Manufacturers are aiming to create products that are easy to use by applicators of all skill levels. Jake Kavanagh reviews the latest trends in paints & coatings

All the coatings manufacturers we spoke to spotted similar trends – a shift towards ‘cash rich, time poor’ lifestyles means that many boat owners want their coatings applied professionally, and with access to a wide palette of custom colours. Those owners who still enjoy hand-painting their boats want to use professional products for a long-lasting and deep gloss finish. They are encouraged by enthusiastic bloggers and a wealth of ‘how to’ videos on social media, and are more willing to read and understand data sheets. They are also looking for custom colours and personalised graphics, especially when it comes to boat names. Meanwhile, the manufacturers are aiming to create products that are easy to use by applicators of all skill levels.


Preparation trends

A good finish starts with good preparation, and work continues apace within R&D departments to create better fillers and ‘substrate builders’. This has led to some trends appearing in the primer and filler sectors.


Trend 1: Faster fill times

Time is money, so manufacturers are speeding up the filling and fairing process, by reducing sanding and curing times. AkzoNobel’s Awlfair SF, for example, is a new filler that can be sprayed quickly and evenly, with trials suggesting savings of up to 50% on the time and labour costs associated with troweling.

Meanwhile, De Ijssel Coatings has launched Variopox Rapid Filler, based on epoxy resin with fine extenders. Described as a ‘very fast drying’ epoxy filler, Variopox targets the small boat/DIY market, which accounts for around 30% of De Ijssel’s domestic output.


Trend 2: More solids – less solvent

The pressure to reduce solvents, VOCs and styrene in paints and resins is having a big effect on the DIY market.

“The chemistry of paints and fillers means that solvents are an important element,” explained specialist manufacturer Robbert van der Eijk. “The solvent is there for a reason. Typically, it makes the product more resistant to temperature, expanding its application window. However, we can see the direction of travel for DIY products, so our R&D department is developing new formulations that are largely solvent-free.”

One workaround is to swap styrenes for vinyl chlorides, but as van der Eijk remarked ruefully: “That’s like changing being bitten by a dog to being scratched by a cat.”

The industry’s answer is to increase the amount of solids in a product, be it a filler or primer, and to make DIY application as ‘idiot proof’ as possible.

“At Jotun, we are increasing the solid content significantly in our protective base coatings, from an average of 40% to 60%,” Reynolds said. “All manufacturers are facing a constant juggle between performance and finish. There is little point in creating a solvent-free product if the applicator then adds 30% thinners to make it workable.”


Top coats trends

Painting a yacht – especially a superyacht – is infinitely harder than painting a car, as the applicator is often faced with vast areas of flat topsides. This will be unforgiving of any mistakes, whereas a car has lots of curves to distract the eye.

Helping highly skilled applicators and keen DIY enthusiasts are the paint manufacturers, who are devising new products that are easy to spray, polish, and ultimately repair.

“At Awlgrip, we have four different topcoat technologies that are utilised in the yacht market, each to meet different customer needs,” Hans Slegtenhorst said. “This is unique in the yacht finishes market. While other coatings providers supply just one or two products, we find that a ‘one size fits all’ approach is insufficient to meet the varying needs of the market.”

The paint OEMs are also very keen to get customer feedback, either via their training sessions or by actually walking the R&D chemists around boatyards to talk to the applicators. “Our chemists regularly go out ‘into the field’ to see their formulations being used,” Jotun’s Reynolds said. “This gives them a much better understanding of the practical challenges outside the lab.”


Trend 1: More two packs use

“Two-pack paints are very definitely being used a lot more by DIY boat painters,” said Robbert van der Eijk. His company, De Ijssel Coatings, manufacturers and supplies paints and resins for a large portion of the Dutch boatbuilding sector, with the ability to offer custom solutions. “I think part of the reason is that there is so much practical advice on social media. If you want to know how to use a product, there will be

a Youtube video to show you exactly how it’s done. This is giving ordinary boat owners the confidence to aim for a professional finish. Also, just about all epoxy fillers are two-pot formulations, so the DIY market is already familiar with using these types of products.”

Jotun’s Marcus Reynolds agrees with growing DIY confidence in professional formulas. “Our UK distributor Marine & Industrial reports that our superyacht products such as Megagloss are being used on narrow boats, barges and houseboats

on the inland waterways,” he said. “Boat owners want their narrowboat home to

have the best finish possible. They also know that two-pack paints are much tougher, perhaps exceeding 10 years before repainting is necessary.”

This longevity makes economic sense, despite the higher initial price of the products, and also applies to other areas

on a boat, as AkzoNobel’s Hans Slegtenhorst remarked.

“Increasing demand for long-term protection and superior quality has seen a shift from traditional wood varnishes to either a faux finish using Awlgrip or using our Awlwood clear wood coating system,” he said. “Awlwood has much better longevity compared to traditional wood coatings, which helps reduce downtime and maintenance.”


Trend 2: More custom colours

All the paint manufacturers we spoke to identified requests for custom colour schemes as a major trend. “Customers are looking to create their own look to match their personalities,” said AkzoNobel’s Hans Slegtenhorst. “We have a huge variety of colours in our Mixitcloud system – over 18,000 in our Awlcraft SE line, and through this immense range of paint and finishes, we can customise yachts to reflect and express our customers’ tastes.”

Van der Eijk concurs. “Custom colour requests is certainly something we have seen, not just in paints but also in gel coat pigments,” he said. “We can meet these demands, even in small batches.”

Meanwhile, Jotun has taken the custom colour concept global with its MCI colour tinting system. “Stockists can keep four or five base colours in stock, from which they can make thousands of different shades,” Reynolds explained. “This minimizes the amount of stock they need to carry. If a yacht docks anywhere in the world, a computer links with the local supplier and can create a perfect colour match for whatever colour that yacht is painted with.”


Trend 3: More metallics

Metallic and pearlescent finishes are also becoming more popular, despite being more difficult to apply, and also to repair. The trick is to get the material down correctly, particularly in terms of flake orientation and then enhance the gloss with a tough clear lacquer. This is standard practice in the automotive sector.

Awlgrip’s newest topcoat system, for example, is Awlcraft SE, a paint system consisting of several base coats laid down by spray-gun in rapid succession and highlighted and protected by several clear coats. The product has been formulated for easy spraying, but with a particular emphasis on faster application through quicker recoating times.


The future

The availability of some traditional compounds, biocides, VOC’s and other chemicals may be contracting due to increased regulation, but the paint industry is responding with versatility and innovation. Products and processes are getting cleaner and greener, and OEMs are continuing to place the applicator’s needs first. Paint systems are also being formulated so as to be easier to repair and an increasing number of OEMs are using spray finishes instead of relying purely on the gelcoat.

The two major trends, however, are the greater demand for custom colours,and much more uptake of professional painting services.

“Alongside these two major trends is the constant drive for more efficient processes and up-to-date information,” concludes AkzoNobel’s Hans Slegtenhorst.

“While the development of new and improved products is key, we also work with leading industry partners to harness the latest technology or equipment, from simple sandpaper to complex spray guns. At Awlgrip, we are always working to make the perfect finish easier to achieve through more efficient processes, innovative new technologies and future-proof regulatory compliance.”

Meanwhile, the whole industry is keeping a wary eye on that last bit, the regulatory compliance. IBI will keep you posted.