Concrete Coloring Basics

When considering Decorative Concrete as an option for your new project, the most exciting element is often ‘choosing the color’. This is not as cut and dry as you might think or hope. Many professionals will offer ‘any color you like’ scenario or perhaps only offer what they have available to them. Here are a few standard ways of understanding what colors options are available when choosing decorative concrete.

Whether its new construction or a remodel, choosing a concrete color for your design can be an exciting yet daunting task. Even though you have fallen in love with an image in a magazine or from our image gallery the method of coloration may not be possible for your particular installation. We would like to provide you with a guide to help clarify this topic.

These are typical ways of adding color to concrete.
Integral Color
Dry shake surface color hardener
Liquid Surface (Topical) Color
Coatings systems

Colors Explained:

Integral Color: Often available in either dry pigment or liquid dispersions. These color systems are added to wet concrete or cement-based materials. The color is dispersed throughout the material and offers a slight mottling but overall consistency in color variation.
When the concrete material is placed the color is already there and therefore can often times be sealed or finished immediately after it is cured or dry.


∑ The base cement color will add to the integral color to determine actual finished color. Eg: White cement produces brighter colors and gives a wider variety of shades. While gray cement produces more subtle tones, which are muted and softer.
∑ Integrally colored concrete when scratched will expose color and therefore is sometimes easier to touch-up and maintain.
∑ As the concrete wears the color will remain
∑ If a concrete slab is extra thick, the cost of coloring the whole slab just to see color on its surface is not always cost effective.
∑ Integral color options are only available when new concrete material is going to be placed.
∑ Concrete colors in liquid form are sometimes easier to disperse in mortar, plaster, concrete, and resurfacing systems.

Dry shake surface color hardeners: Surface color hardeners are applied or broadcast onto the surface of wet concrete after is has been placed but before it has been finished. After the color(s) of choice is(are) broadcast onto the surface they are left to absorb into the surface before a second full broadcast is applied. When these products are applied to a concrete surface they not only add one color but can be layered and blended to create a variety of outcomes while at the same time densifying and hardening the surface that they are applied to.


Applied to the surface of wet concrete

∑ Cost effective way of adding color at the time of placement
∑ Hardens the surface of the concrete
∑ Available in a wide range of colors
∑ Can be layered and blended for decorative variations

Liquid, Surface (Topical) Colorants:
Liquid Surface Colorants also known as translucent dyes, tints, stains and acrylics come in either water based or solvent based dilutions. These colors are usually applied once the concrete has fully hardened or cured. These types of colorations offer experienced applicators a wide range finish options. While stains; particularly ‘Acid Stains’, require a chemical reaction to create the color, dyes and tints are predetermined and only add a translucent shade of color to the surface on which they are applied. Acrylic colors are both able to add translucent color as well as create ‘hide’ while coloring, depending on their dilutions and application methods.
Similar to faux finishing. Liquid Surface Colorants can be applied using sprayers, mops, sponges, rags and plastic sheets. Creative professionals are always raising the bar and developing new and cutting edge ways of applying these colors.


∑ Usually translucent but acrylics can offer some degree of hide
∑ Applied once the concrete is dry and cured
∑ Can be applied in many ways to achieve various finishes
∑ Come in many variations and compositions for a variety of outcomes

Coatings systems:
Coating systems are similar to paint in that they are designed to coat or cover the surface on which they are applied. Coatings are available in clear and pigmented versions. Coatings are usually not applied creatively as much as they are applied consistently. As with anything there are exceptions to the rule. For example coating systems are often thick and durable thereby allowing for the addition of grip, colored flakes or other elements which can be applied to their wet surfaces before being locked in with a subsequent top coat. See epoxies and coatings for more info.


∑ Come in either clear or pigmented
∑ Usually gives a consistent smooth finish
∑ Additives can be mixed or broadcast to create various decorative and functional elements

Other coloring options we haven’t covered in this section are:

Metallic finishes
Swirled Epoxy
Glitter and Sparkle effects
As well as a wide variety of additives and components that can be inserted or broadcast into wet concrete.