A coating is a covering that is applied to the surface of an object, usually referred to as the substrate. The purpose of applying the coating may be decorative, functional, or both. Coatings may be applied as liquids, gases or solids e.g. Powder coatings.
Paints and lacquers are coatings that mostly have dual uses of protecting the substrate and being decorative, although some artists paints are only for decoration, and the paint on large industrial pipes is for preventing corrosion and identification e.g. blue for process water, red for fire-fighting control etc. Functional coatings may be applied to change the surface properties of the substrate, such as adhesion, wettability, corrosion resistance, or wear resistance. In other cases, e.g. semiconductor device fabrication (where the substrate is a wafer), the coating adds a completely new property, such as a magnetic response or electrical conductivity, and forms an essential part of the finished product.
A major consideration for most coating processes is that the coating is to be applied at a controlled thickness, and a number of different processes are in use to achieve this control, ranging from a simple brush for painting a wall, to some very expensive machinery applying coatings in the electronics industry. A further consideration for 'non-all-over' coatings is that control is needed as to where the coating is to be applied. A number of these non-all-over coating processes are printing processes. Many industrial coating processes involve the application of a thin film of functional material to a substrate, such as paper, fabric, film, foil, or sheet stock. If the substrate starts and ends the process wound up in a roll, the process may be termed "roll-to-roll" or "web-based" coating. A roll of substrate, when wound through the coating machine, is typically called a web.
Numerous destructive and non-destructive evaluation (NDE) methods exist for characterizing coatings. The most common destructive method is microscopy of a mounted cross-section of the coating and its substrate. The most common non-destructive techniques include ultrasonic thickness measurement, X-ray fluorescence (XRF), and micro hardness indentation. X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) is also a classical characterization method to investigate the chemical composition of the nanometer thick surface layer of a material. Scanning electron microscopy coupled with energy dispersive X-ray spectrometry (SEM-EDX, or SEM-EDS) allows to visualize the surface texture and to probe its elementary chemical composition. Other characterization methods include transmission electron microscopy (TEM), atomic force microscopy (AFM), scanning tunneling microscope (STM), and Rutherford backscattering spectrometry (RBS).
The formulation of the coating depends primarily on the function of the coating and also on aesthetics required such as color and gloss. The four primary ingredients are the resin (or binder), solvent which maybe water (or solventless), pigment(s) and additives.
Coating processes may be classified as follows:
Main article: Chemical vapor deposition
Main article: Physical vapor deposition
Common roll-to-roll coating processes include: