A pigment is a material that changes the color of reflected or
transmitted light as the result of wavelength-selective absorption.
This physical process differs from fluorescence, phosphorescence, and
other forms of luminescence, in which a material emits light.
Many materials selectively absorb certain wavelengths of light.
Materials that humans have chosen and developed for use as pigments
usually have special properties that make them ideal for coloring
other materials. A pigment must have a high tinting strength relative
to the materials it colors. It must be stable in solid form at ambient
For industrial applications, as well as in the arts, permanence and
stability are desirable properties. Pigments that are not permanent
are called fugitive.
Fugitive pigments fade over time, or with
exposure to light, while some eventually blacken.
Pigments are used for coloring paint, ink, plastic, fabric, cosmetics,
food, and other materials. Most pigments used in manufacturing and the
visual arts are dry colorants, usually ground into a fine powder. This
powder is added to a binder (or vehicle), a relatively neutral or
colorless material that suspends the pigment and gives the paint its
A distinction is usually made between a pigment, which is insoluble in
its vehicle (resulting in a suspension), and a dye, which either is
itself a liquid or is soluble in its vehicle (resulting in a
solution). A colorant can act as either a pigment or a dye depending
on the vehicle involved. In some cases, a pigment can be manufactured
from a dye by precipitating a soluble dye with a metallic salt. The
resulting pigment is called a lake pigment. The term biological
pigment is used for all colored substances independent of their
In 2006, around 7.4 million tons of inorganic, organic and
special pigments were marketed worldwide. Asia has the highest rate on
a quantity basis followed by Europe and North America. By 2020,
revenues will have risen to approx. US$34.2 billion. The
global demand on pigments was roughly US$20.5 billion in 2009,
around 1.5-2% up from the previous year. It is predicted to increase
in a stable growth rate in the coming years. The worldwide sales are
said to increase up to US$24.5 billion in 2015, and reach
US$27.5 billion in 2018.
1 Physical basis
2.1 Development of synthetic pigments
2.2 New sources for historic pigments
Manufacturing and industrial standard
4 Scientific and technical issues
5.1 Printed swatches
5.3 Computer swatches
6 Biological pigments
7 Pigments by elemental composition
7.1 Metal-based pigments
7.2 Other inorganic pigments
7.3 Biological and organic
8 See also
11 External links
A wide variety of wavelengths (colors) encounter a pigment. This
pigment absorbs red and green light, but reflects blue, creating the
Pigments appear the colors they are because they selectively reflect
and absorb certain wavelengths of visible light.
White light is a
roughly equal mixture of the entire spectrum of visible light with a
wavelength in a range from about 375 or 400 nanometers to about 760 or
780 nm. When this light encounters a pigment, parts of the
spectrum are absorbed by the molecules or ions of the pigment. Organic
pigments such as diazo or phthalocyanine compounds featuree conjugated
systems of double bonds. Some of the inorganic pigments such as
vermilion (mercury sulfide) or cadmium yellow (cadmium sulfide) absorb
light by transferring an electron from the negative ion (S2−) to the
positive ion (Hg2+ or Cd2+). The other wavelengths or parts of the
spectrum are reflected or scattered. The new reflected light spectrum
creates the appearance of a color. Pigments, unlike fluorescent or
phosphorescent substances, can only subtract wavelengths from the
source light, never add new ones.
The appearance of pigments is intimately connected to the color of the
Sunlight has a high color temperature, and a fairly
uniform spectrum, and is considered a standard for white light.
Artificial light sources tend to have great peaks in some parts of
their spectrum, and deep valleys in others. Viewed under these
conditions, pigments will appear different colors.
Color spaces used to represent colors numerically must specify their
light source. Lab color measurements, unless otherwise noted, assume
that the measurement was taken under a D65 light source, or "Daylight
6500 K", which is roughly the color temperature of sunlight.
Sunlight encounters Rosco R80 "Primary Blue" pigment. The product of
the source spectrum and the reflectance spectrum of the pigment
results in the final spectrum, and the appearance of blue.
