Colour Pigments
Types, History: Oil Paint Colours, Lakes, Glazes.

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Fine Art Colour Pigments

Champs de Ble and Restaurant at Bougival
(1905-6) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
By the great colourist Maurice de Vlaminck.

See below for an A-Z List of the best-known artist-colours, lakes and glazes. It includes traditional pigments used by prehistoric cave painters and artists from Ancient Antiquity, as well as colours which appeared in palettes of the Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Impressionist periods. Since the late-19th century, the majority of pigments employed by most painters are improved synthetic variants of older colours. Nowadays, most natural colourants are obsolete, an exception being the costly Ultramarine, made from the precious Lapis Lazuli. Modern artificial colours tend to be more lightfast, more permanent, more intense and considerably cheaper and safer to use. It's amazing how many of the older pigments (both natural and early synthetic variants) were highly toxic compounds containing lead, mercury, chrome, arsenic - even cyanide. Given the workaholic nature of many Old Masters and modern-era painters, one wonders how many of them were adversely affected by constant contact with such unhealthy chemical colourants.

Alizarin Crimson
Alizarin Crimson is the synthetic version of the pigment found in Madder plants. It was first synthesized in 1868 by the German chemists, Grabe and Lieberman, as a more lightfast substitute to Rose Madder. Madder lakes, which were produced in a variety of shades of red, from brownish to purplish to bluish, made good glazing colours that spread well in oil, and were also prepared in a form for use in watercolour painting. However, some painters found that the synthetic variety was less saturated and brilliant than natural Madder. Moreover, late 20th-century tests revealed that Alizarin Crimson pigment was much less lightfast than its natural parent.
Antimony Vermilion
A brightly coloured, lightfast pigment whose reputation suffered in the mid-19th century as it reacts with lead pigments and turns black. Now obsolete.
Antwerp Blue
A variant of Prussian Blue, containing 75 percent extender. Not a reliable pigment. Now obsolete.
Asphaltum comprises a solution of asphalt in oil or turpentine, which has been employed since Antiquity, if not earlier, as a protective coating. Rembrandt, for instance, is said to have used Asphaltum successfully in a number of his paintings. It was later used to give an "Old Master" look to canvases. Unfortunately, in some cases it caused noticeable darkening and cracking. It persisted as a pigment until the end of the 19th century. Now obsolete.
Atramentum (Atramentum Librarium)
An old generic type of term referring to the colour of ink - mainly blacks, but also reds, greens, and violets which were the traditional colours used by classical artists and calligraphers.
Also known as Cobalt Yellow, Aureolin superceded Gamboge, an earlier pigment which was an Asian yellow gum in used until the 19th century. Aureolin - an intense medium yellow pigment - was synthesized in 1848 by N.W. Fischer in Germany, and was employed in oil and watercolour painting until the late 19th century, when less expensive, and more lightfast pigments (eg. the Cadmiums) were introduced.
A greenish blue pigment named after the Persian word "lazhward" meaning "blue", it is chemically close to the green colourant malachite. Azurite was known from Ancient times and became extremely popular during the Middle Ages and Renaissance era, as Egyptian Blue declined. Used in oil painting, it performed best as a water-based pigment and was often employed in Tempera paint under an oil glaze. Superceded by Prussian blue in the early 18th century, and rendered obsolete after the synthesisation of Ultramarine and the development of Cobalt Blue.
Barium Yellow
A relatively opaque white-yellow pigment, it is a form of Barium Chromate, and is also known as Lemon Yellow. Permanent in most media, it performed best in watercolour paints. Now obsolete.
Bismuth White
Developed in the early 19th century it was replaced by Zinc White by the 1830s. It had the advantage of being much less toxic than many other colours, but it was prone to darkening when combined with pigments containing sulfur.
An unreliable brown pigment made by burning Beech wood. Now obsolete.
See Carbon Black (below).
A form of natural red iron oxide. The closest modern pigment to Bole would be light red in colour. Now obsolete.
Bone White

