For stamped concrete, there are 2 different ways to apply the base color of the concrete. One way is to mix the color directly into the concrete, ie at the plant or in the truck on site. This technique is referred to as “Integral Color” or “Integral Pigment”, or “Through-and-Through color”. 


The other technique is where a special powder color pigment is applied and absorbed into the surface of the concrete when the concrete is first placed (still wet). This technique is referred to as “Surface Color Hardener”, also called “Shake-On color”, “Toss-On color”, or “Broadcast color”. 


NOTE: Traditional stamped concrete always has 2 colors, a base color and a “marbled in” highlight color. This discussion is only about the base color. The highlight color is most always applied as a powder just before the concrete is stamped. So again, this discussion of integral vs. Surface Color refers only to the application of the base color.


Both Integral Color and Surface Color Hardener are acceptable coloring solutions. They’re both strong, durable, and long-lasting. They both have the same maintenance.  They both come with the 2-tone color, ie base color and highlight color application.


NOTE: Integral Color can be mixed into the concrete either at the plant or onsite directly into the truck.  Most would argue that having the color mixed at the plant is the better approach for an Integrally Colored concrete project.  Ready-Mix concrete companies have “million dollar” process, research, and modern equipment to measure and weigh the coloring chemicals to produce the most accurate color. However, some contractors prefer to mix the color onsite directly into the truck. With this process, the contractor will bring their own color in a bucket or other container to the jobsite and when the concrete mixer / truck arrives, the contractor will climb up onto the back of the truck and dump the color into the drum to mix the color into the concrete.  Adding the color this way requires more skill by the contractor to understand the timing and mixing chemistry to achieve a similar accurate mixture as would be achieved by having the color done at the concrete plant. Mixing the color onsite by the contractor, for many contractors is more convenient and those feel as though they have more control over the situation and get the color mixture that they want.


As you research this topic of coloring techniques, be sure you have a good understanding of both techniques. On the surface (no pun intended …. ) most customers inherently and immediately want the Integral Color, the one that’s mixed through and through … everyone says the same thing:


What if I get a chip?


Most all customers perceive Integral Color to solve this problem.  If a chip occurs, since the concrete is colored through and through, I’m “good to go”. The fact is, that concrete on the inside looks nothing like the decorative stamped surface on the outside. So yes, you will see the color, but you will also see stone, sand, fine aggregates, etc. The fact is, concrete is pretty ugly on the inside, and you may want a repair anyway.


Most all customers perceive the other coloring technique, Surface Color Hardener to be “cheap” or “chinsie” as to say we’re trying to “pull a fast one” on them  …  Customers always ask about surface color:


What happens when I wear through it?
What happens when it chips off?
Do I have to reapply it when it fades away?
If I get a chip, I don’t want to see the white bare concrete underneath.
………..  therefore, I think I want the through-and-through color ……….


Most customers don’t want the Surface Color Hardener, we believe, because they simply don’t understand what it is. Most think it’s some sort of spray, or stain, or paint. Most customers think we are trying to cheat them out of something by mentioning or recommending the Surface Color Hardener. The fact is that many experts in the business believe that Surface Color Hardener is the better approach, ie pros far outweigh cons … see lists below.


But again, the decision is yours.  We have experience with both and we are happy to apply your color either way. Let’s talk about this more when we meet. Here is a run-down of some pros and cons of both techniques:

NOTE: For this list below, we do our best to leave out our opinions and emotion, and simply state these pros and cons as factually as possible.


Integral Color



  • Integral color is mixed through and through in the concrete before it is placed so if a chip does occur, the base color of the concrete is visible. Keep in mind, concrete on the inside looks nothing like the stamped surface. So yes, you will see the base color, but you will also see stones, sand, fine aggregates, etc…   Most customers would ultimately say … I got a chip, but its pretty ugly in there, can you come out and do a repair to fill it in?  So what was the advantage?
  • Integral Color is easier and in most cases cheaper for the contractor to install. ( This could be considered a PRO for the contractor and not the homeowner)
  • Integral Color projects produce less “dust”, they are typically a bit neater due to less color powder on site.



  • Integral Color has a more limited color pallet.  Fewer colors available and colors are a bit more “muted” or “softer”. (Some may like these colors better .. beauty is in the eye of the beholder …), lighter colors such as Adobe Buff and Silver are either not feasible, or very expensive with Integral Color.
  • For Integral Color the price will typically vary based on the color you select. Ie, darker colors are more expensive. Deep colors such as Terra Cotta, Brick Red, browns, dark grays, etc. can be cost prohibitive for many customers.
  • For Integral Color, you are paying for lots of color that you will likely never see.
  • For larger projects requiring more than one truckload of concrete, integral color has a greater risk that the color will vary (can be noticeably … ) from one truckload to the next.
  • For very small projects, most often, integrally colored concrete has a 3 cubic yard minimum to allow the color to mix accurately and consistently. So if we are pouring, say a small walkway or a set of stairs that would normally only need 1 or 2 yards, we have to order a minimum of 3 yards to get the most accurate color … this will ultimately add to the cost.
  • Integrally Colored concrete does not harden the surface as does Surface Color Hardener, so leaves the surface more susceptible to damage.
  • Integrally Colored concrete typically produces stamp impressions that are not as clear or as detailed as those produced with surface color hardener. Ie, surface color hardener produces a richer, more “creamy” surface into which the stamps impress, typically producing a more detailed and more authentic product.
  • Integrally Colored concrete typically produces a surface that is more course than a surface produced with Surface Color Hardener. Ie, stamped surface with Integrally Colored concrete tended to be a bit rougher where you can see (if you look closely) pin-holes and hardened sand and fine aggregate being visible … thus a courser look.  That said, to the casual onlooker, from 10 feet away, both surfaces will be similar.
  • Integrally Colored concrete, at least when mixed in at the concrete plant, is not available in all areas. Concrete companies from which we buy the concrete have 10 or so locations around DC metro area, but only a few of those locations have color mixing equipment. So, some neighborhoods, areas may not be suitable for an integrally colored project, due to the distance from the concrete plant to the jobsite.


Surface Color Hardener


  • Surface Color Hardener, when applied, hardens the surface up to 8,000 PSI (pounds per square inch).  Most plain concrete is placed at 4,000 PSI or less. So, with the hardening properties of Surface Color Hardener, the concrete surface is more durable and thus is less susceptible to damage.
  • Full color pallet available. Rich and vibrant colors those many times are not available with Integral Color.
  • Richer, creamier surface while workers are finishing the concrete allows stamping process to produce a more detailed and more authentic surface.
  • More consistent color if more than one truckload of concrete is required for your project.
  • More versatility for smaller projects. Ie, can pour any amount of concrete, small or large and Surface Color Hardener is applied onsite.



  • If a chip happens, white concrete will be visible. Repairs for chipped concrete are extremely rare, are relatively easy to do in the event they occur.
  • Surface Color Hardener application process is messier and dustier.  Cleans up relatively easy … within a few days, your yard is back to normal.