Other properties of a color, such as its saturation or lightness, may
be determined by the other substances that accompany pigments. Binders
and fillers added to pure pigment chemicals also have their own
reflection and absorption patterns, which can affect the final
spectrum. Likewise, in pigment/binder mixtures, individual rays of
light may not encounter pigment molecules, and may be reflected as is.
These stray rays of source light contribute to a slightly less
saturated color. Pure pigment allows very little white light to
escape, producing a highly saturated color. A small quantity of
pigment mixed with a lot of white binder, however, will appear
desaturated and pale, due to the high quantity of escaping white
Naturally occurring pigments such as ochres and iron oxides have been
used as colorants since prehistoric times. Archaeologists have
uncovered evidence that early humans used paint for aesthetic purposes
such as body decoration. Pigments and paint grinding equipment
believed to be between 350,000 and 400,000 years old have been
reported in a cave at Twin Rivers, near Lusaka, Zambia.
Before the Industrial Revolution, the range of color available for art
and decorative uses was technically limited. Most of the pigments in
use were earth and mineral pigments, or pigments of biological origin.
Pigments from unusual sources such as botanical materials, animal
waste, insects, and mollusks were harvested and traded over long
distances. Some colors were costly or impossible to obtain, given the
range of pigments that were available.
Blue and purple came to be
associated with royalty because of their rarity.
Biological pigments were often difficult to acquire, and the details
of their production were kept secret by the manufacturers. Tyrian
Purple is a pigment made from the mucus of one of several species of
Murex snail. Production of Tyrian
Purple for use as a fabric dye began
as early as 1200 BCE by the Phoenicians, and was continued by the
Greeks and Romans until 1453 CE, with the fall of Constantinople.
The pigment was expensive and complex to produce, and items colored
with it became associated with power and wealth. Greek historian
Theopompus, writing in the 4th century BCE, reported that "purple for
dyes fetched its weight in silver at Colophon [in Asia Minor]."
Mineral pigments were also traded over long distances. The only way to
achieve a deep rich blue was by using a semi-precious stone, lapis
lazuli, to produce a pigment known as ultramarine, and the best
sources of lapis were remote. Flemish painter Jan van Eyck, working in
the 15th century, did not ordinarily include blue in his paintings. To
have one's portrait commissioned and painted with ultramarine blue was
considered a great luxury. If a patron wanted blue, they were obliged
to pay extra. When Van Eyck used lapis, he never blended it with other
colors. Instead he applied it in pure form, almost as a decorative
glaze. The prohibitive price of lapis lazuli forced artists to seek
less expensive replacement pigments, both mineral (azurite, smalt) and
Miracle of the Slave by
Tintoretto (c. 1548). The son of a master
Red Lake pigment, derived from the
cochineal insect, to achieve dramatic color effects.
Spain's conquest of a New World empire in the 16th century introduced
new pigments and colors to peoples on both sides of the Atlantic.
Carmine, a dye and pigment derived from a parasitic insect found in
Central and South America, attained great status and value in Europe.
Produced from harvested, dried, and crushed cochineal insects, carmine
could be, and still is, used in fabric dye, food dye, body paint, or
in its solid lake form, almost any kind of paint or cosmetic.
According to Diana Magaloni, the Florentine Codex contains a variety
of illustrations with multiple variations of the red pigments.
Specifically in the case of achiotl (light red), technical analysis of
the paint reveals multiple layers of the pigment although the layers
of the pigment is not visible to the naked eye. Therefore, it proves
that the process of applying multiple layers is more significant in
comparison to the actual color itself. Furthermore, the process of
layering the various hues of the same pigment on top of each other
enabled the Aztec artists to create variations in the intensity of the
subject matter. A bolder application of pigment draws the viewer's eye
to the subject matter which commands attention and suggests a power of
the viewer. A weaker application of pigment commands less attention
and has less power. This would suggest that the Aztec associated the
intensity of pigments with the idea of power and life.
Peru had been producing cochineal dyes for textiles since
at least 700 CE, but Europeans had never seen the color before.