Obsolete; it was made by burning bones to a white ash. Cennino Cennini in his Il Libro dell'Arte says 'the best bones are from the second joints and wings of fowls and capons; the older they are, the better; put them into the fire just as you find them under the table.' It was used as a ground for panels.
Bremen Blue
A synthetic copper blue pigment without the permanency of Azurite. It was manufactured in numerous shades and had many common names. Used until the early 20th century, mainly because of its attractive hue.
Burnt Carmine
A fugitive dark red type of Carmine but less permanent. After roasting it was typically mixed with Van Dyke Brown to obtain the richest shades. Now obsolete.
Burnt Sienna
An iron oxide pigment, coloured a warm mid-brown. Made by burning raw sienna (Terra di Sienna).
Burnt Umber
See Umber (below).
Cadmium Pigments
A family of pigments based on the metal cadmium, in hues of yellow, orange and red. Cadmium yellow is cadmium sulfide, to which increasing amounts of selenium may be added to extend the colour-range. Viridian is added to Cadmium yellow to produce the bright, pale green pigment cadmium green. The brightness of Cadmium colours tends to fade in murals and fresco painting. Although Cadmium was discovered by Stromeyer in 1817, production of pigments was delayed until after 1840 due to scarcity of the metal. All of the cadmiums possessed great colour brilliance with the deeper shades having the greatest tinting strength. Cadmium pigments were used in both oil painting and watercolour but could not be combined with copper-based pigments.
Cadmium Orange
See Cadmium Pigments (above).
Cadmium Yellow
See Cadmium Pigments (above).
Carbon Black
An ancient black pigment, it was traditionally made by charring organic materials like wood or bone. It was a pure form of carbon, and was referred to by a variety of names, depending on how it was made. For example: "Ivory black" was produced by burning ivory or bones; "Vine black" was made by charring dried grape vines; "Lamp black" was made from soot collected from oil lamps. Synthetic versions have now replaced these traditional organic forms, except in certain specialized arts, like calligraphy and Oriental painting.
Carmine (Cochineal and Kermes)
Used since Antiquity, Carmine is a natural organic crimson pigment/dye made from the dried bodies of the female insect Coccus cacti (Cochineal), which inhabits the prickly-pear cactus, and also from a wingless insect living on certain species of European live oaks (Kermes). The cactus insects were first heated in ovens, then dried in the sun, to produce "silver cochineal" from which the finest pigment was made. Cochineal is still made in Mexico and India.
Celadon Green
A variant of Green Earth pigment containing celadonite which gives it a greyish pale green colour. Most of these versions of Green Earths have been mined to exhaustion and are no longer easily available.
Cerulean Blue
Named after the Latin word "caeruleum" (meaning sky or heavens) which was used in classical times to describe various blue pigments, Cerulean is a highly stable and lightfast greenish-blue pigment, first developed in 1821 by Hopfner, but not widely available until its reintroduction in 1860 by George Rowney in England, as a paint-pigment for aquarelle watercolour art and oil painting. Although based on cobalt, it lacked the opacity and richness of cobalt blue. Even so, in oil, it maintained its colour better than any other blue and was especially popular with landscape painters for skies.
(Obsolete name for Lead White, Flake white, also Nottingham White)
Basic lead carbonate. In use since the prehistoric Greek period, the second oldest artificially produced pigment. It was the only white oil-colour available to artists until the middle of the 19th century.

