The Butler did it. If it's concrete, Bill Butler has done it. Now he shows you how you can do it, too.

Oh... You'd like that in color?

Decorative concrete has rapidly become the norm in today’s construction, indoors and outdoors. This has happened because we have continued to master the techniques to create the look the client wants. Color, textures, shapes and energy efficient designs are now created with cast-in-place or pre-cast concrete.

Color is perhaps the most sought after change in the way that we have traditionally done things. We have many ways to color concrete. Let’s take a minute to look at the methods that we’re using to create different colors:

Integral Color

Integral Color is where we add color to the concrete mix and / or the bagged product. Water-based, liquid, Universal colorant or powdered iron oxide pigments are blended and added to the mix. They then react with the Portland cement, which in turn creates a colored finished product.

Some people think that full-depth color is critical. It isn’t. The top 1/8th of an inch of the surface, known as the near surface wear zone, is really all that matters in color. Once this layer is damaged, it must be repaired, regardless of how deep the color is. Also, integral color is very sensitive to batch size, mixing equipment or trucks, precise control of water, etc.

The positive side of integral color is that it is easy to specify and order. Simply pick-up the phone and order your concrete whatever color you’d like. It may not turn out as that exact color, but it should be close.


Staining the surface of concrete is perhaps the most popular coloring method. You can create very elaborate designs.

The downside is that staining is mostly topical. Muriatic acid burns the color into the surface.

Stained color needs protection from abrasion. In most cases, multiple coats of sealer are recommended, followed by periodic waxing in order to have a barrier between the surface and the traffic.

Remember: the quality of the concrete determines the quality of the stain. Sometimes stain just doesn’t take.

Dry Shake Floor Hardeners

Dry Shake Floor Hardeners are the toughest and most uniform method of coloring a floor and making it almost bulletproof at the same time. L&M’s Quartzplate comes in many designer colors, including brilliant white. The downside to dry shakes is finding craftsmen that know how to properly install them. Since shake-ons are not used as frequently, it is sometimes difficult to find experienced dry shake concrete finishers. Dry shake hardeners are applied to the fresh concrete and then troweled into the surface as a monolithic topping.

Left: Exposed Aggregate & Black Dye | Right: Acid Stain

Dyed Concrete

Dyed Concrete is perhaps the current product of choice as it is versatile, easy to create interesting schemes, can be done to any age of concrete, and comes in a wide array of colors. (See Vivid Dye color chart and brochure at

The downside to dye is human perception. The mind thinks dye is opaque, but dye is translucent. It sounds simple, but it is not. It is very important to show a customer a dyed floor before choosing this method. To properly manage the owner’s expectations, a mock-up is imperative. It is very human to expect a solid-color floor and then to look at it and see that it is a concrete floor with color in it. Some people have a tough time grasping this fact.

Dye is penetrating. It goes into the concrete and does not require topical treatments to protect it. It is normally used in conjunction with polished concrete as the surface needs to be ground in order for the dye to penetrate into the pores. Typically, we use the LiON Hard™ lithium ion densifier after the dye has been applied to “lock in” the color and retain its inherent beauty, ensuring it is as vibrant as possible.

Before you start your next decorative concrete project, call L&M’s Technical Support Team. We’ll do our level best to make sure that your concrete dreams don’t turn into a concrete disaster. Call 800-362-3331 before you start.

Bill Butler is a sales and tech rep for LATICRETE International. He has worked in the concrete industry since 1976 and has been involved with ready mix trucks, concrete admixtures and construction products for the concrete industry. His approach to helping contractors and installers “do things right the first time” or when necessary “doing things right the second time” is to ask good questions, be thorough, use common sense and logic.

Phone: 920-450-2932 • e-mail:

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© 2014 L&M Construction Chemicals, Inc. | ConcreteNews Spring 2014.

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