Pigments are finely ground colorants that change the color of reflected or transmitted light by absorbing certain spectrum wavelengths. Pigments differ from dyes in that they are insoluble in the medium in which they are mixed. They are used in paints and coatings as coloring agents. Pigments are also used to color food, personal care products, inks, and plastics.
Pigments can be natural or synthetic. Pigments are also organic or inorganic, meaning they are derived from organic chemicals such as petroleum or minerals, such as iron ore. Most historical pigments were derived from natural sources, such as rocks, plants, and insects. Modern pigments are made from mineral sources or petroleum. They also vary in toxicity—most are considered safe, while some are toxic.
You combine pigments with a binder to create colors in paint. Binders suspend the pigments and give paint adhesion to a substrate. Binders consist of resins, gums, or oils. Acrylic resins make acrylic paints. Acacia gum (gum arabic) is the binder in watercolor paints. The binder in oil paints is drying vegetable oils, such as linseed, walnut, and poppy oil.
Which pigments are natural, and which ones are synthetic? Learn how to determine which pigments are natural or synthetic.
Pigments in artists’ paint do not come in frequent contact with human skin and are less likely to be absorbed through the skin. On the other hand, pigments intended for cosmetics are applied to the skin, and those made for food are consumed. Learn how to choose pigments that are nontoxic for your application.
Discover which five natural pigments are among the most important in history. In this live streaming of the Art Materials Advisor, Tatiana shows five historical pigments that are found in the greatest masterpieces of art history but are no longer widely available. She explains their history, origin, and how you can obtain and use them today.
Join Tatiana Zaytseva as she demonstrates the working properties, tinting strength, and hue of natural yellow earth oil colors compared to mars yellow, synthetic yellow iron oxide in the Natural Pigments Art Materials Advisor episode.
Italy is a land of painters and popes, pasta and polenta, and medieval castles and alpine mountains. Most importantly, it is the land of romance. Italy is also a land rich in minerals from which many different colored pigments have historically been used in some of the world’s most important works of art. This article examines a few of the many earth colors available from Italy by Natural Pigments...
Pearlescent pigments are usually mica platelets, synthetic or natural that have been coated with titanium dioxide, iron oxide, or another metal oxide. Platelets of coated mica can vary in size, shape, and thickness. The degree of these characteristics and the thickness of the coating determine the color and appearance of the pigment. Additionally, thickness and the coarseness of the particles determine the sparkle...
White pigments consist of natural or synthetic inorganic pigments. Inorganic pigments are easier to disperse in most paint vehicles than organic pigments. Nevertheless, many white pigments undergo treatment to improve their dispersibility, lightfastness, and weather resistance. White pigments are used for white colors, tinting colors, and covering tones in paint...
Natural Pigments specially make Rublev Colours® natural mineral, organic, and historical powder pigments for artists. They are the same pigments used by ancient, medieval, and Renaissance painters. Each pigment can be used for different painting techniques. Whether a novice or an experienced painter, you’ll find Rublev Colours pigments well suited for use in aqueous mediums, such as egg and casein tempera, gum arabic (watercolor), hide glue (distemper), and acrylic dispersions. They perform equally well in oil and alkyd paint. Most are suitable for fresco and other painting techniques, such as encaustic.
Rublev Colours pigments are made directly from mineral and organic sources. Our geologist, who has many years of experience selecting minerals for pigments, travels to distant locations and hand-selects mineral ores for our pigments. We process the minerals by pulverizing, grinding, and levigating for use as fine artists’ pigments.
We travel worldwide to observe the growing and processing conditions of the natural materials used in our organic pigments. We inspect cochineal gatherings at cactus plantations in Mexico, madder roots in Turkey, indigo vats in India, and logwood trees growing in Honduras.
At Natural Pigments, we remove the mystery of pigments by disclosing their source and known composition. We want you to gain the same intimate knowledge that the old masters had when they made their paint with pigments.
Synthetic pigments today are made to serve the paint industry, in which producing paints for artists plays a minor role. To achieve maximum desirability in paint today, pigments are made homogenous in shape, size, and composition. For example, particle sizes are made as small as possible to increase the covering power of pigments. The smaller the particles, the more the color nuances of the pigment are reduced to its primary hue, as in inks with no texture. Particles that are homogenous in shape and size also tend not to settle quickly and separate from the binder during storage. This increases the shelf life and, thereby, the marketability of paint but reduces its beauty as a color for artists’ use. Anita Albus wrote in Art of Arts, “The result is not perfection, but sterility.”