Chrome Orange, Chrome Yellow, Chrome Red
A family of inexpensive natural pigments made from lead chromate, first developed in about 1800 by the French chemist Louis Vauquelin, which became very popular (and a welcome alternative to both Turner's Patent yellow and Orpiment) due to their opacity, their bright colours and low price. However, their tendency to darken over time, coupled with their lead content, has led to their replacement by the Cadmium family.
A natural green copper pigment first used by the Ancient Egyptians alongside Malachite. It was superceded by Egyptian Green.
Cinnabar (Zinnober)
This natural ore (Mercuric Sulfide) was a popular source for a red-orange artist-pigment also known as Vermilion. In fact the terms "cinnabar" and "vermilion" were used interchangeably to refer to either the natural or the later synthesized colour until around the 17th century when vermilion became the more common name. By the late 18th century, the name cinnabar was applied only to the unground natural mineral. An opaque red pigment, Cinnabar production was dominated by the Chinese who found an early means of making it that remained the best method for over 1,000 years. Unfortunately, it is highly toxic. Most natural vermilion comes from cinnabar mines in China, hence its alternative name of China red. It was replaced by the Cadmium Reds during the 19th century. See also Vermilion (below).
A family of pigments originally derived from mineral mines in Bohemia. They were named Cobalt after the word "kobolds" - the Bohemian word for spirits or ghosts, which the miners believed inhabited the pigment and caused them difficulties.
Cobalt Blue
An expensive but highly stable pure blue pigment discovered by Thénard in 1802, it was a great improvement on smalt - the pigment made from cobalt blue glass. It is now the most important of all the cobalt pigments. Following the development of smalt by the Swedish chemist Brandt, and the German scientists Gahn and Wenzel, Louis Jaques Thénard discovered his new cobalt blue through experiments at the Sevres porcelain factory. It is totally stable in watercolour and fresco painting and a good substitute for ultramarine blue when painting skies.
Cobalt Green
A semi-transparent but highly permanent moderately bright green pigment discovered by the Swedish chemist Rinmann in 1780, it is used in all painting techniques. However its poor tinting strength and high cost of cobalt green has kept its use limited.
Cobalt Violet
Cobalt Violet was developed around 1860, and like its older sister Cobalt Green suffered from high cost and weak colouring power which restricted its use among artists. It has been superceded by the cleaner, stronger pigment Manganese Violet.
Cobalt Yellow
Discovered in 1848 in Breslau by the German scientist N W. Fischer, this pure yellow pigment was popular for a brief period due to its good mixing quality with other pigments and for good tints in watercolour. It is also lightfast. However, like most of the Cobalts, it is both expensive and of limited power.
Copper Resinate
Known since the mid-Byzantine era (c.800 CE), this is a transparent jade-green glaze made by dissolving copper salts in Venice turpentine. It was used particularly by Post-Renaissance 16th-century Italian oil painters, to colour foliage. It was commonly combined with azurite paint, and layered over lead white or lead-tin yellow pigments.
Cornflower blue
: A blue dye made from the petals of the flower, and which was used by some water-colourists in the 18th century.
Cremnitz White
See White Lead (below).
Dragon's Blood
: A warm ruby-red resinous exudation of Calamus draco found in eastern Asia. Its use in Europe in painting dates back to the 1st century. Medieval illuminators employed it. Pliny the Elder expounded his fanciful idea that the substance was actually the mixed blood of those legendary enemies, the dragon and the elephant, which was spilt during their mortal combat.
Egyptian Blue
Also known as Egyptian Blue Frit, this dark blue pigment (calcium copper silicate) is arguably the first ever synthetic pigment, and arose out of the manufacture of dark blue glass by glass-makers in Ancient Egypt. The glass was ground into a deep permanent blue pigment of great visual beauty. It was used throughout antiquity as a blue pigment to colour a variety of differing mediums like stone, wood, plaster, papyrus, and canvas. Despite its relatively weak colouring power, it remained the only dark blue paint colour until the development of Ultramarine four Millennia later. In the 17th century an improvement to the original formula was developed known as Smalt (Alexandria Blue), which was used until the successful synthesis of Ultramarine in the 19th century.
Egyptian Brown
Another name for Mummy (see below).
Egyptian Green
A variant of Egyptian Blue (see above) that was developed in the later part of Ancient Egyptian times. It has similar properties to Egyptian Blue. Now obsolete.
Emerald Green
Also known as Schweinfurt Green, Parrot Green, Imperial Green, Vienna Green, and Mitis Green, this beautiful but poisonous of pigments was also marketed under the name Paris Green as a rat poison. As a paint-pigment, it was prone to fading in sunlight (an effect which could be reduced in oil paintings by isolating the pigment in between coats of varnish) and also reacted chemically with other colours. For instance, it could not be combined with sulfur-containing colours, like cadmium yellow, vermilion or ultramarine blue, as the mixture resulted in a deep brown colour. However, it had a brilliance unlike any other copper green known to modern chemistry. It is said that Emerald Green was the favourite pigment of the Post-Impressionist Paul Cezanne. In some of his watercolours, thin washes containing the colour have browned, but thicker applications have remained bright green. Van Gogh was another avid user. Modern imitations include "Emerald Green" or "Permanent Green".
A deep violet, sometimes bluish, or reddish colour made from Turnsole or Woad (see below), it was a general name for such colours employed by book illuminators and illustrators. The name stems from "folia" the latin word for pages in a book.
French White
A synonym for White Lead (see below).

A yellow dye that is obtained from the plant Chlorophona tinctoria, native to the Americas, introduced to Europe in the 16th century. It had a limited use with water-colour. Older name was ffusticke yealowe.
Prepared from the gallstone of an ox and gives a reasonably dark yellow. Nicholas Hilliard found it useful for shading with miniature work. John Payne in the 18th century found that dishonest colourmen were selling an inferior substitute. He suggested in his book on miniature-painting that artists should approach slaughter-houses and that the men there should be on the watch for gallstones. In 1801 it was one of the top four most expensive colours, Ackerman's showing a charge of five shillings a cake.
A native yellow gum from Thailand. A bright transparent golden yellow for glazing or water-colour, it is not a true pigment. It has been in use since medieval times. J Smith in The Art of Painting in Oyl, published in 1701, describes a method for preparing the colour, which usually comes in rough cylinders about 2.5 in (6 cm) in diameter. 'For a Yellow Gumboge is the best, it is sold at Druggist in Lumps, and the way to make it fit for use, is to make a little hole with a knife in the lump, and put into the hole some water, stir it well with a pencil till the water be either a faint or a deeper Yellow, as your occasion requires, then pour it into a Gally-Pot, and temper up more, till you have enough for your purpose.' (Pencil here would mean a small, soft, hair brush.)
Geranium Lake
A fugitive pigment made from Eosine that was in vogue during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Van Gogh used it in versions of his Sunflowers. Now obsolete.
A lead yellow pigment likely to have been Naples Yellow. The Florentine painter Cennino Cennini mentions that Giallorino is associated with volcanoes but artificially made. This coincides with Naples yellow, which in Antiquity was collected as natural deposits from Mount Vesuvius, but by Cennini's time had been synthesised. Another possibility is that the name refers to Lead-Tin Yellow (see below).

