How to use starting point formulations for easier formulating of acrylic waterborne paints

19 September 2023

Artur Palast, Ph.D., Spektrochem, demonstrates the evolution of the starting point formulation and gives his expert insight into how best to interpret, use and understand them in order to maximise the benefit to your own projects

Any formulator ordering samples of raw materials for testing has come across an item known as the starting point formulation. Usually it is either a simple formulation containing only a list of raw materials to prepare the initial laboratory sample of a specific paint to start raw material testing, but more and more often it is an extensive document in the form of a formulation, analysis of ladder graded raw material doses, calculations of formulation constants (PVC, CPVC, PVC/CPVC = Q, volume solids, etc.) useful when analysing the results, as well as the results of laboratory tests performed on the samples described in the frame recipe to demonstrate the benefits of using a specific raw material supplied with the recipe. These recipes are usually free, but access to them often requires leaving your data so that the supplier of the raw material knows who he shares his technical materials with.

Starting point formulations are usually prepared for a specific area in which the raw material is available, e.g. Europe, Pacific region, NAFTA or more locally, based on the raw materials available in a given region and the formulation habits of specific types of paints in a given region of the world (for example, completely different PVC ranges of paints for walls are formulated in Western Europe than in the USA).

So how to interpret starting point formulations to make them useful and how to use them? It all depends on how well the initial formulation is built and how well it has been prepared on the basis of laboratory tests. In this article, I will focus on covering from the ground up how such formulations are developed, how to use them correctly and how to interpret the test results in them, and how to use starting formulations to translate the results into your own projects, whether you are beginner or advanced formulator of latex paints.

 Compatibility from scratch 

Before gaining experience, novice paint formulators must learn about new raw materials and ways of combining them into formulations. An excellent tool for such learning are starting point formulations, but generally only those that are not limited to randomly selected raw materials without a presentation of how they work. The list of raw materials that should be included in latex paint is one thing, and the other is how they work together.

Start pointing formulations developed from scratch are built on the basis of many tests of raw materials in formulations with different PVC in combination with various additives to learn their impact on mutual compatibility, stability and effectiveness. This applies to all kinds of raw materials, ranging from the compatibility of polymer dispersion with coalescing agents, defoamers or dispersants, through stability with thickeners, to the effectiveness of dispersant doses with fillers to ensure a homogeneous suspension in slurry and latex paint.

Well-developed starting point formulations are an extremely valuable tool that shows which raw materials are stable with each other, especially in relation to the raw material of a given supplier who presents such a formulation, as well as in comparison to the competition, because starting point formulations in combination with comparisons of competing raw materials can be interesting material for competitive advantage.

Use of starting point formulations

At the beginning of the 1990s, but also after 2000, where access to technical materials on raw materials was very limited due to the lack of access to the Internet and the lack of many technical materials on the Internet, very basic starting formulations were required, whereby novice formulators needed basic knowledge about what should be in the formulation at all. Therefore, the starting point formulations developed in those years were extremely simple, but they provided the necessary knowledge about what type of main raw materials should build a given type of latex paint formulation. An example of such a formulation (without showing the trade names of the raw materials) is shown in Table 1. This formulation is based on very basic ingredients used to achieve class 2 wet-scrub resistance classified by EN 13300 (5 to 20µm thickness loss after 200 cycles tested by ISO 11998).

Table 1. Example of a simple starting point formulation
Ingredients Weight, kg

Dispersing agent

In-can preservative


Neutralising agent

Titanium dioxide

Calcium carbonate filler

Polymer emulsion

HEC thickener

HEUR thickener












1000 kg


Solid content

EN 13300 class

approx. 76 %

approx. 62 %


This simple formulation allows extremely novice formulators to know where to start by providing the basic formulation constants (PVC, solid content) and the quantities of raw materials to prepare the paint in the laboratory and further test and modify it. Often, however, such formulations are not enough, especially for demanding projects and more experienced formulators. It is true that the presented formulation has been prepared practically and from the raw materials used in it actually reaches class 2, but it lacks many important data and more advanced raw materials or lab-scale production processes that are used in practice.

The role of such a simple and basic starting formulation is to prepare a laboratory sample from it for self-development of formulation modification skills, replacement of ingredients and observations based on how the properties change. For newcomers, such formulations are of great educational importance, but from a business perspective, for which undoubtedly starting point formulations are being developed today, such simple formulas are not very attractive.


Also by Artur Palasz – Application studies and transfer of starting point formulations to the R&D stage and full-scale production

Advanced starting point formulations

For more advanced formulators and R&D departments, extensive starting point formulations containing much more data are prepared. Such formulations are often referred to as core formulations, as they are the basis for slight modifications and adaptations to your own needs, e.g. with thickeners, but initially they are already a well-developed paint formulation for a specific application. The core-starting point formulations are followed by a list of raw materials with trade names and suppliers, however, for the purpose of this article, they have been hidden so as not to advertise.

Table 2. Wood & trim gloss acrylic paint formulation
Ingredients Weight, lbs Weight, kg Function
TiO2 slurry – grinding by cowles dissolver, 15 minutes at 20-26 fps (6-8 m/s)

Lab-scale vessel must be equipped with a cooling-jacket

Tap water1




Titanium dioxide

Low-shear HEUR thickener








1,175 lbs







1,600 kg

Carrier, solvent

Dispersing agent


In-can preservative

White pigment



Let-down (10 minutes agitation by anchor mixer)
Acrylic polymer emulsion

TiO2 slurry (75 % solids)



Coalescing agent

Flash rust inhibitor

Attapulgite 20% suspension

Tap water1

High-shear HEUR thickener

Substrate wetting agent

Newtonian HEUR thickener













1,080 lbs












1,300 kg

Film forming


In-can preservative

Film preservative

Film forming aid

Metal cans protection

Low-shear thickener


Improving spraying

Substrate wetting

Improving leveling

1 Water hardness up to 3.0 mmol Ca2+ (17.55 °a / 30 °f)


Quality control: Test results and method
Viscosity at 77 °F (25 °C):

·      Initial

·      Overnight


90 KU

96 KU



Fineness of grind by Hegman gage: > 7 ASTM D1210
Opacity (drawdown 7 mils gap applicator): > 98.5 % Reflectometer 45/0
Gloss @60° (drawdown as above): > 72.0 % ASTM D523
pH 8.0 – 8.3 ASTM E70
 Formulation constants:
PVC: 18.7 % Solids: 43.5 % by volume
PVC–additives: 21.5 % 56.7 % by weight
CPVC: 62.5 % VOC: UE: 0 g/L
Q (PVC/CPVC): 0.30 US: 0.37 g/L
(P+F)/B: 0.97 US–water: 0.42 g/L
Weight per US gallon: 10.8 lbs/gal Density: 1.29 g/cm3

Table 2 shows an example of a starting point formulation called core formulation, which is an advanced presentation of the method of preparing the initial formulation for testing raw materials dedicated to wood & trim paints based on acrylic polymer emulsion. This formulation is divided into two stages of preparation. First, slurry preparation involves making a suspension of pigment, in this case titanium dioxide, stable for storage and use in various formulations. This process, referred to as grinding, consists in high-speed grinding of aggregates and agglomerates of titanium dioxide with surfactants and stabilising the particles for their use as a premix in the production of latex paints. The formulation contains guidelines for the preparation of the slurry and its use in paint, where it is combined with the polymer dispersion and other ingredients in the let-down process. Such a production process, where only the slurry is produced in the cowles dissolver, and then combined with the polymer dispersion and other components, is a process typically used in the USA by paint manufacturers and its use does not shock the surfactants responsible for stabilising the slurry and polymer dispersion at their connecting.

In addition, the process of adding the slurry to the polymer dispersion, and not vice versa, makes mixing easier and is self-supported by the difference in slurry density (heavier than the polymer dispersion, slurry density > 2.6g/cm3) and the polymer dispersion. As you can see, all data is expressed in units understood in Europe (SI units) and in USC (US customary units), thanks to which the formulation is fully understood by both US and European formulators.

The formulation also contains basic data on quality parameters, such as viscosity, fineness of grind, opacity, gloss and pH. These data are needed for the formulator to know what parameters to reconstruct during further R&D work and modification of the formulation for its own needs. Using such data in conjunction with other test results provided with the formulation (case studies, ladder studies) allows for easy understanding of how changes in the obtained parameters come from specific raw materials.

Indication of water hardness is the next stage of formulation advancement, showing what to pay attention to when further reformulating your own samples. Water hardness is usually related to the effectiveness of the defoamers in the formulation, or as in the case of the attapulgite thickener formulation, which, depending on water hardness, allows for varying viscosity and stability (see Figure 1). The graph shows how the viscosity of the same formulation – prepared paint samples changes depending on the water in which it was prepared (use of water for mill-base, let-down and preparation of attapulgite slurry). The tap water used in the tests had a hardness of 3.0 mmol Ca2+ (significant hardness), and demineralised water had a conductivity of <5 µS/cm.

