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Today’s Trends for Metal Wall Panels

Expressive colors, new shapes, customization and a celebration of light

Atas May21 1

Metal’s gauges, profiles, colors, textures and finishes are appealing to designers to bring their visions to life. PHOTO COURTESY OF ATAS INTERNATIONAL INC.

Because of their versatility and range, metal wall panels are an increasingly popular choice for exterior wall skins. Incorporating different profiles, colors, shapes and panel orientations add unique and interesting aesthetics to any building. Metal offers a very versatile palette with many design possibilities and architects are taking full advantage of its creative qualities.

“Metal wall panels are well past the acceptance stage and deep into the, ‘How can I apply them in ways nobody has done yet?’ stage,” says Rob Heselbarth, director of communications, Petersen Aluminum Corp., Elk Grove Village, Ill. “We continue to see metal wall panels applied in increasingly creative ways, whether it’s using multiple colors of the same panel, multiple panel profiles, new angles or used in combination with other building materials. We’ve seen them on high rises, retail facilities, commercial, industrial, educational and multiuse buildings, multifamily structures as well as contemporary single-family homes.”


Shawn Crouthamel, CSI, CDT, architectural national sales manager at Laminators Inc., Hatfield, Pa., says while aluminum composite material (ACM) panels most often come in stock lengths he has witnessed a trend in which architects and building owners are optimizing fabricated panels in unique shapes and various sizes. Also, “The ability to have ACM panels partially or fully fabricated before they arrive at the job site can significantly reduce time on the project and ultimately save in labor costs. Another trend is the request for partially fabricated panels that are routed and cut to the final size, but then shipped flat to minimize freight costs. Final bending and mounting accessory attachments can easily be done at the installer’s shop as the project progresses.”

This research center’s exterior is enhanced by its colors: Bone White, Bright Silver (Metallic) and a custom color called Parrot Green. PHOTO COURTESY OF LAMINATORS


Lee Ann M. Slattery, sales support manager at ATAS International Inc., Allentown, Pa., has witnessed a trend of using various metal panel shapes together on the same building. “Rectangular and linear panels are popular, in both horizontal and vertical applications,” she says. Jason Zeeff, vice president of sales with Dri-Design, Holland, Mich., agrees the majority of designs utilize primarily rectangular panels; however, variations in depth are also popular to add something different. “We introduced the Tapered Series Panels, and it is definitely a favorite among architects and building owners who want something with a unique dimension,” he says.

Designers want wall panels with depth because depth creates stronger shadow lines, something Heselbarth believes gives them a more interesting appearance. “Designers also prefer to have multiple rib patterns to choose from to maximize their creative design potential. The ability to choose from narrow or wide rib spacing, or narrow or wide rib widths, increases the likelihood that designers can manifest their vision.”

Geoff Hahn, creative director, and Will Pilkington operations manager, both of Pure + FreeForm, St. Paul, Minn., have seen a trend in more complex break shapes, such as slab edge profiles, angular shapes and corrugated profiles that can be mixed and matched to break up the rhythm of a façade. “By combining these faceted textures with a clear base coat, the beautiful glint and luminosity of metal is accentuated in one visual plane,” they say.

Vibrant blue metal panels adorn this school’s numerous bumpouts, bays and overhangs. PHOTO ALANBLAKELY.COM, COURTESY OF PETERSEN ALUMINUM CORP.



Silver and gray are timeless and oft-used metal wall panel colors. But, architects don’t want to be restricted to a color chart. Crouthamel explains from bold and vibrant, to natural and cool tones, a building’s aesthetic is an extremely important concept when selecting panel colors. “As buildings are being designed with more contemporary and innovative designs, it’s important the panels complement its motif.”

“Accent colors are great,” Zeeff says. “With them, we are able to paint just a few panels with different colors to break up a large wall.” Heselbarth says it’s increasingly common to see multiple shades of the same color family applied to the same building and even the same wall. For example, “An architect will choose a wall panel in three shades of blue and apply them in a randomly alternating pattern to create a mosaic-style design,” Heselbarth says. “It’s a simple way to add interest. Wood grain finishes also are growing in popularity. Architects desire the look of wood but the performance and longevity of metal, which can be achieved with our durable 70% PVDF wood grain coatings, which come in 16 patterns.”

David Story, chief stylist and manager of color science, and Gary Edgar, technical sales, both of Pittsburgh-based PPG Industries Inc., have both witnessed an increased demand for customized urban colors like faux metals, along with new shades of copper, bronze and steely grays. “Specifically, colors with mineral-like tones that provide a sense of depth and visual dimension are really beginning to rise in popularity.”

Shades of gray and other earth tones are color trends that Slattery has witnessed recently and even cites “pops of color” being added to walls as an accent or feature. “Wood grain print coats and embossing are also growing in use, offering a lightweight and durable alternative to real wood. There is a trend in the increase of natural metals being used for wall panels, including zinc, copper and stainless steel.”

This building in St. Louis has an iridescent, color-shifting, metalclad façade accomplished with Sherwin-Williams Coil Coatings' Valflon Prosmatic. PHOTO COURTESY OF ATAS INTERNATIONAL INC. PHOTO: TOM ROSSITER PHOTOGRAPHY

Hahn and Pilkington have seen an increased demand in not only non-traditional colors, such as cobalt blue or olive green, but also in specularity. “This has largely derived from the demand of artisanal finishes like glazed terracotta, and peened colored stainless, but [also] with the functionality and ease of fabrication of high-performance AAMA 2605-compliant aluminum,” they say.


