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I refer to stain that is intentionally created, similar to how we stain wooden surfaces to make them look nicer.

I have mirror-like stainless steel strips, and I'd like to stain it to appear darker.

  • Q1. Which type of stains can I use? E.g. is any wood stain suitable?
  • Q2. Can I stain mirror-finish stainless steel strips? Should it brushed-finish? Or yet another finish?
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  • I wonder if you could paint it? It might require special technique or a special primer, but I'm sure someone on the internet knows how Sep 27 '21 at 14:20
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    Stain, by definition, is a penetrating colorant. Anything that resides on the surface isn't stain--it's a coating. Yes, you can paint steel with the right product and technique.
    – isherwood
    Sep 27 '21 at 15:21
  • I get your edits, @isherwood - they make complete sense. Unfortunately, they make the first paragraph of my answer somewhat nonsensical. Oh well, I took care of it on my end... ;)
    – FreeMan
    Sep 28 '21 at 11:13
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    Apologies. The post presented an XY question.
    – isherwood
    Sep 28 '21 at 12:38
  • No mater what you do, step one is giving it a scratch finish. You might be satisfied with that alone. And you'd better be because that's more or less an irreversible process.
    – Mazura
    Sep 28 '21 at 21:41
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(Note: original question asked about using wood stain on stainless steel.)
I doubt a wood stain would adhere to metal of any sort whatsoever, unless the metal was very rough and the stain settled into some of the depressions leaving some behind when the solvent evaporated. Even if it did, the color would be very succeptable to being scratched off because it simply wouldn't adhere in any meaningful way.
(End Note)

My initial thought was to recommend anodizing. However, according to this article*, you can't (effectively) anodize stainless (refer to the article for more details on that).

However, he does recommend, several paragraphs down, a couple of ways of coloring stainless steel:

“Flame Anodizing” or Heat Coloring

This goes by a few different names – temper coloring, heat coloring, heat anodizing, flame coloring… you get the idea.

He includes a color/temperature chart to get colors from "pale yellow" (550°F) to "dark blue" (1110°F) for 304 stainless. This may or may not be something you can achieve with accuracy at home.

About this method, he makes this note:

The cons? The coloring scratches and wears off super easy. Like you could softly scrape your car keys across the colored surface and it’d come right off. So if you want this to last somewhat longer, you might want to consider using some kind of clear coat.

He also recommends:

Hard Coating (Ceramic, etc)

This is my preferred way to color stainless steel. There are a lot of options and great products out there...

He suggests, but doesn't highly recommend:

Painting

This is the “economy” way of coloring stainless. While there are some expensive paints out there, the large majority are uncomfortably budget friendly with performance to match.

Note that this is different than "staining", especially with a stain designed for wood.

He wraps up with:

Black Oxide

Usually this is a process done to regular steel to make it more corrosion resistance, but you can also do it to stainless. This is definitely a possibility if you’re just wanting to make the stainless black.


*Quite literally the first response in my search for "anodize stainless steel". I cannot vouch for its accuracy or quality. All facts, figures and quotes taken from that article.
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  • Depending on desired "even-ness" of color, you can simply torch to a color you like.
    – Ecnerwal
    Sep 27 '21 at 15:50
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    That was option #1. ;)
    – FreeMan
    Sep 27 '21 at 15:55
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    Yes, and I upvoted for it. But just to clarify that you don't need a temperature-controlled oven unless you are trying for some sort of production-level evenness of coloration.
    – Ecnerwal
    Sep 27 '21 at 15:58
  • "Painting" should probably include powder-coating (resin-based). This can be a reasonable option on some parts
    – Chris H
    Sep 27 '21 at 15:59
  • @Ecnerwal thanks. The linked article has a bit of detail on doing it with a torch, I figured that my summary was sufficient for the answer here. Your point is valid and stands.
    – FreeMan
    Sep 27 '21 at 16:03
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Another option is powder coating. This is a process in which an even coating of powder is electrostatically applied to a metal part, then baked in an oven to cure it. It's usually a hard wearing coating, and comes in a variety of finishes. There are translucent powder coatings available, including in smoke grey gloss, that would give you the darkening effect you're after.

Powder coating can be applied to small or large parts, and can be quite cost-effective. It's not something you're likely to be doing at home though.

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  • Does not coffee: "Powder coating can be applied to small or large parts, and doesn't can be quite cost-effective. It's not something you're likely to be doing at , and you get a vite from me home though.". Take 2?
    – FreeMan
    Sep 28 '21 at 11:11
  • @FreeMan very strange. Some of that was typed in a comment box, not the answer box. Fixing now. Even stranger - 2 separate insertions
    – Chris H
    Sep 28 '21 at 11:54
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    That's what you get for posting while (not) drinking (coffee)! lol... No worries. It's always easier to see other's mistakes than my own.
    – FreeMan
    Sep 28 '21 at 11:58
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    @FreeMan that was posted during my morning coffee - I think I should have swapped hands
    – Chris H
    Sep 28 '21 at 12:06
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If these strips are removable, you could consider using a hydro-dip process to create almost any surface coloration, as well as a substantial number of patterns. "Hydro dipping" is the process of applying a specially-prepared film to a surface.

hydro-dip metal coloration

Above image taken from linked site. This is on the linked page as "metal" film for which there are 8 total designs available.

wood grain coloration

This image from the same site is from the wood grain collection, one of a choice of thirty.

I have no affiliation with the site, randomly picked from a search for hydro-dip.

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