Figure 1. Influence of the water used to prepare paints with the test thickener attapulgite on the viscosity


Also by Artur Palasz – Focus on protective: Flash rust inhibitors in waterborne paints for architectural and wood applications

The presented differences in viscosity are not drastic, but significant enough that a formulator who tries to repeat the obtained results and adapt them to his own formulation may encounter a discrepancy in the results and rejection of the formulation. The advanced starting formulation in this case consists in providing additionally clearly marked information in the form of a comparison of the viscosity building effectiveness, which in the case of the attapulgite used is clearly water-dependent (the composition of the water affects the penetration between the layers of the thickener and its hydration).

It should also be noted that the formulation constants given in the start point formulations (Table 2) such as PVC, CPVC, Q, etc. are not indicated for information, but are used for further reformulation to obtain the desired properties of the paint and coating, similar to those determined on the basis of tests of the paint prepared from the subject start point formulations. Formulating your own recipe from the raw materials used in case studies allows you to obtain similar results when building a recipe based on the behaviour of the formulation constants indicated in the materials provided with the raw material sample. Please note that PVC and other formulation constants are used to build the formulation and are not to be calculated after development.

It may seem that examples of using the right water and paying attention to PVC, CPVC and other solids are not very advanced when it comes to starter formulations. Nothing could be more wrong. It is such small ingredients that are responsible for many further failures when formulating your own recipes. Providing them with properly shown case studies not only provide the necessary knowledge for the formulator from the R&D department of the paint manufacturer, but also clearly show the direction in which to go to achieve the appropriate results established in the laboratory developing starting point formulations.

Replacement of ingredients in the starting formulation

When using a starting point formulation, the standard procedure of the paint manufacturer’s R&D department is to substitute raw materials for testing whether the production raw materials used by them will be suitable for use in the formulation. We will discuss an example of such a swap and its potential failures using the formulation shown in Table 2 (wood & trim acrylic paint).

In the discussed example, the acrylic binder will be changed, which in the case of the discussed formulation must be characterised by ensuring high resistance to blocking. The start point formulation uses a self-crosslinking acrylic emulsion core-shell with a core Tg 70°C and a shell Tg 15°C (acrylic emulsion No. 1). The tests showed what happens when the acrylic emulsion is changed to other acrylic binders with a uniform morphology – acrylic emulsion No. 2 (Tg 35°C) and acrylic emulsion No. 3 (Tg 50°C). As can be seen from the Tg, the binders have different hardnesses and therefore should represent a different effect on coating hardness and blocking. All binders contained the same solid content and were substituted in the same amount into the formulations of Table 2. The test results are shown in Table 3 and graphically in the pictures of the blocking resistance tests.

Figure 2. Consequences of replacing the acrylic binder in the formulation of Table 2 and effect on blocking

The results of the blocking resistance tests show how drastic deterioration can be achieved when the binder originally used in the start point formulations is changed. It’s not about not trying to change this binder when necessary, but to do this change in a way supported by research. That is why it is so important to provide start point formulations with recommendations as to the binders that provide the desired properties.

The example shown shows another extremely important feature of the substitution of binders based on data from technical data sheets of polymer emulsions. Interchanged polymer dispersions do not represent hardness that goes hand in hand with blocking resistance. The hardness of the coating, and thus the Tg, cannot be considered as an indicator of good or poor blocking resistance – see the results in Table 3. Especially in the case of the core-shell dispersion, which apparently is much softer and obtained the best blocking resistance result.

Table 3. Coating test results after changing binders
Wood & trim formulation Pendulum hardness

ASTM D4366

Blocking resistance ASTM D4946
Rating Type of separation Performance
Acrylic emulsion No. 1

Acrylic emulsion No. 2

Acrylic emulsion No. 3

81 s

108 s

165 s




No tack

0 (75-100% tack)

1 (50-75% tack)


Very poor

Very poor

This case is just an example. Such case studies discussing what will happen when we replace the raw material A with B are extremely valuable knowledge for the formulator, and not only from the educational point of view, but also for faster obtaining results, faster and easier development of the final formulation, and even earlier for easier decision-making about testing a given product.


Providing starting point formulations is a standard procedure aimed at educating and bringing novice formulators closer to the world of paints and raw materials, but above all it is a technical marketing tool. Nowadays, it can no longer be just a short list of raw materials from which paint can be made, but knowledge coming from research, case studies, ladder dose tests showing how to use a given raw material in the best way, and in which cases its best efficiency is achieved. Having been building such recipes for over 16 years on the European, Americas and Pacific markets, I know perfectly well how valuable this knowledge is even for advanced formulators. It allows you to take a sample for testing and walk through it without walking in the dark.

Author: Artur Palasz, Ph.D.

SPEKTROCHEM – Technical Center of Raw Materials for Architectural Paints, Poland

e-mail: [email protected]

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