A bit about “standard” and “custom” colors on sheet metal

Painted sheet metal items are typically fabricated from coiled metal stock that has been “coil coated” by a painter before the fabrication begins. This includes metal roofing panels, siding panels, soffits, and aluminum composite panels as well as metal trim items like copings and drip edges

Panel and trim manufacturers have about 24 to 36 colors that they stock in the multiple gauges and materials that they use. All these colors are considered “standard” colors and can be found on each manufacturer’s color charts. The colors may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but if they list it as a stocked item, they consider it a “standard” color.

They also have colors on their charts that are not offered on a material or on a particular thickness of material. For example, Fire Engine Red may be offered on 24 gauge steel but not on .050” aluminum. If you really want Fire Engine Red on .050” aluminum you can have it, but you’ll have to pay a “non-stocking color” fee.1

If a project requires a color that is not one of those 24-36 colors, it is considered a “custom” color. Just because Sherwin Williams has a color palette of 36,000 colors does not mean you can get your metal roof in 36,000 options. Well, at least not cheaply.

To get a custom color, an entire coil must be painted in that custom color. Minimum coil sizes range from 5000 – 7000 sf depending on manufacturer, material, and gauge. Once they have this coil painted with the custom color, they require you to buy the entire coil since they are unlikely to ever use it again. So to get your 1500 square feet of wall panels in say, Periwinkle Blue, you are going to have to buy the entire coil whether you need it or not. And that’s after you pay for the custom color setup fees.

One way to avoid buying the entire coil and adding its considerable cost to the project is to have small quantity items produced and then have it spray-painted afterwards. This is a procedure called “post painting”. While this works for press formed items like copings, it does not work for roll formed items like roof panels. (Roll forming companies tell me that unpainted metals tear up their rollers too much for them to consider rolling them).

On a building with custom colors, you should consider those color requirements when splitting scopes of work. For example, if you building has wall panels and copings that are both to be Periwinkle Blue, by having your glazer provide the wall panels and your roofer provide the coping, you could paying custom color setup fees and incurring minimum orders TWICE – once for the glazer and once for the roofer. You may save money by having one contractor provide both and only incur those fees once.


A bit about metallic colors

Now, the above is true for all projects. But when you add the requirement for a metallic color, it gets even trickier. Metallic colors use mica flakes to produce the “metallic glimmer”. When these colors are coil coated, the mica flakes orient themselves in the drying paint in a “laying down” position. When metallic colors are spray applied the mica flakes orient themselves in a “standing up” position. The result is that if the exact same batch of paint is used in two different application methods they WILL NOT match. This is an inherent property of the painting process and cannot be avoided.

Furthermore, when the mica flakes “lay down” in the coil coating process, they all lay in a similar manner. This makes the resulting painted panel “directional” in its look. This means that if I take two samples from the same batch and hold them side by side, they will not look the same unless they are oriented in the same direction.

If your project has metallic colors, whether they are custom metallic colors or standard metallic colors, it is even more important to discuss with your suppliers the most cost effective manner to obtain those items. It may be that your roofer becomes your front canopy-cladding provider.

All of these factors can be daunting and you wouldn’t be the first to ask for help. Whatever your painted sheet metal situation WRE can lend a hand. Call us and ask.


We’re often asked why don’t manufacturers offer all their colors on all their materials. If you think about it from the manufacturer’s perspective, it’s actually pretty easy to understand. Let’s do the math:

Let’s say that we offer 24 standard colors – a meager offering by today’s standards – and we offer steel in 22 and 24 gauge, and aluminum in .032”, .040”, 050”, and .063”.   To have on hand every color in every gauge and material, we would have to have 144 coils on hand. (24 x 6 = 144) That’s a lot of inventory, and it completely ignores the coil’s width.

A mid-sized panel manufacturer will have around 6 roof panels, each available in 3 widths (such as 12”, 16” and 18”) and around 6 wall panel offerings. (Thankfully most wall panels are only offered in one width) That’s 24 different coil widths (6×3 =18 +6 = 24), but let’s not forget about the ever-present flat stock option of 48” wide to be used for trim fabrication. So really that’s a total coil count of 3600! (25 x 144 = 3,600)

So it’s just not practical from an inventory management perspective, nor is it feasible from a financial perspective, to have 3600 painted coils in a warehouse waiting for an order.