The Alchemist’s Guide to Coatings: Transmuting Challenges Into Opportunities With Advanced Testing Kits


Unexpected Attributes of Water-Based Coatings


Major advances in water-based coatings are busting misconceptions about what these kinds of coatings can do or be used for.

Water-based coating technologies have often been viewed negatively, particularly in applications where high performance is required. While this perception may still exist, stricter environmental regulations (such as air quality standards) and the growing emphasis on sustainability have led to the increased use of water-based coatings in the marketplace. As a result, many asset owners, specifiers, and contractors are now considering these coatings for their projects.

Recent developments in water-based coating technologies have alleviated many of the previous concerns associated with their use. In fact, the numerous advantages of these next-generation materials far outweigh the remaining concerns. In this article, we will delve into water-based coatings, how they compare to solvent-based coatings, and how recent advancements are changing the game when it comes to coatings selection.

[Related Webinar: Recent Advances in Water-Based Coatings Technology]

What Are Coatings Made Of?

First, let’s look at coatings in general and their composition so that we can understand water-based coatings a little better. All types of coatings are built from four building blocks:

In this article, we will be focusing on specifically water-based coatings. Although many people believe that such coatings have limited use, their capabilities have greatly improved in recent years. Pair this with their advantage when used in confined areas and with respect to VOC emissions, and you’ll find that these coatings can be used much more widely than many corrosion industry professionals may be aware of.

[Related Reading: How to Enhance Safety When Working With Volatile Organic Compounds]

Water-Based Coatings: A Brief History

Water-based coatings have a long history, dating back to ancient times. The Egyptians used water-based paints to decorate their temples and tombs, and the Chinese used water-based lacquers to protect their furniture and other objects. In the 18th and 19th centuries, water-based coatings began to be developed for industrial use. These coatings were typically made from natural materials such as animal glue and casein. However, they were not very durable and were susceptible to moisture and mildew.

In the early 20th century, synthetic binders were developed that made water-based coatings more durable and resistant to moisture. These new binders, such as acrylics and latexes, allowed the coatings to be used in a wider range of applications.

Misconceptions About Water-Based Coatings

Major formulation advancements are challenging misconceptions about what a water-based coating can do or be used for. Below are some examples of these.

Misconception 1: All Water-Based Coatings Are the Same

The assertion that “all water-based coatings are created equal” is incorrect. While these coatings do use water as their primary solvent, there is a significant degree of variation in their composition, performance characteristics, and intended applications.

In fact, today’s water-based coatings represent a new generation of high-performance materials that have been specifically designed to meet the demanding requirements of industrial and commercial applications. Examples of these next-generation products include:

What these materials have in common is that they have been formulated to provide the highest levels of performance and asset protection. They are designed to meet the specific needs of demanding applications, such as those found in the construction, marine, processing, and manufacturing industries.

Misconception 2: Water-Based Coatings Underperform Compared to Solvent-Based Coatings

The misconception that water-based coatings do not perform as well as solvent-based coatings is gradually being dispelled as confidence in the former’s performance grows with increased use. Market share in water-based coatings continues to grow as a result.

Complete waterborne coating systems are now capable of meeting performance requirements such as ISO 12944 category C4 and C5 for the highest corrosion resistance, which is contributing to their acceptance. Even water-based materials that are approved for use in potable water immersion, such as Tnemec’s Series 1220 HydroLine, are now available on the market.

This was a sector that was previously solely dominated by solvent-based and 100%-solids materials. Additionally, accelerated laboratory testing of these materials reveals that many of these cutting-edge water-based technologies either match or surpass their solvent-based counterparts in terms of performance.

Misconception 3: Water-Based Coatings Carry the Risk of Flash Rust

In recent years, advancements in additive and pigment technology have enabled suppliers of these materials to provide new flash rust inhibitors that exhibit superior performance compared to their predecessors. While flash rusting is a concern in the realm of protective coatings, these advancements have enabled reputable coating manufacturers to formulate their products using these next-generation flash rust inhibitors, which significantly reduce the risk of flash rusting on metal substrates.

For example, all of Tnemec’s water-based steel coatings formulas are formulated to combat flash rusting. In other words, flash rust isn’t something that’s endemic to these kinds of coatings, as new formulations have been designed to address this problem.

Misconception 4: Water-Based Coatings Are More Sensitive to Environmental Conditions

Many people believe that water-based coatings are more sensitive to environmental conditions during application and cure. While this may have been true in the past, significant research has been conducted in recent years to enhance their application and cure in more challenging environmental conditions. Significant advancements have been made in properties such as time-to-moisture resistance and surface tolerance of these materials.

Some of the newer coatings on the market are capable of curing at lower temperatures than their earlier counterparts as well. Tnemec Series 90-75 Tneme-Zinc, for example, has been engineered to cure quickly, making it a good choice for steel surfaces in industrial and marine environments. In fact, a number of Tnemec’s water-based products are engineered to provide a faster cure than previous generations.

Misconception 5: Water-Based Coatings Are Harder to Apply

Enhancements in water-based products now enable application and film-build properties that rival traditional solvent-based coatings. In many instances, water-based materials can actually be easier to apply as they permit application using lower-pressure spray equipment and even by brush and roller. The extended working time of many of these materials facilitates application.

Another crucial factor is that the effective solvent in these materials is water, rather than a potentially volatile or hazardous solvent. This can aid in meeting sustainability goals and significantly contributes to increased worker safety on a job site.

Water-Based vs. Solvent-Based Coatings

As discussed, modern formulations of water-based coatings are increasingly going head-to-head with solvent-based coatings thanks to improved performance and a number of key advantages stemming from their composition. Let’s first take a look at the advantages of water-based coatings:

Although water-based coatings have several advantages compared to solvent-based coatings, they do have some limitations:

Overall, water-based coatings offer a number of advantages over solvent-based coatings. However, it is important to be aware of the disadvantages before choosing a coating system. The best coating system for a particular application will depend on a variety of factors, such as the desired performance characteristics, the budget, and the environmental regulations at play.

[Related Reading: Waterborne Coatings: When Regulations Meet Technology]

Tnemec Series 115 Uni-Bond DF is a high-performance, versatile coating appropriate for a variety of uses including exterior steel, humid environments, and dry interior environments. This waterborne, rust-inhibitive coating is used as a primer, intermediate, and finish coat on tanks, vessels, and other industrial and architectural metal substrates.

Tnemec Series 115 Uni-Bond DF is a high-performance, versatile coating appropriate for a variety of uses including exterior steel, humid environments, and dry interior environments. This waterborne, rust-inhibitive coating is used as a primer, intermediate, and finish coat on tanks, vessels, and other industrial and architectural metal substrates.

Advancements in Water-Based Coatings

Several enhancements in water-based coatings have occurred in recent years to overcome their disadvantages:

Additionally, here are some specific examples of new water-based coatings that have been developed in the last 10–20 years:

The development of new water-based products is ongoing, and it is expected that these coatings will continue to become more competitive with solvent-based coatings in terms of performance, cost, and environmental impact.

Advancements in Application Methods for Water-Based Coatings

Modern formulations have also improved the application of water-based coatings in several ways. Here are some examples:


Water-based coatings are progressively growing in market share compared to solvent-based coatings. They were used first in limited applications as they had some drawbacks with respect to performance, drying times, and the durability of the coating as a whole when compared to solvent-based coatings. However, recent developments in binder and additive technology have drastically improved these setbacks, enabling water-based coatings to have better performance compared to their previous versions. To learn more about these coatings, contact a Tnemec representative.

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