Rublev Colours Bone Black Pigment - Natural, Historical Black Carbon Pigment | Natural Pigments

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Bone black, a high-quality carbon pigment, is made from charring animal bones, resulting in a deep blue-black to brown-black hue. Although sometimes compared to ivory black, bone black is distinct in its composition and color. Unlike ivory black, traditionally made from charred ivory or animal horns, bone black is derived exclusively from animal bones, offering a unique depth and richness for artistic applications. This pigment is perfect for those seeking a historical and natural black color in their art. Learn More.

Bone black is an impure black carbon pigment prepared from charring animal bones. Bone black is described in the literature as a deep blue-black to brown-black color. It comprises 10% to 20% carbon, 80% calcium phosphate (hydroxyapatite), and smaller amounts of other inorganic minerals. A fine particle size and high carbon content grade of bone black is sold commercially as ivory black oil paint.

Rublev Colours Bone Black pigment is naturally derived from charring ground animal bones, namely bovine and porcine. We label it as an inorganic pigment to classify it in either of two categories: inorganic or organic pigments because the resulting product from bone char mainly consists of hydroxyapatite, calcium carbonate, and carbon, all of which are considered to be inorganic substances. Hydroxyapatite, also known as bone mineral, is a naturally occurring mineral form of calcium apatite. Although naturally derived, it is a synthetic substance since it has been altered by human intervention; namely, it was charred in a kiln. In reality, bone black still contains organic substances that are not entirely modified or vaporized by heating in a kiln.

Pigment Names
Current Names:English: bone black
Dutch: beender zwart
French: noir d'os
German: Beinschwarz
Italian: nero di osso
Portuguese: preto de osso
Russian: костяной черный
Spanish: negro de hueso
Synonyms:English: ivory black
Dutch: ivoor zwart
French: noir d'ivoire
German: Elfenbeinschwarz
Italian: nero d'avorio
Russian: слоновой кости черный
Spanish: negro de marfil
Alternate Names:English: animal black, animal charcoal, bone char, bone charcoal, drop black, ivory black, Frankfort black, German black, ossa sepiae, Paris black

Origin and History of Use

Numerous identifications of bone black are reported in the literature. Bone black has been identified in prehistoric paintings and found in Egyptian, Greek, and Roman art. It is found throughout European medieval and Renaissance art and later in oil and watercolor paintings until modern times.

Many old masters used bone black in their work. In Rembrandt’s paintings, the dark-colored umber might have been almost enough for the background shadows, but the black clothing worn by his sitters called for an intense black pigment.

In the 19th century, a fine grade of bone black was sold as ivory black, and an inferior grade was sold as Paris black.


Bone black is animal charcoal prepared from bones exposed to high temperatures (550° C.) without access to air. The bones are roasted in closed vessels. The ignition residue is a black matter, which, when reduced to powder, forms bone black, sometimes incorrectly called ivory black. Ivory, by carbonization, will furnish a black, which, because of its fineness and intensely black color, is more esteemed than the ordinary bone black, but it is unavailable today.

In manufacturing bone black, the bones are first boiled in water or a solvent to remove the fat and then subjected to destructive distillation in closed containers, vented to remove the ammonia, called bone spirit, and a dark, tarry liquid (bone oil). When the bones cease to release vapors, the residue is charred bone or bone black. Bone consists of protein collagen with inorganic matter. As a result of the decomposition of the animal matter in this destructive distillation, nitrogen and hydrogen, united as ammonia, and a part of the charcoal, in the form of carbonic acid gas, are distilled from the charred bones. In contrast, the remainder of the charcoal is left in the closed containers.

Carbon pigments formed by the pyrolysis of animal matter, such as ivory black and bone black, fall within the category of cokes as the protein collagen softens or liquefies before charring. Cokes are defined as carbonized matter from a precursor in a liquid or plastic state. Thus, they do not show evidence of their former structure but form irregular, porous lumps. Ivory and bone contain a high percentage of inorganic matter, elephant ivory about 55%. The inorganic components of this latter material are comprised of calcium phosphate (82%), magnesium phosphate (15%), and calcium phosphate (2%). Consequently, these pigments contain an even higher proportion of inorganic material, primarily hydroxyapatite, Ca5(OH)(PO4)3.

