block wall

This cement wall has been stamped to look like stone blocks

Although there are many ways to create coatings for outdoor walking surfaces like patios, sidewalks and pool side areas, concrete is still one of the most popular paving materials. It can even be sculpted as a cover layer for vertical structures, using  stucco, or being molded into shapes like fake rocks or sculptures. Cement need not be confined to the usual smooth gray surface. There are as many ways to add color and texture as your imagination will allow. Here are just some ideas you can use to texture and color concrete and other soft mixes (like plaster) you use in  your outdoor landscape.

Color can be applied while mixing up the cement. Usually it is provided by adding powdered pigments to attain the desired color. Mixing pigment into the cement itself will provide a long-lasting color that won’t wear off. When the concrete mixture is colored throughout, textures and patterns are added after the cement is poured. For surface color effects the texturing is usually done first.

One way to add texture to concrete is by scratching or scraping the surface of moist cement before it sets up. Sweeping or dotting the surface with the tips of a broom will leave interesting lines and dots impressed on the surface. Any other material pressed into the soft surface can stamp a texture. Use tools like spatulas, combs, notched trowels or putty knives to design curves, ribbons, lines or designs of your own. Or shop the wide range of preformed textural stamps available in building supply stores or online to simulate stone, pebbles, rock, wood or other surfaces. If you have an embossed design you like you can use it as a stamp, just like children like to press their hand prints into wet cement. Any stamp you use will need to be cleaned carefully each time you use it to keep the impression clear and accurate.

Another way to create texture is to embed material that will give an interesting surface. Tumbled glass, pebbles, or just about anything that is inorganic and won’t rust, corrode or create a sharp or dangerous edge can be impressed into the surface before the cement hardens. Some of these materials can even be mixed into the concrete itself then scraped over to expose the mixed in material. Smooth, recycled glass can be effective when done this way.

You can even use  three-dimensional effects by sculpting surfaces or embedding precast forms into the concrete. Using latex molds will allow you to create your own forms to mimic art sculptures, textural patterns or realistic stone surfaces. These work well on all kinds of cement surfaces including walls, edgings and even in creating fake rocks.

Surface coloring can be added by sprinkling or rubbing in powdered pigments. You can blend colors and create your own artistic effects. Other ways to add color onto textured cement are to use acid stains or outdoor paints made for concrete.

With the wealth of colors and textures available, you can make concrete look like other materials — wood, marble or plaster — or you can turn cement into an artistic medium to paint a permanent piece of art that will withstand the assault of outdoor weather. This can make cement into a useful medium for not only the usual large areas of outdoor paving, but also for smaller decorative items like counter tops, swimming pool rocks or creative fountains and sculptures.