When the Spanish invaded the Aztec empire in what is now Mexico, they
were quick to exploit the color for new trade opportunities. Carmine
became the region's second most valuable export next to silver.
Pigments produced from the cochineal insect gave the Catholic
cardinals their vibrant robes and the English "Redcoats" their
distinctive uniforms. The true source of the pigment, an insect, was
kept secret until the 18th century, when biologists discovered the
Girl with a Pearl Earring by
Johannes Vermeer (c. 1665).
While carmine was popular in Europe, blue remained an exclusive color,
associated with wealth and status. The 17th-century Dutch master
Johannes Vermeer often made lavish use of lapis lazuli, along with
carmine and Indian yellow, in his vibrant paintings.
Development of synthetic pigments
The earliest known pigments were natural minerals. Natural iron oxides
give a range of colors and are found in many
Paleolithic and Neolithic
cave paintings. Two examples include
Red Ochre, anhydrous Fe2O3, and
the hydrated Yellow
Ochre (Fe2O3.H2O). Charcoal, or carbon black,
has also been used as a black pigment since prehistoric times.
Two of the first synthetic pigments were white lead (basic lead
carbonate, (PbCO3)2Pb(OH)2) and blue frit (Egyptian Blue). White
lead is made by combining lead with vinegar (acetic acid, CH3COOH) in
the presence of CO2.
Blue frit is calcium copper silicate and was made
from glass colored with a copper ore, such as malachite. These
pigments were used as early as the second millennium BCE Later
premodern additions to the range of synthetic pigments included
vermilion, verdigris and lead-tin-yellow.
The Industrial and Scientific Revolutions brought a huge expansion in
the range of synthetic pigments, pigments that are manufactured or
refined from naturally occurring materials, available both for
manufacturing and artistic expression. Because of the expense of lapis
lazuli, much effort went into finding a less costly blue pigment.
Prussian blue was the first modern synthetic pigment, discovered by
accident in 1704. By the early 19th century, synthetic and
metallic blue pigments had been added to the range of blues, including
French ultramarine, a synthetic form of lapis lazuli, and the various
Cobalt and Cerulean blue. In the early 20th century, organic
chemistry added Phthalo Blue, a synthetic, organometallic pigment with
overwhelming tinting power.
Self Portrait by Paul Cézanne. Working in the late 19th century,
Cézanne had a palette of colors that earlier generations of artists
could only have dreamed of.
Discoveries in color science created new industries and drove changes
in fashion and taste. The discovery in 1856 of mauveine, the first
aniline dye, was a forerunner for the development of hundreds of
synthetic dyes and pigments like azo and diazo compounds which are the
source of a wide spectrum of colors.
Mauveine was discovered by an
18-year-old chemist named William Henry Perkin, who went on to exploit
his discovery in industry and become wealthy. His success attracted a
generation of followers, as young scientists went into organic
chemistry to pursue riches. Within a few years, chemists had
synthesized a substitute for madder in the production of Alizarin
Crimson. By the closing decades of the 19th century, textiles, paints,
and other commodities in colors such as red, crimson, blue, and purple
had become affordable.
Development of chemical pigments and dyes helped bring new industrial
Germany and other countries in northern Europe, but it
brought dissolution and decline elsewhere. In Spain's former New World
empire, the production of cochineal colors employed thousands of
low-paid workers. The Spanish monopoly on cochineal production had
been worth a fortune until the early 19th century, when the Mexican
War of Independence and other market changes disrupted production.
Organic chemistry delivered the final blow for the cochineal color
industry. When chemists created inexpensive substitutes for carmine,
an industry and a way of life went into steep decline.
New sources for historic pigments
The Milkmaid by
Johannes Vermeer (c. 1658). Vermeer was lavish in his
choice of expensive pigments, including lead-tin-yellow, natural
ultramarine and madder lake, as shown in this vibrant painting.
Before the Industrial Revolution, many pigments were known by the
location where they were produced. Pigments based on minerals and
clays often bore the name of the city or region where they were mined.
