Visibility of sparkle in metallic paints

J Opt Soc Am A Opt Image Sci Vis. 2015 May 1;32(5):921-7. doi: 10.1364/JOSAA.32.000921.


For suitable illumination and observation conditions, sparkles may be observed in metallic coatings. The visibility of these sparkles depends critically on their intensity, and on the paint medium surrounding the metallic flakes. Based on previous perception studies from other disciplines, we derive equations for the threshold for sparkles to be visible. The resulting equations show how the visibility of sparkles varies with the luminosity and distance of the light source, the diameter of the metallic flakes, and the reflection properties of the paint medium. The predictions are confirmed by common observations on metallic sparkle. For example, under appropriate conditions even metallic flakes as small as 1 μm diameter may be visible as sparkle, whereas under intense spot light the finer grades of metallic coatings do not show sparkle. We show that in direct sunlight, dark coarse metallic coatings show sparkles that are brighter than the brightest stars and planets in the night sky. Finally, we give equations to predict the number of visually distinguishable flake intensities, depending on local conditions. These equations are confirmed by previous results. Several practical examples for applying the equations derived in this article are provided.