Mica is a natural mineral that you’ve probably seen in sparkly rocks. It naturally separates into clear, reflective, flaky layers that you can pick apart to form sheets of clear rock. I wrote about mica powder here, so if you’re new to the concept, go check that article out first. Mica is not the same thing as glitter, however, and it’s not a true pigment. Mica is ground and powdered to form sparkly powders that are used to create metallic, pearlescent, or shimmery effects in the products we use every day. We can also use mica powders in our arts and crafts. In recent years, synthetic mica powder has come on the market, expanding our options for color and special effects. This article is an introduction to the various types of special effects in mica powder.
How Mica Powder Appears
While all mica powder is sparkly and reflects the light, it’s not all the same. There is tremendous variation possible with this simple material, allowing endless colors and effects.
When it comes to creating special effects in mica powder, the particle size determines the amount of sparkle. The flakes of mica are like little mirrors, and larger particles create a larger reflection. Finely ground mica particles will create a metallic shine, but larger flakes will look much like glitter. Very large flakes will resemble sequins!
Colored Mica Powder
Pure mica doesn’t have color (aside from impurities), but it can be colored to make colored mica powder. Metal oxides and pigments are used to coat the mica flakes, allowing them to come in a full range of colors. Iron oxide, tin oxide, and titanium dioxide (among others) are often used for this purpose. The thickness of the coating and the pigments used will determine what color the mica flakes are and also what color is reflected from them. By varying the colors and the coatings, mica powders with a variety of special effects can be created.
Mica Powder Opacity
The particle size can also affect the opacity of the mica powder. Small flakes usually provide more coverage of surfaces (and therefore more opacity), whereas large flakes allow less coverage, and more of the surface can be seen between the flakes.
The pigments and oxides applied to the mica flakes will also affect opacity. Titanium dioxide is naturally opaque, so mica that’s formulated with a thick coating of this metal oxide will have more coverage. This approach is often used in high-coverage face powder as opposed to sheer coverage for other makeup products.
By the way, did you know that I have an entire guide on using powders with polymer clay? It discusses pigments, mica powders, nail powders, metal powders, and dyes and details how they can be used in, on, and with polymer clay.
Pigments, mica, and powders are magical
Don’t be intimidated by those little jars and packets of colorful powders. Learn to use them effectively in your projects.
Special Effects in Mica Powder
The colors and pigments applied to the surface of the mica flakes will determine what color you see when you look at the mica powder itself, creating a variety of special effects. But because mica is reflective, the color of the reflection also comes into play. Optical special effects are created by applying the metal oxide coatings in different thicknesses. This means the reflected color your eye sees can be very different from the color of the mica powder itself, sometimes creating amazing and novel special effects in mica powder.
Visibly seen as a white powder, interference mica powder colors look nearly colorless or white when applied to light surfaces. But applied to dark surfaces, their reflective color is what your eye sees. Interference colors are fun when applied to the surface of multi-colored polymer clay because the color will only appear on the darker areas.
Some brands of interference mica powders have some opacity, while other brands are more sheer or translucent.
Duo colors of mica powder are similar to interference colors, except that the mica powder displays two different colors. Sometimes the is one color, and the reflection is a second color. Other times the powder is white and the reflection shows as two different colors at once, depending on the angle of the light in relation to your eye.
As with interference powders, some brands have more coverage and opacity than others. You can have sheer duo colors or high-coverage ones.
Chameleon or Color Shift Mica Powder
Depending on the angle of the light, color-shifting or chameleon mica powders can appear to be an entire range of colors. The color of the powder depends on the color of the mica flake itself and also on the viewing angle. You might have seen chameleon colors used to paint cars that completely change color as they go by. These powders are often used in nail art.
When the special effect coatings are applied to a black mica, you get chameleon special effect powders like you see above. But when the same coatings are applied to light colored mica, you get what is sometimes called unicorn special effect mica powders like you see below.
What is Synthetic Mica Powder?
So far, I’ve just talked about natural mica. But what if you apply these metal oxides and pigments to other materials? Yes, you can apply them to polyester film, glass, beads, minerals, metal, or plastic. This is how color-shifting objects like my water bottle are created, in fact!
If you apply these metal oxides and pigments to flakes of natural mica, the quality of the reflected sparkle will vary based on the clarity of the mica. If the mica is low grade and full of impurities, you might see a dull reflection in the same way that a dirty mirror doesn’t shine brightly. Some low-budget mica powder shows very little sparkle and can be very dull.
If you apply these coatings to plastic film and then chop it up or punch it out into shapes, you get glitter and sequins.
If you apply these coatings to a clear glass-like lab-created mineral and then grind it into powder, you get synthetic mica. Also known as fluorophlogopite (yes, say it slowly… floro-flogo-pite), or synthetic mica has all the fun of natural mica powders but without the cloudiness and dullness that comes from being a natural product that might contain impurities.
Because natural mica is sometimes mined using child labor, ethics concerns have been raised around it. Some companies, such as the Body Shop, have decided to exclusively use synthetic mica powder in their products.
The respected line of mica powders from Jacquard Products, called Pearl Ex, is made from high-quality natural mica. They do, however, now have two colors of synthetic mica. Hot Copper and Knox Gold are both made with synthetic mica, which explains their stunning color.
The Diamond range of Cernit Sparkling is made from synthetic mica powders. You can learn more about Cernit Sparkling in my review here.
What to Make with Special Effect Mica Powders
You can use these special effect mica powders to make anything that regular mica can do. It behaves the same. But the effects are much more colorful, brighter, or impressive. These Cosmic Lava pendants look extra wonderful because they were made with special effect mica powders.
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