Edit March 2017: This material is no longer available

We use a material because it can perform a function. This may be a technical performance, an aesthetic performance (sensorial), an associative experience (psychological). What do these various performance types signify, how to use them in design? This column reviews aesthetic and technical qualities. Aesthetics are basically multi-sensorial; without our senses, not much of an experience. This issue: Gloss.

Role of the Senses
Our senses were initially designed to preserve the 3 F’s assuring the protection and preservation of the species: Flee, Fight, Fornicate. Through the senses we experience the other, and our surroundings and a material’s spatial and sensorial properties are every designer’s means to evoke specific experiences and create  specific effects. This column: glossiness, glimmer, glitter and effect; how does it work and how to use it in design? Let us start with the instrument that registers glossiness; our eyes and skin.

How it Works
Materials become visible when reflecting light onto your retina. Gases are usually invisible because they are too rarefied to sufficiently reflect light. Surface structure and color of liquids and solids determine whether much or little light is reflected.

High gloss surfaces are empty of all irregularities to fully reflect impacting light. Mirror reflection is clear but unreliable. It is clear because the intensity of the reflected light equals the intensity of the light source. The high gloss effect however greatly relies on the position of the object, of the light source and of the observer and therefore does not occur from every angle. High gloss materials project a sense of luxury; historically, burnishing and polishing wood and stone has always been a time consuming and costly process allowing the owner to display his wealth with lots of glimmer and glitter. Present day plastics and coatings do not even get close in this respect; high gloss is associated with hygiene and sterility or highlights rounded, colored shapes persuading people to reach out and touch. Tactility being key here; with no texture it only excites the sensors on the skin’s surface producing a specific sensation. The mirror effect is widely used in architecture. Mirror offices of the nineteen seventies and eighties were designed to exclude the observer, whereas nowadays the transparent organization generally prefers transparent glass.

Diffuse Reflection Matte
A matte surface does not reflect the complete impacting light beam but refracts it, reflecting it at various angles. Diffuse reflection is dull but stable, which means that it has a reliable constant degree of glossiness independent of light impact and the position of the observer. Under diffuse reflection the light source’s intensity reduces by a factor between 10 and 1000 i.e. between egg gloss and absolute matte. Colors strongly reinforce the matte effect; a black matte surface absorbs most light. Matte surfaces are not as conspicuous and loud as glossy ones, are more fancy and easy on the eyes. They also conceal dirt better than high gloss surfaces do, making them lower maintenance.

“Flip Flop” Iridescent Paint
An iridescent surface consists of a structure causing the impacting light beam to diffract into several light beams of differing wavelengths and colors. The angle of the light beam changing also changes the color. This effect is very common in nature on fish, beetle carapaces, peacock feathers, etc. The most dramatic effect comes from movement, and when applied as a top coat its effect is best seen on moving objects (Alfa Romeo was the first ) or at locations where the observer moves (facades, advertising objects). As in nature its main function is to confuse and surprise and during movement add an extra dynamic to the surface. The broader public knows this effect on credit cards; a prismatic surface is printed with superfine color lines creating an image that changes from differing aspects. The LENZ acryl sheets by Bernd van der Stouw can thus be used for facades and interiors; the prismatic sheets incorporating prints that change during movement.

A dichroic filter (film or glass) is made of several thin layers. Because of these many thin layers, the light is constantly reflected and undulates through the filter. Like sound, light is a wave phenomenon. By “mixing” sound waves, the sound is extinguished or amplified. The same occurs with light being reflected by the facets of the various layers. The color of light with a wavelength identical to layer thickness is amplified and then exits through the filter. The rests extinguishes itself. As in iridescent surfaces, the surface color changes with changing angles of light impact and with the observer’s position. Incorporating glossiness in a design is about conspicuous or inconspicuous, about distracting or attracting, about excluding or repelling.

Power Glass; layered glass with LED’s on film, via multiple power circuits variable images are displayed in the same sheet.
Note to Editor: Luminex photo instead of Crystal de Ravier already requested from Danielle; text Luminex:
Festive textile with luminescent glass fiber via batteries.

Reveal; Fiber Stone; super thin stone bonded on glass creates a transparent sheet with fascinating structure.

Litracon; Concrete with glass fiber displays subtle shadows.

Cabot; plastic nano-gel filled duct sheet, insulates and transparent.

Reflect; copper film on bitumen; bubble structure reflects light from many angles.

Van Wylick light reflectors; glass reflectors with mirror base light up under light impact.

Disperse; Composite by Pyrasied; acryl sheet with 3D open core making structure visible.

Alcarbon aluminum foam; angle of impact determines how much light comes through.

LENZ; acryl sheet with linear prismatic structure creates Flip Flop effect during movement.

Svensson sun screens; double colors and varied openings filter the sunlight.

Disorient; Versato by Pyrasied; acryl sheet with varying mother of pearl effect.

Disperse; 360 glass; brut cast figure glass with irregular structure give diffuse light dispersal.