The key difference between pearlescent and iridescent is that pearlescent means that an object has a pearl-like appearance in color or luster, whereas iridescent means that an object produces a display of lustrous, prismatic, and rainbow-like colors.
When a light beam hits a surface of an object, it can reflect back in different ways; sometimes, it only reflects back white color, but it sometimes reflects back in a range of colors. These effects are named pearlescence and iridescence, respectively.
1. Overview and Key Difference
2. What is Pearlescent
3. What is Iridescent
4. Pearlescent vs Iridescent in Tabular Form
5. Summary – Pearlescent vs Iridescent
What is Pearlescent?
Pearlescent refers to the ability of a surface to reflect light in white. In other words, the surface can only reflect light in white color, not in any other color. We can use this term to describe certain paint finishes, including the paints in the automotive industry. This effect is closely similar to iridescence, but these two effects produce different appearances.
A surface of a certain object can cause the reflection of incident light. The light is reflected back in different colors. However, in the case of pearlescence, all the light is reflected only in white color. Moreover, artificial pigments and paints that show an iridescent effect can be described as pearlescent paints or pigments, e.g., car paints.
What is Iridescent?
Iridescent refers to the ability of some surfaces to appear as a gradual change in color upon the angle of view is changed. In other words, iridescence means the change of appearance of a surface when we look at it from different angles. For example, a soap bubble shows different colors when we look at them from different angles. This feature is known as iridescence.
There are more examples of iridescence in nature, including feathers, butterfly wings, certain minerals, seashell nacre, etc. Often, it can be created by structural coloration. This means iridescent surfaces are created when microstructures interfere with light.
We can describe iridescence as an optical phenomenon of surfaces that occurs with the change of the angle of illumination. This is caused by multiple reflections from two or more semi-transparent surfaces. Here, phase shift and interference of the reflections modulate the incidental light. Moreover, the thickness of the layers of the material can determine the pattern of interference. For example, this effect can happen due to thin-film interference.
We can observe iridescence in some plants, animals, and many other items. However, the range of colors that appear from a surface can be narrow, e.g., some surfaces reflect only two or three colors upon viewing from different angles.
What is the Difference Between Pearlescent and Iridescent?
Light is electromagnetic radiation that can hit a surface and reflect back at different angles and in different colors. Pearlescence and iridescence are two such ways that light can reflect back. The key difference between pearlescent and iridescent is that pearlescent surfaces create a pearl-like appearance in color or luster, while iridescent surfaces create a display of lustrous, prismatic, and rainbow-like colors. In other words, pearlescence reflects only white color, while iridescence can produce two, three, or more colors.
The below infographic presents the differences between pearlescent and iridescent in tabular form for side-by-side comparison.
Summary – Pearlescent vs Iridescent
The key difference between pearlescent and iridescent is that pearlescent is the ability of a surface to reflect light in white, whereas iridescent is the ability of a surface to display lustrous, prismatic, and rainbow-like colors. Therefore, while pearlescence reflects only white color, iridescence can produce two, three, or more colors.
1. “Copying Iridescent Colors of Beetles.” ChemistryViews, 22 Apr. 2022.
1. “Soap Bubble – foliage background – iridescent colours – Traquair 040801” (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Diesel rainbow” By John (CC BY-SA 2.5) via Commons Wikimedia
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