Maximilian Toch describes how ivory black differs from bone black, “Ivory black is prepared from charred ivory, and contains only about 20% of carbon black, the balance of it being phosphate of lime or bone material, but it is unlike any other black, on account of its intensity.” (Materials for Permanent Painting, p. 134) Today, ivory black is no longer made commercially, so pigments and paints named ivory black do not contain charred ivory but are a fine particle-size grade of bone black with a high carbon content.

Natural Pigments uses the term “bone black” to describe its grade of bone black pigment with a carbon content of about 10% and very fine particle size. Other manufacturers would typically designate this grade of bone black as “ivory black.”

Permanence and Compatibility

Bone black is a permanent color for all uses on the artist’s palette. The stable blue-black pigment is denser than carbon black and works well in oil paints and watercolors. It is compatible with all other pigments and can be used with good results in all mediums.

Oil Absorption and Grinding

Bone black absorbs a moderately high amount of oil. The oil absorption ratio is 46–49 parts by weight of linseed oil to 100 parts by weight of pigment. If the measurement were grams, it would require about 46 to 49 grams (by weight) of raw linseed oil to grind 100 grams (by weight) of bone black to form a stiff paste. It makes an average drying oil paint.


Bone black is not considered hazardous, but care should be taken in handling the dry powder pigment to avoid inhaling the dust.

Pigment Information
Colour Index:Pigment Black 9 (77267)
Chemical Name:Hydroxyapatite (calcium phosphate) and carbon
Chemical Formula:Ca5(OH)(PO4)3 and C
ASTM Lightfastness Rating
Physical Properties
Specific Gravity:2.52
Weight per Solid Gallon:20.99 lb.
Bulking Value:4.764 gal/100 lb.
Particle Size:3–15 microns
Oil Absorption:46–49 grams oil/100 grams pigment
Tinting Strength:134 ±2%
Masstone:*600 ±2%
Refractive Index:1.65–1.70
Chemical Properties
Carbon (C):9.6%
Carbon dioxide (CO2):1.3%
Sulfur trioxide (SO3):0.5%
Manganese dioxide (MgO2):0.5%
Iron (Fe):0.15%
Aluminum (Al):0.19%
Nitrogen (N):0.04%
Residue on Ignition:85.8%

* According to ASTM Method D210, matching cosmic black standards of jetness.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bone Black

How do you make bone black?

Bone black is made by charring animal bones in an environment with limited oxygen, a process known as pyrolysis. This process ensures that the bones do not burn completely but turn into carbonized material.

What is a synonym for bone black?

A common synonym for bone black is 'bone char.' It's also known as 'animal charcoal' or 'charred bone.' In artists' paints, it is also known as 'ivory black'.

What is bone black or ivory black?

Bone black and ivory black are similar pigments, but ivory black is made specifically from charred ivory or animal horns, while bone black is made from animal bones. Ivory black typically has a slightly warmer tone. However, ivory is not available today in legal commerce and hence the term 'ivory black' is fictitious when applied to commercial products, such as ivory black oil paint.

Frequently Asked Questions About Ivory Black

What is the equivalent of ivory black?

The closest equivalent to ivory black in modern art materials is a high-quality bone black pigment. Both provide a deep, rich black but bone black is more readily available and sustainable.

What black is closest to ivory black?

Bone black is the closest alternative to ivory black. It offers a similar depth of color and is suitable for the same artistic applications where a deep, rich black is desired.

What is the use of ivory black?

Ivory black, historically made from charred ivory, was used for its rich, deep black color in painting and drawing. Today, similar effects are achieved with bone black or other black pigments.

Is ivory black the same as lamp black?

No, ivory black and lamp black are different. Lamp black is made from soot, typically derived from burning oils or resins, and has a cooler, bluish tone (certain grades of lamp black exhibit a brownish tone) compared to the warmer tone of ivory black.

More Information
BrandRublev Colours
VendorNatural Pigments
Processing TimeUsually ships the next business day.
Pigment TypeInorganic, Natural
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