Green Earth
Also known as Terre Verte, Stone Green, Verdetta, and Celadonite, it is a natural green pigment varying in composition and shade of colour. It has weak hiding power but is resistant to light and chemicals. Highly popular in medieval painting for underpainting of flesh tones, it fell from favour after the Renaissance.
The favourite white pigment of Ancient Egypt, Gypsum is a natural mineral Calcium Sulfate which performs well in water based mediums but not in oils.
Han Blue, Han Purple
Also known as Chinese purple and Chinese blue, these synthetic barium copper silicate pigments were formulated in China around 250 BCE, and used extensively by Chinese artists from the Western Zhou period (1207-771 BCE) until the end of the Han dynasty (c.220 CE). Pure Han purple - the more popular of the two, as Azurite Blue was also in wide use - is actually a dark blue, similar to electric indigo. It was first used to paint parts of the Terracotta Army Warriors (the huge army of clay figurines found near the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang). Both pigments were used to colour ceramic ware, metalwork, and mural painting.
Hooker's Green
The earliest forms of this pigment were a mixture of Gamboge and Prussian Blue. Later, more lightfast variants were created with Aureolin. Modern Hooker's Green is typically a blend of Phthalo Blue and Cadmium Yellow.
Indian Yellow
This clean, deep and luminescent yellow pigment (also called Puree, Peoli, or Gaugoli), was introduced to India from Persia during the 15th century. Indian Yellow was produced by heating the urine of cattle fed on mango leaves, a cruel process ultimately banned in 1908. The pigment was popular with both oil and watercolour painters because of its body and depth of tone. Relatively stable, it could be combined with all other pigments and its lightfastness in oil paintings was enhanced when isolated between layers of varnish.
A deep blue colour pigment made from the Indigofera family of plants until 1870, when it was created synthetically. It was used by ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman painters. The pinkish skies to be seen in English watercolours of the 18th and early 19th centuries were originally greyish-blue, except the Indigo they contained has now faded to leave the ochre element of the original mixture used by the watercolourist. Natural Indigo was superceded in the 19th century by a synthetic colour. See Woad (below).
A red colourant originally made in India, which gave rise to the term "Lake", meaning any transparent dye-based colour precipitated on an inert pigment base, used for glazing. During the High Renaissance in Italy, Lac was the third most expensive pigment (after gold and Ultramarine), but most artists thought it worth the expense.
Lapis Lazuli (Ultramarine)
The source of the fabulous, absolutely permanent and non-toxic natural blue pigment Ultramarine, the precious stone Lapis Lazuli is found in Central Asia, notably Afghanistan. It was employed in Ancient times as a simple ground up mineral (Lapis Lazuli or Lazuline Blue) with weak colour power. Then Persian craftsmen discovered a means of extracting the colouring agent, creating at a stroke a hugely important art material. Ultramarine arrived in Venice on Arab boats, during the Renaissance, and was named the pigment from overseas ("ultra marine"). Such was its brilliance that it rapidly attained a price that only princes and large wealthy religious organizations could afford it. Although strongly associated with Renaissance art, it is still widely used by contemporary painters, especially since prices and supply have improved. Synthetic Ultramarine is chemically identical, although typically appears in a more reddish shade. However its far lower price will no doubt ensure that genuine Ultramarine remains in limited usage.
Lead-Tin Yellow
A highly stable bright opaque yellow was used from around 1250 until the mid-17th century, when its use ceased abruptly for no obvious reason. Experts believe that its formula might have been lost due to the death of its producer. Very popular with Renaissance painters, who used it in foliage along with earth pigments, Lead-Tin Yellow seems to have many of the attributes of modern Cadmium Yellow, but little was known about it until the 1940s. Since then it has enjoyed a modest recovery.
Lead White
Also called Flake White, Flemish White, Cremnitz White, and Silver White, this is one of the most ancient of man-made pigments and the oldest white colourant still employed by modern artists. Used since Ancient Antiquity, lead white was the only white pigment in European easel-painting until the 19th century. Among its many attributes, it has the warmest masstone of all the white pigments. In addition, it possesses a heavy consistency, a very slight reddish-yellow undertone and dries faster than any similar colour, making ideal for 'alla prima' techniques. And while its lead carbonate is toxic, and therefore not incorporated into water soluble paints, its use in oils appears relatively safe. It still appears on the palettes of artists today, but has been largely superceded by titanium white.
Lemon Yellow
An umbrella term for three yellows introduced during the 1830s: Strontium Yellow, Barium Yellow and Zinc Yellow. All were semi-transparent and used in both oil and watercolour paints. Strontium Yellow was a cool, light yellow, more permanent and richer in tone than Barium Yellow. Rarely used today.
A blackish colourant derived from a South American tree, available in a wide range of colours including blues and black, reds and purples. As a painting pigment it was used largely as an ink, although the brownish and reddish hues would sometimes be employed as transparent glazes.
A natural plant colourant obtained from Madder plants in a process dating back to Antiquity.
It was brought back to Europe during the time of the Crusades. It was one of the most stable natural pigments. Dyes derived from the root of the Madder plant were used in ancient Egypt for colouring textiles. Later natural madder pigments were used by 15th and 16th-century painters. After a synthetic version was invented in 1868 by the German chemists, Grabe and Lieberman, natural production virtually ceased.
A comparatively permanent pigment of varying colour, notably bright green, Malachite (also known as Mineral Green or Verdeazzuro) is said to be the oldest known green pigment. Traces of it have been discovered in Ancient Egyptian tomb paintings as far back as the Fourth dynasty. Since Antiquity, it was most popular during the European Renaissance period. Eventually synthesized, it was marketed under the name Bremen Green. Now obsolete.
Manganese Blue
A form of Barium Manganate, Manganese Blue has been produced since the 19th century. A synthetic variation was created in 1935, but both have been superceded by more intense blues. Now obsolete.
Manganese Violet
Developed by the German chemist E. Leykauf in 1868, this pigment - also referred to as Permanent Violet, Nuremberg Violet and Mineral Violet - superceded Cobalt Violet in 1890. It proved a cleaner alternative with less toxicity and improved opacity.
An obsolete pigment prepared from lead oxide with possibly tin oxide. In use from the 14th to the 18th century in Europe. Hilliard found it helpful and told that it should be used with sugar candy, which could have made for problems as massicot is very poisonous. It tended to discolour and turn grey with exposure to the air.
Maya Blue
A highly resilient bright blue to greenish-blue pigment, developed by the Maya and Aztec cultures of pre-Columbian art in Mesoamerica. It is a composite of organic and inorganic compounds, notably indigo dye from the Indigofera suffruticosa plants. Originating at the beginning of the 9th century CE, it was in use as late as the 16th century in Mexico, in the paintings of the Indian Juan Gerson. It survived in Cuba until the 19th century.

The Roman term for Red Lead pigment, a popular paint colour used in medieval book illustration and calligraphy. A rather dull red prone to darkening, it has not been used by modern painters for many decades.
Mosaic Gold
An imitation gold pigment (also known as Aurium Musicum and Purpurinus), it was used extensively by Renaissance painters and book illuminators. Now obsolete.
Also called Egyptian brown, this warm dark-brown colourant was obtained from the ground remains of Egyptian mummies, a ghoulish practice which was eventually banned. Now obsolete.
Naples Yellow
Also called Antimony Yellow and Juane Brilliant, Naples Yellow is a pale but warm yellow pigment derived from Lead Antimoniate. Its use as a painting-pigment can be traced back to around 1400 BCE, making it one of the oldest synthetic pigments. It possesses very good hiding power and good stability. Now obsolete, due to its toxicity. See Giallorino (above).
Neutral Grey Tint

A prepared artist's colour made up from lampblack, Winsor blue and a little alizarin crimson. Popular for monochrome work or rendered drawings.
Ochres (Red/Yellow Ochre)
The most ancient of all natural colourants, ochre is naturally tinted clay containing ferric oxide, and produces an earthy pigment varying in colour from cream and light yellow to brown or red. Used widely in prehistoric rock art, notably in cave murals at Lascaux and Chauvet, and also at Blombos cave. Ochres vary considerably in transparency - some are opaque, while others are used as transparent glazes. Can be safely mixed with other pigments.
A rich lemon or canary yellow with reasonable covering power and moderate chemical stability, Orpiment is a very ancient natural pigment first used in the Middle East and Asia around 3100 BCE. It was imported into Venice from Turkey during the Renaissance - yet another reason why Venice led the way in artist pigments and colourism. It could not be combined with lead or copper pigments such as lead white, lead-tin yellow, or verdigris, as the mixture is prone to darkening. A synthetic version of Orpiment, called Kings Yellow, was eventually produced but proved highly toxic due to its high level of arsenic. Both were rendered obsolete by Cadmium Yellow.
Payne's Grey
Named after the 18th century watercolourist William Payne, this very dark blue-grey colourant combines ultramarine and black, or Ultramarine and Sienna. It was used by artists as a pigment, and also as a mixer instead of black.
For details of colour palettes and for details of pigments, dyes and colours associated with different
eras in the history of art, see: Prehistoric Colour Palette (Hues used by Stone Age cave painters);
Egyptian Colour Palette (Hues used in Ancient Egypt); Classical Colour Palette (Pigments used by painters in Ancient Greece and Rome); Renaissance Colour Palette (Colourts used by oil-painters and fresco artists in Florence, Rome and Venice); Eighteenth Century Colour Palette (Hues used by Rococo and other artists). Nineteenth Century Colour Palette (Pigments used by Impressionists and other 19th century artists).
Persian Red
Also known as Persian Gulf Red, this is a deep reddish orange earthy iron pigment from the Persian Gulf, made from a silicate of iron and alumina, combined with magnesia. It is also known as artificial vermillion. See also Venetian Red (below).
Phthalocyanine Blue
A very powerful blue lake, produced from copper phthalocyanine. In its prime state it is so strong that there is no sign of blue, almost black with a coppery sheen. Introduced into England in 1935, replacing Prussian blue for many artists. Trade names include Monastral, Winsor, Thalo and Bocour blue.
The word pink was used for yellow when referring to a yellow pigment certainly up to the end of the 17th century and it is likely well into the 18th. The pink (yellow) was made by a skill in cooking. Several ingredients were used including: unripe buckthorn berries, weld, broom. Norgate in his treatise mentions 'callsind eg shels and whitt Roses makes rare pinck that never starves'.
Platina Yellow
An expensive lemon yellow pigment obtained from platinum. Now obsolete, it was replaced by the Chrome yellows - Strontium Yellow, Barium Yellow, and Zinc Yellow.
Prussian Blue
Known also as Berlin Blue, Bronze Blue, Chinese Blue, Iron Blue, Milori Blue, Parisian Blue, Paste Blue, and Steel Blue, this dark-blue was the first modern, man-made pigment. It was developed accidentally by the Berlin chemist Diesbach in about 1704, and became available to artists' palettes from 1724, Prussian Blue has excellent tinting strength but is only fairly permanent to light and air. A popular alternative at the time to Indigo dye, Smalt, and Tyrian purple, all of which tend to fade, and the extremely costly ultramarine, the first famous painters to use it included Pieter van der Werff and Antoine Watteau. Outside Europe, the pigment was taken up by Japanese painters and woodblock print artists. Prussian Blue turns slightly dark purple when dispersed in oil paint.
Quercitron Yellow

