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Add some color to your DIY cement decor projects using latex paint as colorant. Learn how to create unique colorful decor such as succulent planters, bowls, vases, and plates.
I’ll start this post with a bit of back-story and info on my ongoing experimentation with adding color to cement.
How to color cement? I really didn’t know where to begin. I did many searches on the net and came up with too much information, but at the same time not enough for my situation. Does that happen to you?
I learned that there are colorants that can be added into the cement batch as it is being mixed, and there are also stains that can be applied after the concrete/cement has cured. But both of these generally come in too-large quantities and cost more than I want to spend for my small decor projects. The few products available at my local home improvement stores didn’t offer many color choices: buff, charcoal, terracotta, boring. No, just kidding about the “boring.” Boring is generally okay with me, but this time I wanted to go in a different direction, looking for that whimsical pop of color for my cement projects.
What to do? I kicked around the idea of using cooking spices and food items. I was thinking about how natural homemade wood stains, such as concoctions of vinegar and steel wool, are all the rage right now, and wouldn’t it be nice to be able to go to the kitchen to pick up the concrete colorant. I tried coffee grounds and made a huge ugly mess. (No photos available.) I tried ground red pepper, and got cement that was a muddy reddish-brown. It was okay, but not very colorful. Next, I tried turmeric, which is a bright yellow spice used especially in Indian cooking. Turmeric is also used as a coloring agent for some food products, fabrics, etc.
Here is how that worked out. I used turmeric in a cast cement leg project that I’m working on. These legs are another version of my DIY Cement Replacement Sofa Legs for IKEA and Other Brands cement legs, but with a different, and I think a little easier, casting technique. I will be experimenting more with cement colors with these furniture legs, and I’ll show you how to make them in an upcoming post. In the photos below, the cast cement leg on the left has turmeric added as a colorant, and the one on the right has no turmeric added.
As you can see, turmeric gives the cement a very pleasant brown color, which I was a little surprised about thinking I would get a vibrant yellow cement leg.
I moved on from kitchen colorants because I wanted to try to get different colors than what I was finding there. I looked into using latex paint which is what I am so excited to tell you about today.
I had heard about using latex paint as an integral concrete/cement colorant but didn’t know details or how it would look. So I did some investigation. It turns out people are doing research into it as a way to recycle waste latex paint. Below a certain concentration, latex paint strengthens concrete (good), whereas used above a certain concentration the concrete strength decreases (bad). I found out that you can replace up to about 25 percent of the water portion of a concrete batch with latex paint and not decrease the strength of the resulting cured concrete.
I didn’t find out anything specific to cement vs. concrete, but decided to go with the info for concrete. Cement is the ingredient in concrete that bonds the other ingredients–sand and gravel. Cement, (remember, the bonding agent) makes up only about 15 percent of a concrete batch, so I suspect that if using cement only, the percent of water that can be replaced by paint could be increased substantially without affecting strength. I don’t know for sure, though. What I’m saying is, you can put in more paint and see what happens, but I wouldn’t up the paint concentration and then do anything structural with the cement….for decorative uses only.
I started out with little batches, not wanting to go too big before I knew what I was doing with the latex paint. I didn’t intend to make pots at first. Rather, I primarily wanted to investigate latex paint colorant in conjunction with my hand-forming cement technique so that I could make colored versions of the Hand-Formed Cement (Over Glass) Vases. I posted this project over at Hometalk, and by far the most common question was how to color them.
Well, along the way I ended up liking my little “test” pots and then started experimenting with these to get different coloring effects as well as different ways of forming them, both casting completely with molds and combining hand-forming with molds. I haven’t by any means gotten these out of my system, so I’m sure you’ll be seeing more of paint-tinted decor (and furniture) in upcoming posts.
- containers to use as molds (for instance, disposable cups, disposable bowls, glass bowls)
- measuring spoons (1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon)
- dust mask
- protective gloves (tight-fitting)
- mixing bowl
- Quikcrete anchoring cement, Rapid Set Cement All, or similar
- 3 oz disposable cup
- latex paint (for instance, most interior wall paint)
- spray oil
- sandpaper (optional)
- pliers/scissors (optional)
ABOUT THE PAINT
The type of paint to use for coloring cement (and concrete) is latex paint. Most interior wall paints are this type of paint. Leftover paint and sample-size jars are ideal for this project because you don’t need much. I used several brands (Behr, Pittsburgh Paints, Glidden) and didn’t notice any difference as to brand.
Dark, intense paint colors tend to produce more colorful pots once mixed in the cement. When I was making colored batches, I noted that some colors, such as pale pink, lightened the cement but was hardly noticeable. Sometimes a bright, vibrant paint color hardly showed up. So you just never know. I also mixed some colors, for instance red paint and blue paint to get purple. Have fun with it!
MIXING THE CEMENT
I used the following general proportions:
- 3 oz Quikrete anchoring cement, Rapid Set Cement All, or similar (dry)
- 1 to 2 Tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoons latex paint* (optional)
*Note that you can use 2 teaspoons of paint in a batch of cement this size, but the cement cures much slower, and the strength of the cured concrete may be decreased. I haven’t had any problems with decor items, though.
I use a 3 oz plastic disposable cup to measure the anchoring cement. If you want to make a larger cement batch, you can use these proportions to scale up the batch size.
Start by putting 3 oz of anchoring cement in a mixing bowl.
Mix 1 Tablespoon of water and 1 teaspoons of paint in a cup. Note that I wasn’t real exact with the paint volume. I used sort of a heaping teaspoon per batch and I didn’t worry about what didn’t come off the spoon.
