Transforming ordinary to extraordinary

By Jeff Winke

Beautiful, affordable, and functional are adjectives used by many when describing decorative asphalt pavement. It is a way of transforming the appearance of gray-black asphalt pavement through color, graphics, and/or texture.

“There are basically two options for decorative pavement — imprinted or stamped asphalt or a painted / coated surface,” stated Krystal Strassman, marketing manager / project estimator with DRS Paving, Fitchburg, Wis. “The starting point is a high-quality finished asphalt paved surface. With a solid, finished asphalt base, dramatic impact can be added.”

Imprinted or Stamped Asphalt
A smooth asphalt pavement surface can be transformed to have the appearance of brick, cobblestone, or granite without the arduous installation and the concern for damage of the materials while installing. The finished result is a seamless surface, just like starting asphalt surface. This means the decorative pavement surface is relatively low maintenance. It avoids the problems of having grass or weeds growing up between the paving bricks or slabs of stone. Additionally, there is a reduced risk of water penetration that could deteriorate the surface, especially in colder climates with freeze-thaw issues.

Generally, the paved asphalt surface is heated to soften it before a metal grid with the brick or stone paver pattern is applied with force to create the look. An infrared panel can heat existing pavement to 30 times the temperature of new asphalt to soften it and make it easier for imprinting or stamping.

“Be patient when imprinting or stamping, since fixing a mistake can be very expensive,” Strassman said. “If the grid pattern gets off kilter, the rework can eat up the profit margin on a job. You need to make sure the grid pattern matches up perfectly — we recommend overlapping the grid during the application process to ensure the consistency and accuracy you want.”

Achieving the look of a historic brick-paved or cobblestone road can be achieved faster and easier than laying individual paving bricks or placing the cobblestone. It helps to meet commercial and municipal needs for decorative pavement that is durable, economical and maintainable. Imprinted or stamped pavement is used around the world in all types of climates.

It is unaffected by road salt and does not tend to absorb oil. Virtually invisible repairs can be made to cracks, tree root problems, settling after new building construction or mechanical damage. No annual maintenance is required; just the proper installation of a base of high quality asphalt pavement.

Specifically, the process of imprinting or stamping asphalt begins with the pattern. Steel or woven wire templates are pre-formed into the desired design. The templates are laid out on the hot or reheated asphalt surface, which is at 170°F.

Once in place, a vibrating plate compactor is then placed across the pattern. After compaction, the templates are removed and an even 3/8” imprint is left in the asphalt surface, creating a uniform, seamless pattern.

After the stamping process, an acrylic based paint coating is applied via roller or spray adding color.

Painted / Coated Surface
There are many reasons for coloring asphalt pavement. These include reduction of surface temperatures (cool pavement) to reduce urban island heat, the aesthetic value that color brings to pavement, and providing vehicle and pedestrian flow through color-coded pavement areas such as bus lanes, bike lanes, walking paths, taxi/Uber/Lyft pick-up stands, and handicap parking to name a few.

Color can be achieved through an acrylic colorized asphalt pavement sealer which has been used for color coating parking lots, driveways, bus lanes, bike lanes and more.

“Our color system has been very popular for creating safe, non-slip areas in dry and wet conditions,” stated Jeff Gearheart, director of SportMaster Sport Surfaces, ThorWorks Industries, Sandusky, Ohio. “Many times, the decorative pavement sites are the focus areas at special events or businesses.”

Gearheart continued: “Lighter colors are in demand, and not only do they draw attention to the area, but they lower the pavement temperatures for increased comfort. For our bicycle lane product, the bright green coating was engineered to meet specific chromaticity ratings. This is important to the safety of bicyclists in road-side bike lanes. Studies have proven that fully colored bike lanes delineate the area, and makes it more likely that other vehicles will stay out of those zones.”

The painted / coated surface asphalt segment appears to be growing as more discover the useful applications.

“Coating projects are finding their way into school grounds, municipal public areas, and various other hardscapes that allow colorful artistic projects that use nothing but color,” said Gerry Oliver, operations manager with Pattern Paving Products, Fort Mill, S.C. “The equipment used for application has remained pretty much the same over the years with some small improvements on heating and spraying equipment.”

The Decorative Future
“Think of decorative pavement as a selling differentiator that can make you stand out from the competition,” Strassman said. “It’s not for everyone, but can provide an aesthetic option to a home or business property owner.”

For those considering entering the decorative asphalt pavement market, the experts offer some advice.

“First, ensure you are in a market that has interest in decorative products,” Oliver said.

As Strassman pointed out, “some high-end residential developments and office parks do not allow decorative pavement.”

It could be costly to the unknowing resident that their new beautiful imprinted brick-pattern driveway is in violation of the subdivision bylaws and needs to be returned to what it was before.

The experts appear to agree that the market should be entered nice and easy (like Ike and Tina Turner’s song Proud Mary).
As Oliver said: “Start small with the minimal amount of equipment and grow as you build the market.”

Strassman agreed: “Start out small. Don’t over invest in equipment and supplies. And keep in mind, decorative pavement also appears to do well when the economy / market is strong — if you’re entering an economic slump, decorative paving will be seen as an unnecessary expense.”

It also is helpful to have crew leaders and members that have an eye for detail. The details of a decorative pavement project are typically what make it succeed as standing out as being cohesive, striking, and memorable.

As with many artistic projects, the piece is signed. Many companies will include their corporate logo or the name of the subdivision in the decorative asphalt pavement as an appropriate statement of where the visitor is located.

Perhaps the most fitting way to conclude an article on decorative pavement is to see the diversity of finished projects. A visit to this Pinterest posting shows 190 examples of the beautiful use of decorative pavement:

Jeff Winke is a business and construction writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He can be reached through