Obsolete yellow obtained from the bark of the black quercitron oak from America. It was introduced to Europe by Edward Bancroft, a Doctor of Medicine and Fellow of the Royal Society, in 1775. It appeared in Ackermann's treatise in 1801 masquerading as: 'Ackermann's Yellow, another new Colour, lately discovered, is a beautiful warm rich Yellow, almost the tint of Gallstone, works very pleasant, and is very useful in Landscapes, Flowers, Shells, etc.'
A red-orange pigment chemically related to the yellow orpiment, the mineral ore Realgar is an ancient pigment used in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Asia Minor until the 19th century. Now obsolete.
Red Iron Oxide Artist Pigments
Ever since Paleolithic artists began painting cave murals, Red Iron oxide ore has been a common source for a wide variety of artist hues. Locations of its extraction are evident in some of the pigment names used, such as Venetian Red, Sinopia, Venice Red, Turkey Red, Indian Red, Spanish Red, Pompeian Red, and Persian Red. A variant of the latter (Persian Gulf Red) is still reputed to be the best grade for the natural pigment. Nowadays, most Red Iron Oxide colours are manufactured synthetically.
Safflower Pigment
Commonly known as Carthame, this fugitive red lake derives from the flowers of the Safflower plant. Now obsolete.
Another fugitive yellow dye created from the flowers of an Indian plant, Saffron pigments were used from Antiquity until the 19th century. Still in use by traditional craftspeople on the Indian sub-continent and in South-East Asia.
A Greco-Roman term used to describe a number of lead and arsenic yellows, as well as Cinnabar and even red earths.
Sap Green
Derived from the unripe berries of the Buckthorn shrub. It is highly fugitive, as is a sister-pigment, Iris Green which comes from the sap of the Iris Flower. During the Middle Ages, Sap Green was reduced to a heavy syrup and sold in liquid form. Today's synthetic Sap Greens are lakes obtained from coal tar.
Saxon Blue
Alternative name for Smalt (see below).
Scheele's Green
Also known as Schloss Green, this yellowish-green pigment was invented in 1775 by Carl Wilhelm Scheele and was used by artists in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is related to the later Emerald Green. By 1900, these greens (both being highly toxic and prone to darkening) were made obsolete by zinc oxide and cobalt green, also known as zinc green.
Originally an 18th century replacement for the brown pigment Bistre, this natural organic colourant is made from the ink sacs of the cuttlefish. Originally used by artists in ink painting, illustration and calligraphy, the name Sepia is now used in connection with modern oil paints derived from Burnt Umber, Van Dyke Brown and Carbon Black.

A native clay that contains iron and manganese. In the raw state it has the appearance of dark and rich yellow ochre. Burnt sienna is made by calcining or roasting the raw sienna in a furnace. The two, raw and burnt siennas are amongst the most stable pigments on the painter's palette.

An ancient name for native red iron oxides, it takes its name from the town of Sinope in Asia Minor. Cennini says in Il Libro dell' Arte of its unsuitability for fresco and tempera. Well watered down it was much employed by artists for laying in the under-drawing for fresco work on the arriccio.
Made from ground blue-coloured glass, Smalt was the earliest of the cobalt pigments. It emerged as a European replacement for Egyptian Blue, which was derived from copper. Despite its weak tinting power it remained popular until the development of synthetic Ultramarine and Cobalt Blue in the 19th century. Production continued intermittently until 1950.
Terra Marita
A fugitive Yellow lake derived from the Saffron plant.

