Design Emergency - Plastic Color and Opacity Question

Hello all!

I can go into greater detail later, but I’m currently trying to help my company avoid a really poor material choice decision (that they want to execute in a day or so), only to find out they don’t have any standard in place for specifying our plastic color and opacity to our manufacturer.

What I’m looking for is this - is there any industry standard you could point me to or help me convert?

The material we want is polystyrene, and the color is to be a darker version of this exact model:

We want the same cool grey tone, just more like 80-90% opacity instead of what I’m guessing is about 20% (no idea what the original spec is).

Any help at all would be greatly appreciated!

Worst case scenario I’m just going to ask for Pantone 445 C at 90% opacity and see what they come back with.

Something like Pantone Plastics?

Man. That set would be remarkably helpful, but I know they’d never spring for something at that price. 90% of what they currently spec is black (and I’m trying to change that where it makes sense, to bring value and visual interest).

I’ll have to look into this a bit closer and see if I can maybe get a small, inexpensive set of cool greys and a few company colors to work with from them.

Thanks for the help.

And if anyone else has other suggestions, I’m all ears. My gut tells me that not every company has a set of Pantone Plastics, and still has to specify color and opacity somehow.

When I go to my molder, I just spec a Pantone color (not the plastic chips, just the print chips) and a surface finish. Never been an issue for me in 20+ years. But maybe I’m easy.

I was able to track down the actual spec on our drawing.

Material: Crystal Styrene
Color: Pantone T215-3-3

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to spec a few shades darker, but I’m unsure of what number (and maybe letter) needs to change. The website Hyatts looked promising, but didn’t even have 215 listed.

Looking in Photoshop the closest Pantone option looks like “Pantone process coated”, but that reads as (for example) "Pantone DS 215-3 C. The -1 can also be a -2 or -3, with the larger number appearing lighter. Doesn’t really help me much.

Any chance someone has a Pantone transparent plastic guide that could look at the attached image and spec a darker version (less transparent)?

Beware that the chips may look one way, but your part can look different depending on shape, texture, wall thickness and light conditions. So even if your part is made from the exact mix as the flat chip, you might need a lighter or darker mix to match that chip. If the chips are made from different material (likely) then it’s gonna be even more difficult to match. Meaning your Pantone code may be specced correct on the drawing, but behave different in the real world.

What is it that the company want to “execute” in the next few days? Mass production or order tooling?
If it is mass production - your best bet is probably take a wild guess and run with it. This should have been investigated way way sooner. Forget about it and move on to the next project.

If they want to order tooling - then you have plenty of time. Photoshop your part the way you want it to look, and ask for a range of samples. It shouldn’t be too much problem to inject with different compounds. However T1 samples will likely still lack correct surface texture.

So my advice would be: take your best guess, like you said a Pantone code and % opacity. Ask for a range of samples at different opacity and/or color.

My previous company had bought the Pantone plastics books, but not a single factory or vendor I worked with in six years there had them so we could never spec using them. We always spec’d colors using a Pantone Coated book, and then specified a texture or gloss level after that.

The Mold-Tech books didn’t work for the texture either (at least with the 30+ factories we dealt with). They occasionally had a Yick-Sang texture book , but that was the closest to a standard we would get for textures.

Really great information here, thank you.

As far as the timeline goes, they’re trying to pull the trigger on things in a couple days. Believe me, I know how long it takes to actually get a tool made (and they still haven’t finalized the model design), so I imagine there is a bit more wiggle room than they let on. Typical cultural mentality, everything is extremely urgent (even when I know for certain it isn’t). I casually dropped the “Good, Fast, or Cheap - pick any two.” line to the project manager. He just laughed (he gets it).

I had already rendered in Keyshot what we were going for, so hopefully that’ll help. I don’t think we’ll be able to get samples quickly enough, but that’s always worth a shot. The real underlying issue here (one of many) is this - they openly and regularly acknowledge a struggle with quality control, but when explanation as given to the solution the response is almost always, “That doesn’t really matter.” What they do really well is cost reduction. It’s almost all they do. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but that is an incomplete way of doing business. Cut costs is one half, creating value is the other. I can see their side, they cannot see mine. The life of a designer! We spend just as much time teaching as we do working.