Add the water/paint mixture to the anchoring cement in the mixing bowl. If you are not adding paint to the batch, you can add 2 Tablespoons of water directly to the cement in the mixing bowl. Keep in mind that once you add the liquid to the cement you have about 5 minutes before it sets up and can’t be worked any more, so get your molds ready before combining the cement with the water/paint. If you have added paint to the batch, it slows down the curing process, and you have a bit more time. Also, thinner (more water) batches take more time to cure than thick batches.
Mix thoroughly, about 1 minute.
At this point, you can add a little water, about half a Tablespoon for a thick cement mix. Add more water, about 1 Tablespoon, for a pourable mix. Adjust as you see fit–your cement may be a little different than mine. You can also add dry concrete at this point to adjust the batch thickness, if necessary. Remember to wear a dust mask and gloves when working with cement.
FORMING DIY CEMENT DECOR
I made pots in several different ways, often combining techniques in a single pot. I think you will have lots of fun experimenting. I’ll show you a few techniques I used.
Pourable Cement Mix and Using Two Molds
I used pourable cement for this type of pot, sometimes tinted with latex paint and sometimes cement only. You can add as many layers and different colors sequentially to your liking.
First, I sprayed the inside of a bigger disposable cup with oil and sprayed the outside of a smaller disposable cup. The outer cup can be paper, plastic, or glass. For the inner mold, I have found that it is best to use a plastic disposable cup because it is easier to remove after the cement is cured. I often used 5 oz outer cups and 3 oz inner cups as molds or 9 oz outer cups and 5 oz inner cups.
Fill the larger cup about halfway with layer(s) and let the last layer cure at least a half hour. (You just need to wait a few minutes for each of the first layers to cure between layers.)
Then add more thin pourable cement into the larger cup and place a the smaller cup on top of the wet cement.
Push the smaller cup into the wet cement and weight the smaller cup to keep it inserted in the cement.
I waited at least an hour (and usually overnight) then pulled the inner cup out with pliers. You can use sandpaper to smooth out the rims if you want to.
For the bowl shown below, I made a very thick batch and hand molded the bowl. In case you are wondering, I bought this glass bowl at Dollar Tree in a pack of four. If oiled well, the cured cement bowl pops out with a little tapping. On occasion, I have to break the glass to get the bowl out. To do this, put the bowl in a rice bag or similar cloth and tap it with a hammer. Let the cement cure for a day before you do this.
To help work the cement, you can dip your hand in water and smooth out the edges and surface.
I made the bowl in the photo below using this method, but I left the edge rough, without smoothing the edge. The paint color is Behr–The Real Teal.
Feathering the Cement
One hand-forming technique I employed was what I call “feathering the cement.” Mix a medium thick cement batch to the consistency of thick peanut butter. You should be able to form a ball with the cement. Plop the ball in your mold. Push in the center to form a cavity and work the cement up the sides. In the photo below, you can see that the layer of cement does not form a clear line on the inside of the cup. As I was hand-forming the cement, I “feathered” the layer up by pulling some up and dragging the cement around with a finger.
The next layer also gets hand-formed, made with medium thick cement. When adding the next layer, overlap the previous layer.
To get the pot out of the cup, cut the rim and tear the cup away.
If this feathering is done on the last, top layer, you can get a very thin delicate cement edge. Yes, it’s fragile, but oh so elegant!
Swirling and Smushing the Cement
If you have a thinner cement mix, you can “swirl” the mold and make uneven but more solid layers. These layers are more solid than feathering. What I call “smushing” is made with medium thick cement and is hand-formed into an uneven solid edge. I’m sure you’ll come up with some techniques that you can give a name!
Combining Techniques and Making Multiple Pots Concurrently
I often put a layer of pourable-consistency cement as the bottom layer, so you may notice that many of my pots have a straight bottom layer. The bottom of these pots are solid cement, without a cavity. I then tended to hand-form the next layers, so the cavity of the pots are only above the bottom, straight layer. You can make yours however you want, of course, and I did make some that were hand-formed from the bottom.
From a production standpoint, I usually had multiple pots in progress so that when I mixed up a batch of a particular color, I used it in several pots. For instance, you can mix up a pourable red batch and put some in several molds. Then as it is hardening over a few minutes, you can use the last portion of the batch to hand-form a layer of a pot.
I really got carried away with these! I know lots of people who are going to get a colorful cement succulent planter for Christmas! (Shhhh don’t tell.)
SEALING THE POTS
If the pot will be used as a vase or planter, it’s a good idea to seal the pot. Unsealed, if exposed to water the cement pot will most likely develop efflorescence, a chalky white salt discoloration on the surface. The photo below shows one of my bowls with efflorescence. I put water into this unsealed bowl, let it sit overnight, then poured out the water and let it dry. The white film became apparent as it was drying.
There are many types of sealants that will work to seal the cement pots. I had a concrete/cement sealant in the garage left over from sealing some concrete at the house and decided to try it. It is Rain Guard, bought at Home Depot, also available from Amazon. I was worried that a sealant would change the appearance of my cement decor. But Rain Guard did not change the appearance at all, not even the sheen. The product literature also says it is safe for plants, another thing I was looking for because I like to use my pots as succulent planters. The Rain Guard is a type of sealant called silane/siloxane, so if you can’t find Rain Guard, you might want to look at other silane/siloxane sealants designed for concrete/cement.
The photo on the left below was taken just after applying the Rain Guard sealant. After a few minutes, the sealant was not visible (photo right).
In the photo below, I applied Rain Guard sealant to the inside of the bowl on the left. The pot in the middle was left unsealed, and you can see the water seeping through. The pot on the right was sealed with Rain Guard on the inside and on part of the outside.
Here are more photos. I’d love to see your latex paint-tinted decor, so don’t be shy about posting photos of your creations in the comments section. Maybe you came up with a new technique…let us all know. Have a great day!
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