The present study examines the steady, axisymmetric Stokes flow past a sphere coated with a thin, immiscible fluid layer. Inertial effects are neglected for both the outer fluid and the fluid film, and surface tension forces are assumed large compared with the viscous forces which deform the fluid film. Furthermore, the present analysis assumes that the mechanism driving the fluid circulation within the film is not too large. From force equilibrium on the film we find that a steady fluid film can only partially cover the sphere, i.e. the film must be held to the sphere by surface tension forces at the contact line. The extent of the sphere covered by the film is specified, in terms of the solid–fluid contact angle, by the condition of global force equilibrium on the fluid film.
Using a perturbation scheme based on the thinness of the fluid layer the solution to the flow field is obtained analytically, except for the fluid-film profile (i.e. the fluid–fluid interface) which requires numerical calculations. One of the principal results is an expression for the drag force on the fluid-coated particle. In particular, we find that the drag on a sphere is reduced by the presence of a fluid coating when the ratio of the film fluid viscosity to the surrounding fluid viscosity is less than ¼. Detailed numerical computations are conducted for a few typical cases. The calculations show that a film of prescribed areal extent, i.e. specified contact angle, is only possible when the magnitude of the driving force on the film is below some maximum value. A simple experiment was also performed, and photographs, which qualitatively illustrate the fundamental fluid-film configurations predicted by the theory, are presented.