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Developing Your Color Recipe

How Stain Works

            Nearly every masonry-coloring job is unique and requires a unique stain mix.  Unlike paint, which replaces and completely covers the existing colors of the underlying surface, a stain mix for masonry blends with and adds to the natural colors of the masonry so that the end result is a mix of the old colors with the new.  It is this blending of different colors absorbed into the masonry that produces a perfectly natural look.


            Therefore, to give your masonry the color you want, you will have to develop a special stain recipe that will mix just right with your masonry’s existing colors and properties.   The recipe indicates the color or colors to be used and the number of teaspoons (or partial teaspoons) to be added to ½ cup of water.  Be sure to write it down, and also to write down any changes you make as you refine the recipe.


          Here’s an example of a recipe that might be used to create a stain mix to be applied to make dark red brick lighter and more orange in color.

            The yellow color will be absorbed into the brick and mix with the existing red to create orange.  The smaller quantity of white color will tend to lighten and brighten the orange color.

Seven Steps to Develop a Test Recipe


1. Pick the colors that will combine with the colors of the existing masonry to produce the color you want.  See the Color Wheel Reminders (above) to check the results of mixing particular colors.  For example, you will notice that Blue and Yellow combine to create Green.  Therefore, if you wish to make yellow stone appear green, add Blue to the recipe.  Include White if you wish to brighten the colors or Black to darken them.


2. Write down the colors you choose.

3. Decide on the amount (the number of teaspoons or partial teaspoons) of each color to use for the test solution.

4. To avoid ruining your solution, always add a little less color than you think you might need. You can always add to it later.  If you add too much of a color, you may have to discard the whole ½ cup of solution. In the first solution don’t use more than one teaspoon of Red, Blue or Yellow, and don’t use more than ½ teaspoon of White or Black.  Write down the amounts that you use.

 5. To make a slight color change, try using ½ tsp. or 1 tsp. of color.  For a major change, try 2-3 teaspoons of color.  To lighten or darken try as little as ¼ tsp.

6. Your recipe should never include more than 7 teaspoons of color, total, for ½ cup of water. (Adding more will cause pigment to settle to the bottom of the cup and give you an uneven color.)  If you need more color than that, you will have to:  (1) develop one recipe and apply one coat of stain to partially change the masonry, (2) let it dry, and then (3) develop another recipe and apply another coat.   This is very rarely necessary.  If it is, see “When You Need a More Extreme Color Change - Double Application” in “Advanced Topics” below.

7. Write the complete recipe: the amounts of each color to be added to ½ cup of water.  Now you have a recipe that you can test to see how it works on your masonry.

Mix the Test Solution


 1. Review all of the guidelines for Mixing the Stain, above.  This will insure a good mix, and will help protect against discoloring your skin, clothing or other objects by accident. 


2.  Mix as instructed in “Mixing Your Stain” above.  (We recommend using distilled water or bottled drinking water – especially if your tap water has a high mineral content.)


3.  Normally you should allow a solution to set for at least 45 minutes to 1 hour to optimize the dissolving of pigment for a proper bond.    If you are just conducting a test, however, you can apply your first test recipe after waiting as little as 10-15 minutes because a perfect bond is not necessary (and because developing the final recipe is likely to take at least 1 or more hours anyway).


Apply the Solution to a Test Area


1. Find an area on which to try out your test solution.  It is best to use extra loose pieces of masonry.  If you must test on the masonry itself, try to find a small area where “practice” stains are unlikely to be noticed.


2. Review all the guidelines for Applying Your Stain, above. 


3. Apply the solution to the masonry with light pressure in a single stroke (as described in “Applying Your Stain,” above) to a small part of the test area..


4. Allow the area to dry.  Drying time will vary depending upon temperature and humidity.  After drying, colors will appear lighter. 


Refine the Recipe


1. Look at the dry test area.  Is it the right color?  If it seems to need more of a particular color, add a small amount of that color to the solution.  Write down the change to the recipe.  




Figure 2 shows how the original recipe shown in Figure 1 might be revised if the test area showed that the brick was still too red and too dark.  Adding an additional ½ tsp. of Yellow (making the total amount of Yellow pigment 1 ½ tsp.) will make the brick more orange and slightly lighter. 


Adding the additional ¼ tsp. of White (making the total amount of White pigment one half tsp), will lighten the brick  further.

Remember:  It is better to add too little color than too much.  If you add too little, you can fix it later.  If you add too much, you will have to drain the mixing cup and start over.  Also, if you add too much of a particular color you may be unable to remove that excess color from the test part of the masonry.  Note: Never use more than a total of 7 teaspoons of pigment with a ½ cup of water.


 2.  Apply your new mix to a fresh part of the masonry.  Do not apply the new stain on the same surface where you previously tested an earlier recipe; this will give you a combination of the two recipes rather than showing you what the new recipe will do on its own.

3. Allow the area to dry and then look to see whether the color is right.  If the color is not right, refine the recipe again, adding and mixing additional pigment and then testing the new recipes until you can color the masonry with the shade you want. 

4. When you have the desired recipe, check the masonry and apply according to “Applying the Stain”, above.

Safety Reminders
Always wear gloves, safety glasses, and old clothes when mixing or applying stain.  Also, always use tarps or other means to protect nearby surfaces from spills.


If stain solution is spilled or splashed:


  • In eyes: rinse with water for at least 10 minutes to ensure all particles have been removed.”

  • On skin: Rinse thoroughly with soap and water.

  • On clothing: Flush with water, but discoloration may be permanent.

  • On floors or walls: Remove immediately with water, keeping it wet at all times, dabbing with damp cloth.

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