Matte Pigment Powder

Guide to Pigment Types: Mineral, Earth, Synthetic, Organic, and Inorganic

Discover the distinctions between various pigment types, including mineral, earth, synthetic, organic, and inorganic pigments. Learn about their unique properties, applications, and importance in different industries. A comprehensive guide to understanding the world of pigments.

In this definitive guide to pigment types, we delve into the world of pigment types, exploring their characteristics, applications, and unique properties. As there is quite a bit of confusion around the different types of pigments and the terminology, we aim to provide a comprehensive overview that will not only help you understand the different pigment types but also empower you to make informed decisions for your artistic or industrial endeavours.

Understanding Pigments and Their Importance

Pigments are finely ground colorants used to impart colour to various materials, including paints, inks, plastics, cosmetics, and more. They play a vital role in the artistic, industrial, and manufacturing sectors, where the right choice of pigment can significantly impact the final outcome of a product or artwork.

Pigments can be categorized into different types based on their origin and properties. Its important to understand the differences between mineral, earth, synthetic, organic, and inorganic pigments, and understand their unique characteristics and applications, so as to choose the correct pigment for your application.

guide to pigment types

The Marvel of Mineral Pigments

Mineral pigments, sourced from naturally occurring minerals and rocks, have been used since ancient times for cave paintings and other early artworks.

Mineral pigments are known for their vibrant colours and excellent lightfastness, making them ideal for long-lasting artworks. They also offer good opacity and are relatively stable when exposed to light and heat.

Mineral pigments are obtained from various minerals, rocks, and ores. For example, ochre is derived from iron oxide, while genuine ultramarine is sourced from the precious gemstone lapis lazuli. Our ultramarine, however, is a synthetic pigment, created as a more cost-effective substitute.

Mineral pigments are inorganic and may be natural or synthetic.

We have a wide range of mineral pigments in stock now.

Earth Pigments: Natural and Versatile

Earth pigments, also known as natural pigments, earths andn ochres, are derived from naturally coloured clays and soils. They have been used since ancient times for painting and cosmetic purposes. These pigments have a unique softness and blend beautifully, making them popular among artists.  They are relatively lightfast and possess a unique granular texture, adding depth to paintings.

Earth pigments are found in regions with deposits of coloured clay and soil. All of our natural earth pigments are sourced from Europe, most commonly France, Italy and Cyprus.

Common earth pigments include sienna, ochre, and umber.

a. Ochre:

Ochre pigments come in yellow, red, or brown shades and have been used for millennia in cave paintings and traditional artworks. They offer excellent lightfastness and remain popular in contemporary art.

b. Sienna and Umber:

Sienna and umber pigments, with their warm reddish-brown and dark brown hues, respectively, are valued for their naturalness and versatility. They are widely used in oil paints, watercolours, and pastels.

Unraveling the World of Synthetic Pigments

Synthetic pigments are man-made pigments that have been created or processed in a lab. They were developed during the Industrial Revolution, leading to a wide range of colours that were previously unattainable from natural sources.  Synthetic pigments are manufactured by chemically altering different compounds, resulting in a vast palette of colours. For example, oxides can be fired in a kiln to change their colour. 

Synthetic pigments offer intense and consistent colours, making them popular choices for various applications. They are highly stable and resistant to fading, making them suitable for outdoor use and industrial applications.

Some common synthetic pigments include phthalocyanine blue and Azo Pigments.

a. Phthalocyanine Blue and Green:

Phthalocyanine pigments offer intense and bright blue and green colors, making them popular choices for various applications, including printing inks, plastics, and textiles.

b. Azo Pigments:

Azo pigments encompass a broad spectrum of colors, from yellows and oranges to reds and purples. They are widely used in paints, printing inks, and plastics.

We do not stock any of the more toxic synthetic pigments (e.g. cadmiums) and offer a range of alternatives that are sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Organic Pigments: Vibrancy from Living Matter

Organic pigments are derived from carbon-based compounds, often sourced from plants and animals. These pigments exhibit brilliant and diverse colours, making them popular choices for artists and designers. A famous organic pigment is Alizarin, extracted from the roots of the madder plant, known for its captivating red hue.

Organic pigments are usually bright, pure, light in weight and rich in tinting strength.

Organic pigments can be natural or synthetic, which is where some of the confusion comes in. The word ‘organic’ in relation to pigments is not the same as in the food industry, where it means ‘natural’.  ‘Organic’ refers to a pigment’s carbon content.  Originally, organic pigments were natural, but now many are synthetic, as the chemical processes allow for greater consistency, and they tend to be more lightfast.

Inorganic Pigments: Stability and Endurance

Inorganic pigments are composed of non-carbon compounds and are renowned for their stability and resistance to fading. They find extensive use in coatings, ceramics, and construction materials. Titanium dioxide white and chromium oxide green are common examples of popular inorganic pigments.

Inorganic pigments are often obtained from naturally occurring minerals or synthetically manufactured metal oxides. Inorganic pigments are often the more ‘natural’ alternatives in the pigment world, again leading to much confusion!

Inorganic pigments are valued for their excellent lightfastness and resistance to chemicals and environmental factors. They are usually more opaque and offer stable colours, and are commonly used in products that require durability.

Choosing the Right Pigment for Your Needs

Selecting the perfect pigment for your specific project requires careful consideration of factors such as opacity, lightfastness, chemical stability, and intended application. By understanding the unique properties of each pigment type, you can make informed decisions to achieve the desired results. Each of our product pages provides information on the pigment’s origin, type, lightfastness and tinting strength.

Pigment Safety and Sustainability

While pigments enrich our lives, it is essential to consider their environmental and health impact.

We do not stock any pigments that contain toxic elements or harmful chemicals.  We have eco-friendly and sustainable alternatives to the more toxic pigments and encourage you to try our sustainable pigment options.


In conclusion, understanding pigment types and their characteristics is essential for any artist, manufacturer, or individual seeking to enhance their creations with vibrant and long-lasting colors. By exploring the diverse world of mineral, earth, synthetic, organic, and inorganic pigments, you can unleash your creativity and elevate the visual appeal of your projects. Remember to choose your pigments wisely, as they can be the key to unlocking artistic brilliance and success in various applications.

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