Colorstream® families are especially attractive.
Besides coatings Xirallic® also refines plastics and printings products.

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