What's cheaper: the cost to powder coat or paint? (Spoiler alert: By our calculations, powder coating is more affordable in the long run.)
Here are some of the factors that affect the cost of powder coating per square foot, and some considerations when choosing your coating method.
Cost of Powder Coating per Square Foot v. Painting
Materials & Tools
Currently, the materials for painting are more cost-effective than powder coating. Painting has been around much longer than powder coating, which means it's easier and cheaper to procure materials, tools, and machinery.
For manufacturers who are just starting out with powder coating, they'll have to purchase expensive ovens, spray guns, hangers, and other miscellaneous necessities.The powder itself is a bit more expensive as well, and there aren't as many colors to choose from.
Further, liquid paints are generally thinned with solvent before application, which means an additional decrease in material cost.
Generally, a powder-coated product will need to be blasted before applying the powder coating. Blasting cleans the surface of debris and creates a rough texture that lets the dry powder cling more easily.
Liquid paints do not require this step, as they stick on their own. This means you can get started painting
Consistency & Thickness
Due to the electrostatic charges of both the powder and the product, overspray will not stick. The differing charges mean the metal product attracts the powder, and areas that are already coated will repel excess powder. This ensures powder coating has a consistent thickness overall, and hard-to-reach corners and indentations will be evenly covered as well.
Also powder coating leaves no brush or drip marks, which means a smoother, more consistent covering.
Depending on the brand and type of wet paint, you can't always count on consistency. Wet paint can require multiple coats to achieve the same aesthetic and thickness as a single coat of powder, which can more than double the base materials cost.
A point for powder coating!
Waste & Efficiency
Powder coating wins the "waste" category. Any excess powder can be collected, sifted, and reused. Excess paint is very difficult to retrieve, and it tends to dry much too quickly to be reusable.
Modean Industries came up with a powder coating cost calculator of sorts -- an equation that illustrates how much you can save by eliminating waste with powder coating:
"For example, assume a liquid paint costs $12.85 per gallon, contains 35 percent solids, and that deposition efficiency is 65 percent.... actual coverage per gallon is 365 square feet, and the cost per square foot for each mil-thickness of coating is 3.52 cents.
"Now assume an epoxy coating powder costs $2.95 per pound and has a specific gravity of 1.5. With a good recovery system, material utilization efficiency should be 98 per cent... actual coverage of the powder is 128.8 square feet per pound and the cost per square foot of a 1-mil thick dry film is 2.29 cents.
"Thus, the actual cost of material for the epoxy powder coating is less than that of the liquid paint coating by 1.23 cents per square foot.
"Assuming a production rate of 1,000,000 square feet of surface to coat per year. This would represent a savings of $12,300 per year just in material (other savings can include hazardous waste disposal, energy and insurance)."
Powder coating requires less maintenance than paint. After applying the powder coating, you won't have to go back and make touch-ups. It can stand up to higher stress, vibrations, and harsher environments.
Paint on the other hand requires more frequent maintenance to keep it looking fresh and long lasting. One of the major contributors to the cost of liquid paint is the amount of touching up needed after the fact.
Environment & Safety
Environmental impact and human safety can also affect costs, if indirectly. Powder coating wins by a landslide in both categories.
Liquid paint is notorious for containing VOCs (volatile organic compounds). VOCs are proven to cause damage to the environment as well as pose a hazard to human health. Painters are more likely to contract certain types of cancer (even when taking all possible precautions), and VOCs in the atmosphere have negative affects on the general population.
Powder coating is environmentally friendly and does not cause or increase the risk of contracting illnesses when handled properly.
When it comes to paint vs. powder coating, you typically get what you pay for. Paint tends to be cheaper in cost, but won't last nearly as long as powder coating. Powder coating allows for a dense and sturdy finish that will last for years to come.
As we mentioned before, paint requires re-finishing from time to time and doesn't have the durability to withstand the same environmental conditions as powder coating.
If you're looking for something that will last for the long run and be worth every extra penny, powder coating is the right option here.
Material & Tools: Paint
Surface Prep: Paint
Consistency & Thickness: Powder
Waste & Efficiency: Powder
Environment & Safety: Powder
The cost to powder coat wins 5-2 in our books. Granted, the base material cost makes painting look more cost-effective at first glance. However, when you consider long-term effects like waste, efficiency, and maintenance, powder coating pulls ahead. There's a reason we use it!
If you're not convinced that powder coating services are better than painting, here's some more info on the subject.
This article was originally published in April 2016 and was recently updated.