What Is Colored Concrete & How Is It Colored?

Concrete pavers in various colors, including off-white/tan, red, and gray.

Although concrete is incredibly durable and weather resistant, it’s not aesthetically pleasing. That’s why many homeowners opt for decorative concrete solutions, like coloring their concrete. 

If you’re tired of the bland look of your concrete patio, driveway, or walkway, all you have to do is color it. By adding color to your concrete, you can transform a dull and uninspiring surface into a beautiful and unique feature of your outdoor space while maintaining the concrete’s original durability. And tons of color options are available, so it’s easy to find the right hue that complements your home’s exterior.

In this post, we’ll compare and contrast the four primary methods of coloring concrete, starting with stains.

Method 1: Stains

Concrete stains are chemical solutions applied to the surface of the concrete; they react with the minerals in the concrete to create a permanent color. There are two types of concrete stains: acid-based and water-based. Acid stains create mottled, variegated looks unique to each concrete surface, while water-based stains create a more uniform color.

Advantages & Disadvantages

Concrete stains last for a long time and are very resistant to fading or chipping. They are also relatively inexpensive compared to other coloring methods and provide a high-end look for a fraction of the cost. 

However, both acid- and water-based stains can be difficult to apply evenly and may require multiple coats to achieve your desired result. Acid stains also produce strong fumes and require protective equipment when applied.


The cost of a concrete stain varies based on the type of stain and slab size, but the average cost is between $2 to $8 per square foot.

Use Cases

Concrete stains are great options for adding color to a patio, pool deck, or indoor floor. Stains are highly weather-resistant, so they can be used for both indoor and outdoor applications.

How to Apply

First, thoroughly clean the surface of the concrete and allow it to dry. Then, apply the stain in small sections with a sprayer, roller, or brush, making sure to evenly work the stain into the surface of the concrete. Allow the stain to dry completely before applying a sealant to protect the color and finish. We recommend hiring a professional if you’re using acid stains because they can be dangerous.

Method 2: Dyes

You can also use dyes to color your concrete. Dyes are a coloring agent that can be applied to the surface of the concrete to create a more consistent and uniform color. There are two types of concrete dyes: solvent-based and water-based. Solvent-based dyes are more durable and penetrate deeper into the concrete, while water-based dyes are easier to work with and produce brighter colors. Because dyes are topical coatings, they do not offer permanent results. The color will fade over time, especially if applied to a surface that gets a lot of direct sunlight or foot traffic.

Advantages & Disadvantages

Concrete dyes generally create uniform results and are easy to apply. They are also affordable and come in a variety of colors.

However, as we mentioned earlier, dyes are not permanent like stains and will require touch-ups over time. They do not penetrate as deeply as stains, so they are also prone to more fading and general wear and tear.


Much like stains, the cost of purchasing concrete dye will vary based on the quality and type of dye being purchased, as well as the general size of the area that will be dyed. The average cost is between $1 and $2 per square foot.

Use Cases

Concrete dyes can be used for both indoor and outdoor applications, but we recommend using them for indoor applications as they will last longer when applied to surfaces that aren’t heavily exposed to the elements. They are also great for homeowners looking for a consistent and vibrant color.

How to Apply

First, thoroughly clean the surface of the concrete and allow it to dry. Surface preparation is always important, as any defects and debris will become more apparent after the dye is applied. If there are cracks and other defects, be sure to fill them with a concrete patching compound. 

After surface preparation, we recommend applying a primer before the dye, which helps ensure a more vibrant and longer-lasting color. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the primer, as different primers will have varying drying times. 

Then, you’ll need to mix the dye in a bucket. The acetone-to-dye mixture will vary based on the dye you use. Always mix outside or in an otherwise well-ventilated area because acetone is highly flammable. It’s important that you get the mixture right because it will affect the final quality of your project. Don’t skip reading instructions on your dye! 

When your mixture is ready, apply the mixture to your surface using a heavy-duty acetone dye sprayer. If you want a deeper color, you’ll need to apply more coats. If you’re applying more than one coat, you’ll need to let each coat dry before applying a new one. Ensure you’re applying the dye evenly to the surface. 

Once all coats have been applied to the surface and are completely dry, you’ll want to remove dust and debris from the surface and apply a sealer to ensure longer-lasting results.

