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28 Dec 12 Matte Black Is the New Chrome

For those of us who were privy to the experiences of growing up sometime during the ’50s, ’60s or ’70s, we understood the aesthetic that is ‘chrome.’ We saw it used liberally on car bumpers, door handles, appliances and even on shoes. But a quick scan of today’s high-tech products will provide you with one bit of insight — that today’s style is all about matte black — and it is the moniker of what is cool and hip in modern society.

As a design engineer, I am an admitted addict of carbon fiber. This space-age material is basically a fabric-like material made of woven graphite fibers, which, when impregnated with epoxy resin, devoid of any air bubbles, and baked to high-tensile perfection, is as strong as steel yet as light as cardboard. It is the material that first saw use in aerospace rockets and fighter jets, but has since matured in use to the point where you can find carbon fiber used in racing bicycles, car bodies, sunglasses and even kites.

But aside from the obvious performance benefits, carbon fiber has had an interesting side effect on design — it possesses an ultra-cool, textured black finish that screams technology.

With its black colored fibers, the appearance of carbon fiber can vary, from a glossy piano-black, woven texture known as a “3K” finish, to a flat, matte, non-reflective finish known as uni-directional or “UD” finish. The gloss black carbon was first to make itself known in industry, but has slowly given way to the matte black appearance of UD carbon fiber. While the color of the material is actually the black color of the fibers themselves, showing through the near-optically clear epoxy resin which coats and fills the fiber weave, the finish and appearance of the material is undeniably high-tech.

Designers, having learned how to utilize carbon fiber in their products, have latched onto the appearance aspect of carbon fiber, giving legs to woven or matte black finishes. Aside from sports- related items like snowboards and bikes, the use of carbon fiber has even made its way into furniture, power tools, automotive dashboards and yes, even laptops and tablets. Go into a local hardware store and you now see cans of matte black spray paint sitting alongside the standard paint colors. “Ferrari Red” and “Navy Blue” are yielding to the influence of “chalkboard black.”

As the technology of materials evolves, we will see the colors and finishes of products change as well. The color and texture of a material becomes the moniker for how that material is used in the design, as witnessed by the lack of painted material on many products. One only has to look at the appearance of color and texture to understand the underlying performance aspects of the product.

It’s only a matter time before matte black finds its way into more everyday consumer items. What becomes cool and hip today is no longer limited to form and function — the statement of color has as much to do with what people want as it does with user needs, and designers are following suit.

Get ready to welcome matte black into your world.

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