Sienna and Burnt
Sienna came from Siena, Italy, while Raw Umber
Burnt Umber came from Umbria. These pigments were among the
easiest to synthesize, and chemists created modern colors based on the
originals that were more consistent than colors mined from the
original ore bodies. But the place names remained.
Historically and culturally, many famous natural pigments have been
replaced with synthetic pigments, while retaining historic names. In
some cases, the original color name has shifted in meaning, as a
historic name has been applied to a popular modern color. By
convention, a contemporary mixture of pigments that replaces a
historical pigment is indicated by calling the resulting color a hue,
but manufacturers are not always careful in maintaining this
distinction. The following examples illustrate the shifting nature of
historic pigment names:
Titian used the historic pigment
Vermilion to create the reds in the
oil painting of Assunta, completed c. 1518.
Indian Yellow was once produced by collecting the urine of cattle that
had been fed only mango leaves. Dutch and Flemish painters of the
17th and 18th centuries favored it for its luminescent qualities, and
often used it to represent sunlight. Since mango
leaves are nutritionally inadequate for cattle, the practice of
Indian Yellow was eventually declared to be inhumane.
Modern hues of
Indian Yellow are made from synthetic pigments.
Ultramarine, originally the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli, has been
replaced by an inexpensive modern synthetic pigment, French
Ultramarine, manufactured from aluminium silicate with sulfur
impurities. At the same time, Royal Blue, another name once given to
tints produced from lapis lazuli, has evolved to signify a much
lighter and brighter color, and is usually mixed from Phthalo
titanium dioxide, or from inexpensive synthetic blue dyes. Since
synthetic ultramarine is chemically identical with lapis lazuli, the
"hue" designation is not used. French Blue, yet another historic name
for ultramarine, was adopted by the textile and apparel industry as a
color name in the 1990s, and was applied to a shade of blue that has
nothing in common with the historic pigment ultramarine.
Vermilion, a toxic mercury compound favored for its deep red-orange
color by old master painters such as Titian, has been replaced in
painters' palettes by various modern pigments, including cadmium reds.
Vermilion paint can still be purchased for fine arts
and art conservation applications, few manufacturers make it, because
of legal liability issues. Few artists buy it, because it has been
superseded by modern pigments that are both less expensive and less
toxic, as well as less reactive with other pigments. As a result,
Vermilion is almost unavailable. Modern vermilion colors are
properly designated as
Hue to distinguish them from genuine
Manufacturing and industrial standard
Pigments for sale at a market stall in Goa, India.
Before the development of synthetic pigments, and the refinement of
techniques for extracting mineral pigments, batches of color were
often inconsistent. With the development of a modern color industry,
manufacturers and professionals have cooperated to create
international standards for identifying, producing, measuring, and
First published in 1905, the
Munsell color system
Munsell color system became the
foundation for a series of color models, providing objective methods
for the measurement of color. The Munsell system describes a color in
three dimensions, hue, value (lightness), and chroma (color purity),
where chroma is the difference from gray at a given hue and value.
By the middle 20th century, standardized methods for pigment chemistry
were available, part of an international movement to create such
standards in industry. The International Organization for
Standardization (ISO) develops technical standards for the manufacture
of pigments and dyes. ISO standards define various industrial and
chemical properties, and how to test for them. The principal ISO
standards that relate to all pigments are as follows:
ISO-787 General methods of test for pigments and extenders.
ISO-8780 Methods of dispersion for assessment of dispersion
Other ISO standards pertain to particular classes or categories of
pigments, based on their chemical composition, such as ultramarine
pigments, titanium dioxide, iron oxide pigments, and so forth.
Many manufacturers of paints, inks, textiles, plastics, and colors
have voluntarily adopted the
Colour Index International (CII) as a
standard for identifying the pigments that they use in manufacturing
particular colors. First published in 1925, and now published jointly
on the web by the
Society of Dyers and Colourists (United Kingdom) and
the American Association of
Textile Chemists and Colorists (USA), this
index is recognized internationally as the authoritative reference on
colorants. It encompasses more than 27,000 products under more than
13,000 generic color index names.
