What is PVD?

Posted by Dolphin Solutions on 13-Oct-2017 15:15:23

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We've been asked lots of questions by architects about how to achieve these kinds of finishes, so we decided to share the answers to the questions architects most need to know in order to specify products with these in-demand finishes.  If you have any questions that we haven't answered here, please let us know in the comments below!

What does it stand for?
PVD stands for Physical Vapour Deposition. 

How does it work?
The process of PVD coating involves depositing metallic ions such as zirconium nitride and titanium nitride, formed under low vacuum conditions, on the product to be coated.  Although commonly used on stainless steel products, it can be used on almost any material from brass to plastic.

It is a labour-intensive process, involving a product being disassembled, the individual parts being hung up and put through a nine-step cleaning process. Sound-wave vibrations and chemicals then work together to prepare the surface for coating. Once clean and dry, the parts are taken to the PVD chamber where reactive gases such as nitrogen and acetylene are used in combination with certain metals to form a very thin metal alloy that coats the parts.  Variations of the metallic ions used create the various colour options.  The resulting finish is both highly durable and elegant. 

What is it used for?
The process of PVD was originally developed to create a very hard-wearing, corrosion and tarnish resistant finish on metal components, used in high-performance applications in the automotive and marine industries.  More recently, it has become increasingly popular in the interiors world to coat stainless steel products with an elegant metallic finish, mimicking much more expensive materials that would be impractical in the circumstances. 

What products can you PVD coat?
Any stainless steel product can be PVD coated.  It creates a striking focal point when used as part of a considered design and is particularly effective when used on architectural ironmongery, door furniture, washroom accessories and trims. 

Any product in the Dolphin Prestige range (which now includes all of FC Frost range of high-quality products) can be PVD coated by request to any metallic finish.  PVD-coating products that architects, contractors and clients already know and trust, creates a dramatic visual difference without any of the risks associated with trialling an unknown new product. 

What does it cost?
PVD is a labour-intensive, multi-stage process, and therefore quite costly.  For example, the Dolphin Monobloc Mixer Tap (DB1600), costs £176.10 in stainless steel and £474 in PVD Copper – an increase that might put it out of the range of budget projects, while still not prohibitive for high-end washrooms where appearance is key.

Two factors that significantly impact cost are the size of the product to be coated and the number of items being ordered.  PVD coating happens in a small ‘oven’, and the process costs the same however many products are in this ‘oven’.  The smaller the product, the more can be fitted in simultaneously and the lower the cost per item becomes.   Large items such as bins are often too expensive to PVD coat, so a cost-effective alternative is to conceal the bin within a cabinet so that only the bin ring needs PDV coating, or to have the bin coated in a contrasting material – for example, matt black powder coating, with the smaller accessories – e.g. taps and soap dispensers PVD coated in copper for striking visual contrast. 

What are the pros/cons?
Pros:

  • Durable
  • Good for high volume washrooms
  • No different to fitting a non-PVD alternative, so just as easy for contractors
  • Easy to clean (loved by janitorial teams!)
  • Resistant to finger-marks and water stains
  • Good for high-end washrooms – loved by clients/end users – luxury washroom feel
  • Can increase LRV to make accessible washrooms easier to use for customers with a visual impairment when used with contrasting surfaces – also helps to make Accessible Washrooms less ‘institutional’ and visually unappealing.
  • Mimics more valuable metals
  • Performance coating keeps the product looking new for longer – good lifetime value
  • Metallic colour options can transform the way your client’s customers and staff perceive their brand.

Cons:

  • High-cost (see tips to mitigate this above)
  • Shows up imperfections in low-quality stainless steel. Although any stainless steel item can be PVD-coated, products from the Prestige and Frost ranges produce better results.
  • Multi-stage process to coat means longer lead times – please enquire for details.
  • Difficult to colour match between different providers, therefore safest to order all PVD-coated items through one provider. If you want to match washroom accessories to door furniture/trims etc, please talk to one of our PVD specialists, who can advise.

How is PVD coating different to powder coating?
Powder coating involves applying a coloured powder to a product electrostatically, and then baking it to harden it. Although both processes alter the appearance of a tap by changing the colour and/or finish, powder coating offers a far wider range of colours, specified using the RAL colour system – a universally used colour language.  Variations from matt to gloss are available in every RAL colour, but only in a solid colour, not a metallic.  There is no arbitrary colour scale for metallics, so PVD colours vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. 

PVD coating creates a far thinner, harder coating – typically just 3 microns thick (0.3% of 1mm).  Powder coating adds 15 microns, meaning powder coated products are easier to chip or scratch.  The thinner PVD coating means the quality of the underneath material shows through, hence the need to specify a product made from a quality stainless steel, since any flaws will be highlighted with the PVD coating.  With powder coating the underlying material is completely masked, so the quality of the stainless steel is less of an issue. 

Finally, powder coating a product typically adds around 30% to the cost of a standard product, whereas PVD coating is a more expensive process. 

What are the colour options?
The most popular colours are brass, gold, copper, bronze and rose gold; although other variations can be created on request – we’ve recently created finishes in antique brass, champagne and gunmetal for bespoke projects.

Our new DS101 Dolphin Thru Panel Mounted SMART Tap can be finished in six stunning PVD colours with two different finish types - brushed satin or mirror polished. Brushed satin creates a more matte finish whilst mirror polish creates a sleek, shiny finish.

Brushed satin finish PVD on the imagery below. 

Rose gold brushed satin       Gold brushed satin       Bronze brushed satin

Dolphin brass brushes satin       Dolphin black brushed satin       Copper brushed satin

Mirror polish finish PVD on the imagery below.

rose gold mirror polish       gold mirror polish       bronze mirror polish

Dolphin brass mirror polished       dolphin black mirror polish       Copper mirror polish

It is important to note that these terms are descriptive rather than arbitrary – antique brass PVD coating from one manufacturer may be quite different to antique brass PVD coating from another, so all washroom accessories to be PVD coated should ideally be specified from the same manufacturer. 

To see the range of colour options, visit our Clerkenwell showroom or contact one of our PVD experts to discuss your project.

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Who else has used it successfully?
The colours and finishes available with PVD coating are loved by architects the world over.   They’ve been successfully used for washroom fittings such as door hardware and locks for years, but only recently has the process been applied to taps, dispensers and other washroom accessories. 

Suffice to say that Squire & Partners chose a beautiful metallic-finished tap for the washrooms in their iconic Department Store studio.   For more inspiration, check out the beautiful (and colourful!) designs that Rawls & Co architects created for Centre: MK here.

How do I specify an item in PVD?

As you can see, PVD finishes add a wealth of design options to enhance your washroom projects, but there are a number of factors to consider to ensure PVD is right for your project.  To make things simpler, get in touch with one of our PVD experts early in the project and let them help you achieve your washroom vision.  

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Tags: Architects, Business, Design, Clerkenwell Showroom, Facilities Management, Sustainability, Washrooms, Workplace

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