Viscosity is an important property of fluids which describes a liquids resistance to flow and is related to the internal friction within the fluid. The most common type of flow behavior is shear flow where layers of fluid move relative to each another in response to a shearing force. This external force takes the form of a shear stress which is defined as the force acting over a unit area of fluid and results in a velocity gradient across the thickness of sample termed the shear rate. The shear viscosity or dynamic viscosity related to this process is given by the ratio of the shear stress to the shear rate as illustrated below.

Non-Newtonian fluids

Many simple fluids are classed as Newtonian meaning their viscosity is independent of the amount of shear applied. Examples would be water and simple hydrocarbons. As fluid complexity increases, for example by the inclusion of bubbles, droplets, particles or polymers, fluids may take on more complex behavior and show a non-Newtonian response, where viscosity depends on the amount of applied shear. These types of fluids are generally called structured fluids or complex fluids and their behavior can be better described using a rheometer which can measure a range of viscosities over a wider range of shear rates, shear stress and temperature than a simple viscometer.

Such non-Newtonian behavior is common for many industrial and commercial products including toothpaste, mayonnaise, paints, cosmetics and cements, which are generally shear thinning fluids, where viscosity decreases with increasing shear rate, although shear thickening can occur in some very structured fluids. 

Applications of viscosity 

For most products, the viscosity is required to be high at low shear rates to prevent sedimentation or slumping, but to thin down at higher shear rates to facilitate application or processing. Hence a single viscosity measurement is not sufficient to describe the viscosity of such materials and the viscosity should be measured over a range of shear rates or stresses, or at least at a shear rate relevant for the process or application of interest. Non-Newtonian fluids may also show other phenomenon such as yield stress, thixotropy and viscoelasticity that can have a major impact on material behavior and product performance.


Other viscosity parameters which are related to dispersions are the relative viscosity, specific viscosity and intrinsic viscosity, which can give a measure of the solute or dispersed phase contribution to the viscosity of a solution or dispersion. These parameters are most easily determined using a differential viscometer such as that used with the OMNISEC Gel Permeation Chromatography (GPC) system.

While simple viscometers are often sufficient to describe the performance of Newtonian liquids over a narrow range or shear rates, for non-Newtonian fluids and for those applications where an extended shear rate range needs to be evaluated, more advanced viscometers and rheometers are required. Malvern Panalytical offer a range of advanced viscometers and rheometers for meeting these requirements which can be used for;

  • Viscosity profiling of non-Newtonian shear-dependent fluids to simulate processing or in-use conditions.
  • Viscoelastic fingerprinting of materials to determine the extent of solid-like or liquid-like behavior.
  • Optimizing and assessing dispersion stability.
  • Determination of thixotropy of paints and coatings for product application and final finish quality.
  • Impact of molecular architecture of polymers on viscoelasticity for processing and end-use performance.
  • Benchmarking Food and Personal Care products for ability to pump or spread.
  • Full cure profiling for bonding or gelling systems.
  • Pre-formulation screening for therapeutics, particularly biopharmaceuticals.