In the CII schema, each pigment has a generic index number that
identifies it chemically, regardless of proprietary and historic
names. For example,
Blue BN has been known by a variety
of generic and proprietary names since its discovery in the 1930s. In
much of Europe, phthalocyanine blue is better known as Helio Blue, or
by a proprietary name such as Winsor Blue. An American paint
manufacturer, Grumbacher, registered an alternate spelling (Thanos
Blue) as a trademark.
Colour Index International resolves all these
conflicting historic, generic, and proprietary names so that
manufacturers and consumers can identify the pigment (or dye) used in
a particular color product. In the CII, all phthalocyanine blue
pigments are designated by a generic color index number as either PB15
or PB16, short for pigment blue 15 and pigment blue 16; these two
numbers reflect slight variations in molecular structure that produce
a slightly more greenish or reddish blue.
Scientific and technical issues
Selection of a pigment for a particular application is determined by
cost, and by the physical properties and attributes of the pigment
itself. For example, a pigment that is used to color glass must have
very high heat stability in order to survive the manufacturing
process; but, suspended in the glass vehicle, its resistance to alkali
or acidic materials is not an issue. In artistic paint, heat stability
is less important, while lightfastness and toxicity are greater
The following are some of the attributes of pigments that determine
their suitability for particular manufacturing processes and
Lightfastness and sensitivity for damage from ultraviolet light
Opacity or transparency
Resistance to alkalis and acids
Reactions and interactions between pigments
Swatches are used to communicate colors accurately. For different
media like printing, computers, plastics, and textiles, different type
of swatches are used. Generally, the medium which offers the broadest
gamut of color shades is widely used across different media.
There are many reference standards providing printed swatches of color
shades. PANTONE, RAL, Munsell etc. are widely used standards of color
communication across different media like printing, plastics, and
Companies manufacturing color masterbatches and pigments for plastics
offer plastic swatches in injection molded color chips. These color
chips are supplied to the designer or customer to choose and select
the color for their specific plastic products.
Plastic swatches are available in various special effects like pearl,
metallic, fluorescent, sparkle, mosaic etc. However, these effects are
difficult to replicate on other media like print and computer display.
wherein they have created plastic swatches on website by 3D modelling
to including various special effects.
Pure pigments reflect light in a very specific way that cannot be
precisely duplicated by the discrete light emitters in a computer
display. However, by making careful measurements of pigments, close
approximations can be made. The Munsell
Color System provides a good
conceptual explanation of what is missing. Munsell devised a system
that provides an objective measure of color in three dimensions: hue,
value (or lightness), and chroma. Computer displays in general are
unable to show the true chroma of many pigments, but the hue and
lightness can be reproduced with relative accuracy. However, when the
gamma of a computer display deviates from the reference value, the hue
is also systematically biased.
The following approximations assume a display device at gamma 2.2,
using the sRGB color space. The further a display device deviates from
these standards, the less accurate these swatches will be.
Swatches are based on the average measurements of several lots of
single-pigment watercolor paints, converted from
Lab color space
Lab color space to
sRGB color space for viewing on a computer display. Different brands
and lots of the same pigment may vary in color. Furthermore, pigments
have inherently complex reflectance spectra that will render their
color appearance greatly different depending on the spectrum of
the source illumination, a property called metamerism. Averaged
measurements of pigment samples will only yield approximations of
their true appearance under a specific source of illumination.
Computer display systems use a technique called chromatic adaptation
transforms to emulate the correlated color temperature of
illumination sources, and cannot perfectly reproduce the intricate
spectral combinations originally seen. In many cases, the perceived
color of a pigment falls outside of the gamut of computer displays and
a method called gamut mapping is used to approximate the true
Gamut mapping trades off any one of lightness, hue, or
saturation accuracy to render the color on screen, depending on the
priority chosen in the conversion's ICC rendering intent.