A noticeable trend is architects creating projects with a natural aesthetic. From natural metals to biomimicry, architects are bringing nature back outside. While aiming for the look and design of natural materials, they still take advantage of the durability and performance of a protective coating for the longevity of a project.

Kiki Redhead, global CMF and trend manager, and Brynn Wildenauer, architectural color designer, both of Sherwin-Williams Coil & Extrusion Coatings, Minneapolis, believe when it comes to the aesthetics of natural metals in projects, they’re noticing a shift toward warmer toned metals. “There has been a lot of requests for bronzes, coppers and golds,” they say.

“This can be traced back to when rose gold broke through and gained popularity in the late-2010s. Since then, we’ve seen stainless steel take a back seat. However, with late adopters still picking it up, we know that stainless steel silver has become more of a classic. And as the metallic trend continues to warm up, we predict stainless steel silver will stay in the market as a true staple but will be modernized with warmer metallic accents.”



As health and wellness continue to be vital, architects and designers are tapping into the biophilic approach—connecting a building project and its occupants closer to nature. “This is something we often see in interior design and is where the phrase ‘bringing the outside indoors’ came from,” Redhead and Wildenauer say. “But now, architects are challenging this by mimicking that of local landscaping within their designs. Representations of this approach can be any organic type of pattern such as flowing leaves and grasses.”


Customizing metal panel shapes, sizes and colors continues to grow. Schools want to match their official colors; businesses want their corporate colors on their buildings. “Everyone loves customization, as do I,” Zeeff says. “If you can have something custom for the same or only slightly more cost than a standard product, you would probably go for it. However, many times customization comes at a big cost difference. We have always liked finding ways to provide some customization with a minimal upcharge.”

Slattery contends metal is a very customizable material, due to the different metals available and various means for forming it. “If an architect has an idea for a metal panel that they can’t find on a manufacturer’s website or literature, they should simply inquire and provide a sketch of what they want. Chances are, it can be fabricated into what is desired, or into something very similar.”

Crouthamel explains customization is trending especially on corporate identity projects where it’s crucial to extend the visual aspect of the brand onto the building itself. “Choosing the right materials for any corporate ID application can be a major obstacle. The products—type and look— are a fundamental part of the overall vision. In addition, exterior applications require more durable materials that are fade resistant and can withstand strong weather conditions.”

Hahn and Pilkington have witnessed most large-scale construction to be in the health/wellness and tech industries—two industries that rely on branding and positioning to define themselves. “Materiality has become a significant part of this story. This means that standard, one-size-fits-all materials are starting to miss the mark as each company wants to share their identity through bespoke color, finishes and textures. We see a lot of requests for customizable profiles within the metal wall panel itself, whether that is a custom bend or a specific corrugated profile a designer wants to achieve. Because aluminum is so flexible, we’re able to create a variety of custom shapes on panels that are trusted and industry standard.”

Story and Edgar explain that while copper and other mineral-based tones are trending right now, custom and modified coppers and bronzes are leading the charge. “Building owners are increasingly looking for earth-like tones that mimic natural materials and blend into urban landscapes. It’s not necessarily a complete movement away from traditional design; it’s just a new way of presenting a building’s exterior with customized 3-D tints. This trend of customization is certainly here to stay, as we find more architects, designers and building owners working with us to formulate signature colors for their structures that will distinguish them for decades to come.”

A metal panel was used over concrete spandrel as an economical alternative to give the punched glass window openings the look of a larger curtainwall window system. PHOTO COURTESY OF LINES & LIGHT STUDIO, PHOTO: RVK ARCHITECTS


Color-shifting paints on metal panels are becoming the norm. Available colors have an iridescent, multi-toned effect that shifts in color when viewed from different angles or when lighting changes. “It’s a remarkable experience to walk or drive by a building and see the walls change from a rose color to a golden greenish color,” Slattery says. “Color-shifting paint is certainly turning heads and is a unique alternative resulting in a memorable design.”

Called polychromatic panels, Story and Edgar agree these color changers are a very popular specification now. “PPG was the first in the industry to offer polychromatic coatings. At one point, architects tended to favor polychromatic coatings that showcased dramatic color shifts, but we’re finding that the demand is for much more subtle shifts in color right now. We believe this shift is being driven by universal trends PPG is seeing in color preference related to the COVID-19 pandemic, where designers and consumers are increasingly drawn to colors associated with healing and peaceful tones such as calming shades of blue and green.”

Hahn and Pilkington explain this color-shifting technology comes in the form of a clear coat. “The result is the beautiful luminosity, light flow and reflectivity. Changes in the angle of interaction, time of day, and light source mean metals can be perceived in an entirely new way. We can infuse the aluminum with copper or gold pearl, warming up the light reflection, and creating a new depth to typical metal panels. Since each batch of aluminum has a natural variation of its raw color, there is a subtle deviation of depth and you can manipulate levels of glint and glow. This technology harnesses light in the poetic was natural metals do, but offers the benefit of a FEVE resin, offering both premium design and performance.”

Sherwin-Williams calls one of its color-shifting products Kameleon. “Kameleon is exactly that—a color-shift that continues to gain popularity,” Redhead says. “With an iridescent, multi-toned effect, Kameleon features a spectrum of intense, vibrant tones that appear to shift when viewed from different angles or in changing lighting. It offers a rich, pearlescent hue that comes in a wide range of color-shifts, from subtle to dramatic.”

Tapered Series Panels by Dri-Design have been popular since its introduction because of its different angles and play of light and shadows. This office building shows Tapered Series in Weathering Steel that was selected to emulate clapboard siding on neighboring houses with a contemporary approach. PHOTO COURTESY OF DRI-DESIGN