Thanks again.

I hear you. While I’ve now been (surprisingly) given approval to purchase the transparent set, I want to be prudent in comparing the cost to the value. It sounds like most people just spec using paper color swatches, which I’d be fine with, and it is more cost effective. I always try to be as frugal as possible without sacrificing our goals.

At the same time, I’m trying to gently move our premium brand in the premium direction, because for several years it has been pulled the opposite way (partly us, partly our buyer, partly our supplier). There are color and texture standards for a reason, not just as a palette for designers, but also as a QA metric.

People often think you should only fight the big battles. I disagree. In my experience, those are often un-winnable, and very short term in their result. I tend to focus my energy on the small battles, the one met with less resistance, that have the ability to educate and unite. That’s how corporate culture can be influenced for the better, and with time I’ve noticed large battles have lessened in frequency and scale.

I’ve had luck in the past working directly with the plastic compounders - Clariant and RTP are two I’ve used - and supplied them an exact sample of what I was trying to get. In this case it could be the part in that photo, or go to Target or Walmart and search the shelves until you find what you want. Call up your local compounder rep and explain your needs.

You are probably looking at a custom plastic match, not a concentrate (mixed with a base clear) to get your desired color - this tends to cost a bit more in raw pellet but will be much more consistent.

I haven’t found many molders who use that Pantone plastic chip as a reference. There are so many variables from compounder to molder, and each step has its own %-age of error (measured in CieLAB color space). Its been simpler to actually provide the compounder with a physical sample.

I would advise against relying on the paper swatches. They cannot communicate the color spec for molded materials, and what you’ll run into down the road, is people asking you “what PMS color is that plastic”? I would tell people in that case, “well its similar to PMS XXXX, but its not really measured that way”.

If I’m not mistaken, you can individually order replacement chips for the Pantone plastic chip books. We often end up sending customers or suppliers individual chips and then every so often ordering replacements for the ones we have given away. If you have a bit of time you may be able to pick your chip once you get the book, order a bunch of replacements in that color, and have those to send to any supplier or compounder to work off of.

Hmm. I didn’t consider talking with the compounder, and I’m not quite sure that’s something we can do (or if we even have a “local” rep). The part is being produced in China, and I’m fairly sure we haven’t a clue where they get their plastics from.

I do like your Target/Walmart idea. The project manager even mentioned how he thought the toilet paper cover in the bathroom might be close to what we want. As soon as I finish this big ol’ cup of coffee I’m going to go, uh, investigate. And then after that see if I can get permission to take a trip to Target and hit up the toy aisle.

Thanks for the feedback.

You are not mistaken, but as fate would have it I was told by the rep at Hyatt (only online dealer I could find who sold individual chips) that our spec “didn’t exist” because they “only come in even numbers - 205, 225, 245, etc.”

A short while later a friend of mine at Smart was able to send me a photo of our exact current specification (T215-3-3). By golly, it does exist!

Ideally, I want to be able to just look at the full Pantone plastic book, and pick out the color families I know we work with. And I love the idea of sending copies to our supplier! Brilliant! I’ll definitely pitch that as well.

Thank you.

Well, assuming you are able to get pre-production ‘first-run’ samples, I would just ask for the same pantone color molded in a range of 3-4 different opacities, maybe 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%. Once you see these samples, you can provide more specific guidance (EG between 40-60% opacity) and make a final approval before mass production.

It’s almost impossible to get these things right the first time. So many variables. Especially if you’re trying something new to you or the organization.


It is impossible to get things right the first time. :wink:

Forget color. Something always needs adjusting. Flow, shut-off, venting, etc., etc. I will guarantee the first shot will need a structural tweak, they always do. And instead of purging the screw a half a dozen times, take the color/transparency off of the first shot and tweak from there.

They will charge you for sampling different colors. Try to fix a couple of things at the same time, save a few bucks.

Well, assuming you are able to get pre-production ‘first-run’ samples, I would just ask for the same pantone color molded in a range of 3-4 different opacities, maybe 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%. Once you see these samples, you can provide more specific guidance (EG between 40-60% opacity) and make a final approval before mass production.

You’re still going back to the compounding phase. Get it closer in the compounding phase and there might be less loops in the molding phases.