PR106 – #E34234
PB29 – #003BAF
PB27 – #0B3E66
Main article: Biological pigment
In biology, a pigment is any colored material of plant or animal
cells. Many biological structures, such as skin, eyes, fur, and hair
contain pigments (such as melanin). Animal skin coloration often comes
about through specialized cells called chromatophores, which animals
such as the octopus and chameleon can control to vary the animal's
color. Many conditions affect the levels or nature of pigments in
plant, animal, some protista, or fungus cells. For instance, the
disorder called albinism affects the level of melanin production in
Pigmentation in organisms serves many biological purposes, including
camouflage, mimicry, aposematism (warning), sexual selection and other
forms of signalling, photosynthesis (in plants), as well as basic
physical purposes such as protection from sunburn.
Pigment color differs from structural color in that pigment color is
the same for all viewing angles, whereas structural color is the
result of selective reflection or iridescence, usually because of
multilayer structures. For example, butterfly wings typically contain
structural color, although many butterflies have cells that contain
pigment as well.
Pigments by elemental composition
Transition metal compounds. From left to right, aqueous solutions of:
2 (red); K
7 (orange); K
4 (yellow); NiCl
2 (turquoise); CuSO
4 (blue); KMnO
Main article: List of inorganic pigments
Cadmium pigments: cadmium yellow, cadmium red, cadmium green, cadmium
orange, cadmium sulfoselenide
Chromium pigments: chrome yellow and chrome green (viridian)
Cobalt pigments: cobalt violet, cobalt blue, cerulean blue, aureolin
Copper pigments: Azurite, Han purple, Han blue, Egyptian blue,
Malachite, Paris green,
Iron oxide pigments: sanguine, caput mortuum, oxide red, red ochre,
Venetian red, Prussian blue
Lead pigments: lead white, cremnitz white, Naples yellow, red lead,
Manganese pigments: manganese violet
Mercury pigments: vermilion
Titanium pigments: titanium yellow, titanium beige, titanium white,
Zinc pigments: zinc white, zinc ferrite, zinc yellow
Other inorganic pigments
Carbon pigments: carbon black (including vine blac, lamp black), ivory
black (bone char)
Clay earth pigments (iron oxides): yellow ochre, raw sienna, burnt
sienna, raw umber, burnt umber.
Ultramarine pigments: ultramarine, ultramarine green shade
Biological and organic
Biological origins: alizarin (synthesized), alizarin crimson
(synthesized), gamboge, cochineal red, rose madder, indigo, Indian
yellow, Tyrian purple
Non biological organic: quinacridone, magenta, phthalo green, phthalo
blue, pigment red 170, diarylide yellow
Stone Age art
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Espionage, and the Quest for the
Color of Desire. HarperCollins.
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Lead white Archived 25 December 2015 at the Wayback Machine. at
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NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-02386-7.
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Pigments.
Pigments through the ages
Meyrs, G.D., An Artists
Pigment Reference with
Color Index Numbers and Chemical Composition
Earliest evidence of art found
Sarah Lowengard,The Creation of
Color in Eighteenth-century Europe,
Columbia University Press, 2006
Phillip Ball, (audio) On Chemistry and Colour in Art
An Overview on a
Pigment Phthalo Green Organic Pigments
Pigment Science and the Art of Conservation on
YouTube, Chemical Heritage Foundation
Poisons and Pigments: A
Talk with Art Historian Elisabeth Berry-Drago
on YouTube, Chemical Heritage Foundation
New Stone Age
New World crops
Ard / plough
Mortar and pestle
Bow and arrow
Game drive system
Langdale axe industry
British megalith architecture
Nordic megalith architecture
Neolithic long house
Abri de la Madeleine
Alp pile dwellings
Wattle and daub
Megalithic architectural elements
Arts and culture
Art of the Upper Paleolithic
Art of the Middle Paleolithic
Stone Age art
Bradshaw rock paintings
Carved Stone Balls
Cup and ring mark
British Isles and Brittany
Mound Builders culture
Stone box grave
Unchambered long cairn
Origin of language
Divje Babe flute
Origin of religion
Spiritual drug use