Method 3: Pigments

You can also use concrete pigments available as powders or liquids. Powdered pigments are added directly to the concrete mix, while liquid pigments are added to the mixing water. Liquid concrete pigments can be easier to work with because they are not as challenging to mix. 

When pigments are applied to concrete, they penetrate the surface and are chemically bound to it, which results in permanent color. Like other colorants, the results will be more long-lasting if the slab is properly sealed and maintained.

Advantages & Disadvantages

The primary advantage of pigments is that they create a more permanent color, like stains, but they’re also easier and safer to apply. They also come in a wider range of color options than dyes and stains.

One downside is that the pigments provide a less vibrant, more muted look than dyes and stains. And, if the concrete cracks or chips, the color will lose uniformity. 


The average cost of powdered pigments is between $0.15 to $0.25 per square foot, while liquid pigments can cost up to $0.50 per square foot. Again, the total cost will vary depending on the type of pigment purchased and how much pigment is needed for the project.

Use Cases

You can use pigments for indoor and outdoor applications. They’re typically used in pavers, artificial stone, planters, and other muted hardscaping elements.

How to Apply

The fun part of pigments is that you can purchase multiple colors to create a unique look. Pigments easily mix, but you do need to experiment with the ratios if you’re using multiple colors. Pigments are typically mixed with mortar, plaster, stucco, grout, and other cement-based materials, as well as water. If you’re using a powdered pigment, add it to the dry mix before adding water. If it’s liquid, mix the pigment with the water before adding it to the dry mix. 

You’ll want to mix the colors until they reach their saturation point—if you’re not sure how much to use, look at the manufacturer’s instructions for the pigment. 

Once the mixture is uniform in color (no streaks), you can pour or spray the mixture onto the clean surface. Because the color will be muted no matter what you do, applying more than one coat is unnecessary unless the coloring is uneven. After your concrete surface has fully dried, you can add a sealer.

Method 4: Color Hardeners

Lastly, you can use color hardeners, which are coloring agents that are generally applied to freshly poured concrete to create beautiful, long-lasting, but temporary color. Over time, the color may fade from exposure to UV rays, inclement weather, and foot traffic. 

There are two types of hardeners: dry-shake and liquid. Both options are made of cement, pigments, and other materials designed to increase the strength and durability of the concrete’s surface.

Advantages & Disadvantages

Color hardeners provide durable results, are available in a wide range of colors, and create more vibrant and consistent coloring than pigments and stains. However, they can be more difficult to apply and usually require a professional installation.


Hardeners are more expensive than other coloring options, with an average cost of $2 to $5 per square foot.

Use Cases

Because the primary purpose of color hardeners is to improve the strength of freshly poured concrete, they’re commonly used in commercial and industrial applications. However, they can be used for some residential patio and driveway projects, especially if the patios and driveways get a lot of foot or vehicle traffic. 

How to Apply

Color hardeners are only applied to freshly poured concrete. Once your slab has been poured, and there is no longer bleed water on the surface, you can apply the hardener.

Color hardeners are typically broadcasted by hand. If you use a dry-shake hardener, sprinkle the powder evenly over the surface. After the powder is applied and darkened in color, it needs to be “floated,” meaning that you need to use a trowel or hand float to apply light pressure to the mixture. You don’t want to damage the hardener, so don’t put too much pressure on it. 

If you’re using a liquid hardener, spray the liquid evenly onto the surface and float with a trowel or hand float once the mixture darkens in color. 

You’ll then need to apply a curing compound to the surface. Once the surface has cured, you can apply a sealer. 

You will most likely need to hire a professional to pour your slab, so it’s recommended that a professional apply the color hardener for you.

Get Help Coloring Your Concrete

G&G Concrete & Construction is a family-owned and -operated concrete construction company. We’ve proudly served homeowners and businesses in Michigan for more than 20 years. Our experienced team can handle many concrete projects, including new patio, slab, walkway, and driveway installations, and decorative concrete projects.

If you’ve never handled a concrete project before, it’s crucial to have a professional by your side. We can help you prevent mistakes and ensure longer-lasting higher-quality results. Contact us today with any questions you have regarding concrete color or to learn more about our capabilities.

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