Artists’ material manufacturers purchase most pigments from companies that mass-produce them for other uses. A few examples include ultramarine, cadmium, and phthalo colors. Oddly enough, painters are among the few artistic groups to succumb to economic pressures and use ready-made materials. Even in the applied arts, such as cooking, it is customary to produce their stocks and sauces, even though commercially-processed alternatives are available.
On the other hand, we make our pigments to specifications that maintain their best qualities and allow artists to refine them for their use. You can use them as they come out of the jar or grind them and separate them into different grades for special visual effects. As you become more aware of these possibilities, you will want to experiment, paying attention to how the pigments look and behave when mixed with your favorite binder—oil, acrylic, egg, lime, casein, collagen glue, or gum arabic.
A selection of the most important historical pigments, primarily natural minerals, available in the Rublev Colours assortment from Natural Pigments. Learn about the common misconceptions of historical pigments.
Azurite is the basic carbonate of copper and is found in many parts of the world in the upper oxidized portions of copper ore deposits along with malachite. Azurite varies in mass tone color from deep blue to pale blue with a greenish undertone. According to some authorities, azurite was found in paint pigment as early as the 4th Dynasty in Egypt. The particle size of azurite is maintained large to provide the deepest color possible because as it is ground to finer sizes, it loses some of its brilliance.
Lazurite is a rare mineral commonly found combined with other minerals, called lapis lazuli. We buy select pieces of lapis from one of the oldest lazurite mines in Badakhshan, Afghanistan, as well as mines near Lake Baikal, Russia, and the Cordillera Range of Chile. These pieces are finely ground and washed to obtain the highest purity and deepest blue hue. The raw lapis is crushed, ground, and cleaned in a series of steps, removing impurities, such as calcite, pyrite, diopside, and wollastonite, until a concentrate of lazurite crystals is derived.
Malachite is the basic carbonate of copper, described as a bright greenish blue or sometimes as a pale green mineral. The finer the pigment particle size is, the lighter green it becomes. Our malachite is obtained from mines in various parts of the world, such as Africa and Asia. Available in fine and coarse grades. Malachite is a mineral found in many parts of the world in dry or semiarid regions, usually near the surface, and is a good indicator of deeper copper deposits. Chemically, it is a combination of copper(II) carbonate and copper(II) hydroxide, Cu₂CO3(OH)₂.
Cinnabar, a dense red mineral, is the principal ore of mercury. It is a historical pigment well known to the Romans and has been widely used in China since the 3rd-millennium B.C.E. The natural mineral is said to be more stable than the manufactured pigment known as vermilion.
Vermilion was used extensively in easel and miniature painting throughout the Middle Ages until the end of the 19th century. The traditional use of red glazes of madder or cochineal lakes over cinnabar or vermilion underpainting not only increases the intensity of the color but also reduces the tendency of these lake pigments to fade. Our dry process vermilion is made in China by a recipe handed down through successive generations.
Glauconite is a greenish mineral of hydrated iron potassium silicate, known as green earth, varying from pale green and bluish-green to olive-green. We obtain green earth from Cyprus, Estonia, Italy, and Ukraine. The most famous deposit of green earth is found near Verona, Italy. Restorers have proven that the famous green pigments of past centuries known as terre verte are, in essence, the mineral glauconite. Hematite is a dark red iron oxide. We obtain hematite from iron ore deposits in England, France, Italy, Russia, and the U.S. It is a lustrous pigment of considerable tinting strength and opacity. Hematite is the principal-coloring agent in red ochers, such as Pozzuoli red, Venetian red, etc. These pigments contain hematite associated with varying amounts of clay, chalk, and silica.
Orpiment is yellow arsenic sulfide, a rare mineral usually described as a lemon or canary yellow or sometimes as a golden or brownish yellow. Our orpiment is from Kadamdzhaï in Kyrgyzstan. The modern name comes from the Latin auripigmentum, or golden pigment. It is a historical pigment identified on ancient Egyptian objects and paintings from the 31st Dynasty to the 6th century B.C.E. It is mentioned in Greek and Roman literary sources. The Leyden papyrus described its use in late Egyptian painting, as does the Mappae Clavicula in early medieval painting. The pigment has been described in various other manuscripts dating from the 12th to the 15th centuries.