Recent Advances in Water-Based Coating Technologies

This blog discusses some of the recent advances in water-based coating technologies and how these higher-performing coatings help to address many of the traditional misconceptions (and stigmas) surrounding these materials.

This blog discusses some of the recent advances in water-based coating technologies and how these higher-performing coatings help to address many of the traditional misconceptions (and stigmas) surrounding these materials.

Before we dive into the main topic of water-based materials, it is important to first review the composition and makeup of high-performance coatings. Generically speaking, coatings are made up of four main ingredients -- pigments, binders, solvents (liquids), and additives. In traditional formulations, the solvent takes the form of water or some other chemical solvent. This is why you hear many coatings commonly referred to as either “water-based” or “solvent-based.”

Historically, water-based coating technologies have often received a negative connotation, especially when used in environments that warrant higher performance of the coating system. While these stigmas might be present, increased environmental regulations (including air quality mandates) and the shift toward sustainability goals have driven the use of water-based coatings in the marketplace and caused many asset owners, specifiers, and contractors alike to consider these coatings for use on their projects.

With the recent advances in water-based coating technologies, many of the previous concerns are now able to be cast aside. In fact, the many advantages of using these next-generation materials far outweigh many of the remaining concerns surrounding their use. Now let’s discuss some of these misconceptions surrounding water-based coatings and how the use of these advanced materials can provide long-term VOC compliance and can allow for low odor application along with increased worker safety.

Misconception #1:

All water-based coatings are created equally.

Response: For those of you who might fancy yourself as a weekend warrior, you might be thinking of these water-based coatings that we’re speaking of as being in the same category as the acrylic latex paints that you recently used on your interior painting project. Without knocking those materials, it is safe to say that these newer water-based materials are in a category all to themselves. These next-generation coatings may take the form of an inorganic hybrid water-based epoxy, a waterborne epoxy zinc-rich primer, a water-based silicone grafted composite exterior finish, or even as a self-crosslinking hydrophobic acrylic with dryfall properties. What these materials all have in common is that they were designed and formulated with high-performance qualities which aim to provide the highest levels of performance and asset protection, all while offering a more sustainable solution.

Misconception #2:

Water-based coatings don’t perform as well as solvent-based coatings.

Response: Waterborne coatings are slowly gaining more acceptance as confidence builds over time with their increased usage. Full waterborne coatings systems are now able to meet performance standards such as ISO 12944 category C4 and C5 for the highest corrosion resistance, which is helping them gain acceptance. There are even water-based materials now in the marketplace that are acceptable for use in potable water immersion, which was an arena previously occupied entirely by solvent-based and 100% solids materials. In addition, accelerated laboratory tests on these materials indicate that many of these innovative water-based technologies either rival or outperform their solvent-based counterparts.

Misconception #3:

The use of water-based coatings will cause flash rusting to occur.

Response: Over the past few years, additive and pigment technology advances have enabled suppliers of these materials to provide new flash rust inhibitors which show superior performance to their predecessors. While flash rusting is a concern in the world of protective coatings, these advances have enabled quality coating manufacturers to formulate their products using these next-generation flash rust inhibitors which greatly reduce the risk of flash rusting over metal substrates.

Misconception #4:

Solvent-based coatings are less sensitive to environmental conditions during application and cure than their water-based counterparts.

Response: Much work has been done over the past few years to improve the application and cure of water-based coatings in more adverse conditions. There have been great improvements in such properties as time-to-moisture resistance and the surface tolerance of these materials. Some of the newer water-based coatings on the market will cure at lower temperatures than their previous versions.

Misconception #5:

There are numerous application challenges with water-based materials. Quite frankly, solvent-based materials apply with much greater ease.

Response: Improvements in water-based products now allow for improved application and film-build properties that rival traditional solvent-based coatings. In many cases, the water-based materials can be easier to apply as they allow for application using lower-pressure spray equipment and even by brush and roller. The longer working time with many of these materials leads to easier application.

Another key factor is that the effective solvent in these materials is water, instead of a potentially volatile or harmful solvent. This can help meet sustainability goals and greatly contribute to the increased safety of workers on a job site.

In conclusion, both solvent-based and water-based coatings have a place in the industry. It all depends on the needs of the project and the environment, as to which coating technology is the right fit. With the advances in water-based technologies, the decision as to which coating type to use has become even more difficult as the previous gap between these materials has been significantly narrowed. From primers to superior topcoats, Tnemec’s water-based coatings are anything but watered-down. To learn more about these innovative materials, click here.


Want to Earn Some CEUs?

Check out all of Tnemec's coating courses, available on demand and in person.

Sustainable Building

Need Coatings for LEED Projects?

Tnemec offers a long list of low VOC coatings built to protect sustainable structures.

Contact Your Rep

Looking for Some Local Coatings Guidance?

Reach out to one of our knowledgable and reliable representatives near you.

Continue Exploring in the color tool


Color Swatch packet

When you finish selecting, request your Swatch Packet below. Expect your swatch cards in 5-7 business days. Contact your expert Sales Rep at any time.

Sorry, there is a maximum of 6 color swatches.

Request swatch packet

Continue Exploring in the color tool