When Design-Savvy Consumers Demand More; Pre-Paint Can Deliver

Jim Newton

Introduce pre-paint during the design process to enhance success.

Consumers today trend toward color as a way to define their personal home style. The days of the standard white refrigerator have nearly disappeared. Wanting both color and finish options, consumers also look for durability and performance in their appliance coatings.

Appliance Design Magazine
Appliance Design Magazine

More than 30 years ago, the consumer refrigeration industry became an early adopter of pre-painted metal, recognizing the benefits it could provide. Used to produce refrigerator case bodies and doors, the metal is painted flat at a coil coating facility; then arrives at the manufacturing facility finished and ready to be formed.

In the highly competitive residential refrigerator business today, players in the industry are looking for ways to continually differentiate. The finish on the refrigerator is a high-value differentiator. Consumers can select from a variety of specialty finishes including fingerprint-resistant stainless steel coatings, metallics and other special effects and a virtual rainbow of colors. One manufacturer’s website boasts more than a dozen standard refrigerator colors while another offers the range of pantone finishes and custom color matching for the kitchen. The industry has travelled a long way from standard white.

The construction industry is another area where pre-painted metals can be used to differentiate projects, from architectural designs to roofing panels. Pre-painted metal enables architects, product designers and manufacturers to reinvent products of all types.

Innovative shapes, colors, patterns and textures are all possible with pre-painted metal. It’s economical, efficient and eco-friendly. In fact, pre-painted metal is being used as a design differentiator around the world in ways not previously considered. Pre-paint is attractive for many reasons including streamlining the supply chain and getting new products to market faster.

Benefits of Pre-Painted Metal The trend towards pre-painted metal continues to grow as manufacturers embrace the many advantages it provides. Pre-painted metal allows design freedom, combining form with function. Almost any color, pattern or texture can be applied to a range of metal substrates, offering a variety of finished cosmetics.

Pre-painted metal is produced by adding paint or film coatings to properly cleaned and pretreated strip metals (coils). This coating process is a highly-efficient way to coat metal before fabricating finished components. It provides a high-quality, uniform and reproducible surface finish with no loss to surface quality or beauty. Every inch of the surface is cleaned and treated when the metal is flat, which is generally not possible when painting is done after parts are formed.

Handled properly, pre-painted metal maintains a virtually flawless surface not achievable by post-paint, which delivers a significant benefit when design aesthetics are at play.

From a production standpoint, manufacturers with a post-paint process (in-house or outsourced) that move to pre-painted product can dramatically reduce production cost and time. They can move towards Lean manufacturing with shorter cycle times and improved inventory control. Pre-paint manufacturers can expect a shorter time frame from idea conception to trial and customer availability. They reduce or eliminate costs associated with operating post-paint lines, gain energy savings, minimize waste and emissions, and ensure easier environmental regulatory compliance. From a supply chain standpoint, lead times are typically reduced and logistics greatly streamlined.

Pre-painting of metal before parts are formed can provide great benefits to many industries including:

  • Appliance
  • HVAC
  • Metal roofing
  • Metal wall panels
  • Soffits and fascias
  • Office furniture
  • Metal doors
  • Truck trailer


Coil coaters typically invest tens of millions of dollars in equipment that is capable of line speeds in excess of 600 feet per minute. Coaters provide inspection and physical testing to ensure all cosmetics and physical properties meet the manufacturer’s end-use requirements.

The quality of the pre-painted finished coatings are excellent—smooth and consistent with superior corrosion resistance related to the painting process and finishes used. The metal is cleaned aggressively with alkaline and mechanical steps; there are controlled pretreatment applications used, and a corrosion-inhibiting primer (when applicable) is typically applied before the colored top coat. The finished painted coils can be shipped in cut-to-length or coil form for end-use fabrication by the manufacturer.

The National Coil Coating Association (NCCA) has introduced a cost calculator that allows companies to quantify and decide on actual costs of manufacturing on a pre-paint versus a post-paint basis. The calculator reviews all costs, including hidden ones to identify the true cost components and highlight the savings that can be made. A manufacturer’s coatings partner can help complete this assessment.

Design with Pre-paint in Mind Even if manufacturers don’t plan to begin production using pre-painted metal, they can evolve to pre-paint production by planning for it during the design phase. Below are recommended steps for a team approach to the design process:

Broaden The Design Team: Invite engineers, chemists, marketing, sourcing and supply management, coaters and manufacturing to join discussions during the design process. Emphasize innovation and problem solving to create a seamless transition from design through manufacturing to the end user.

Establish Coating Objectives: Pre-paint can reduce or eliminate an “orange peel” finish because it offers excellent flow properties. Setting coatings objectives on the front end of the project will help guide the design process.

Explore Ways to Differentiate: A unique appearance for products can be achieved through innovations in color and texture. A manufacturer’s coating partner can help weigh the pros and cons of various options. Rather than handing the coater a chip to color match once the design process is complete, ask them to share trends in the marketplace, in colors and finishes and from other industries. They can help balance design, performance, functionality and cost when recommending coatings options.

Establish Vision During Initial Design Phase: Review drawings early with attention toward finish options such as color, texture and gloss. Typically the initial design phase is comprised of several planning meetings with the end vision becoming clearer as meetings progress.

Prepare Lab Display Panels: The team can explore coating options by having the coatings partner prepare lab display panels with various coatings to review.

Plan for Form and Function: The team will want to ensure the coating meets the requirements of both form and function to avoid issues in the launch phase. This will involve weighing the pros and cons of various coating types to meet aesthetics, flexibility, durability and other performance objectives.

Apply Lean Six Sigma to Production Process: The team should assess the entire coating production process to achieve efficiency, from sourcing raw materials to Lean manufacturing. Production lines may need only minor tweaking to accommodate pre-paint or more major production changes that the coatings partner can help implement.

Manufacturers in many industries continue to discover the benefits that can be achieved from pre-painted metal to differentiate their products while improving speed to market. Pre-paint opportunities abound in multiple industries. Through a strong and early design partnership with the coating manufacturer, applicator and substrate supplier, many benefits can be realized. Through the team-design approach, all involved members of the immediate supply chain have a voice and can actively contribute to the success probability offered by a pre-paint process model.


ARTICLE SIDEBAR Pre-Paint Design Guidelines When designing for metal coatings, consider the following:

Substrate Type: The general performance characteristics of the selected substrate will help guide coating selection, including surface topography, yield, tensile and elongation (YTE).

Pretreatment Designation: Determine whether the application requires Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) compliance.

Durability versus Formability: Understand the specifics around minimum durability requirements such as scratch-resistance and hardness with the knowledge that these characteristics will likely require a compromise with general pre-paint flexibility. Design for pre-paint with as generous-as-possible bend radii to allow for maximum factory formability.

Finish requirements: Appliance “industry standard” pre-paint finish applications are generally comprised of a “primer” application and a “finish coat” application.

Fold Design: Avoid exposed edges on final part design, allowing for an engineered fold to “hide” cut edges.

Multiple Design Finishes: A large range of finish colors and effects are available in pre-paint coatings, as well as multiple gloss levels.

Mechanical Post-Embossing: For finished part applications that require a mechanical post-emboss, recognize and design for additional finished thickness. Mechanical embossing also can lend structural rigidity to an end-use part.


Jim Newton is a Technical Sales Representative at Valspar. Contact Jim for additional information,;