Titanium White
The strongest, most brilliant, most stable white pigment available to painters in the history of art. Although discovered in 1821, mass-production of the artist-quality oil pigment only began in the early 1920s. Its masstone, neither warm nor cool, lies mid-way between lead white and zinc white. It is now the world's primary pigment for whiteness, brightness and opacity. Available for oils, watercolours and acrylic painting.
Turner's Yellow
Named for the inventor, not the English watercolourist artist, this lead pigment was popular for a spell due to its cheap cost, although it was prone to both impermanence and blackening. Hues ranged from bright yellow to orange. Now obsolete.
A natural purplish pigment (also called Heliotropum) obtained from the Mediterranean Heliotrope plant of the borage family. Used as an artists colourant, it makes a number of lakes in blue and red colours. Was sometimes mistaken for the similarly coloured Woad. Both Turnsole and Woad were employed in book illumination under the umbrella term Folium (see above).
Turpeth Mineral

Mercuric sulphate. Highly poisonous. Valued at one time for the fine greens it produced when mixed with Prussian blue. Discarded because it decomposed and turned black in some mixtures.
Tyrian Purple
A colour derived from shell fish by the Phoenicians and made famous as the colour worn by Roman Caesars. Also used by artists in Antiquity as a glazing pigment. Available in shades of violet, true purple, and an exceptionally deep crimson, its use was limited by its huge cost of production.
Natural Ultramarine, made from the precious stone Lapis Lazuli, was (and remains) one of the world's most expensive artists' pigments. A cool deep blue hue, it was first used in 6th century Afghanistan, and the pigment achieved its zenith during the Italian Renaissance as it harmonized perfectly with the vermilion and gold of illuminated manuscripts and Italian panel painting. (See also: Titian and Venetian Colour Painting.) However, being vulnerable to even minute traces of mineral acids and acid vapours, it was only used for frescoes when it was applied "secco" (when the pigment was mixed with a binding medium and applied over dry plaster) as in Giotto di Bondone's famous fresco cycle in the Cappella degli Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. Ultramarine was finally synthesized independently by both the Frenchman Jean Baptiste Guimet and the German chemist Christian Gottlob Gmelin in the late 1820s/ early-1830s. The artificial colourant was non-toxic and as permanent as the natural variety but darker and less azure. It was formulated for both oil and watercolour paints.
Ultramarine Ashes
The secondary product remaining after the prime quality Ultramarine Blue has been removed from the Lapis Lazuli stone. Containing only traces of the genuine Ultramarine, it is a permanent but weak grey-blue colour.
Ultramarine Green
This variant of synthetic Blue Ultramarine is a weak bluish green of low tinting strength. In vogue between about 1850 and 1960, it is rarely seen today.
Uranium Yellow
A bright light yellow pigment with green efflorescence, its production as a colourant was banned due to its perceived radioactivity. In fact it emitted no more than the human body.
Used as a paint-colourant since prehistoric times, Umber is a natural brown clay pigment containing iron and manganese oxides. Heating intensifies the colour, and the resulting pigment is commonly called burnt umber. It was originally mined in Umbria, a region of central Italy, although the finest quality umber comes from Cyprus.
Van Dyke Brown
Known also as Cassel Earth, Rubins Brown, and Cologne Brown, this transparent brown pigment dates from the 17th century and is a mixture of clay, iron oxide, humus and bitumen. Its transparency made it superior to umbers and ochres for glazing, although it was prone to fading and, because of its bitumen (Asphaltum) component, to cracking.
Venetian Red
The term Venetian Red usually refers to a specific bluish tone of Red Oxide, although some variations can be orange-ish or violet in hue. See also Persian Red (above).
A neutral greenish colour usually obtained from mixing together left over paint on the palette, it was commonly used during Renaissance times for working up a drawing to the painting stage, or for underpainting flesh tones in Medieval art.
A common synthetic green pigment used from Classical Antiquity until the 19th century, it was the most vibrant green available during the Renaissance and Baroque eras. Its relative transparency led to it being frequently combined with lead white or lead-tin yellow, or used as a glaze. The name derives from the Old French word "vertegrez", meaning "green of Greece". Its use declined sharply from the 18th century onwards.
Vermilion (Vermillion)
An orange-ish red pigment with fine hiding power and good permanence, but high toxicity. Natural Vermilion, known to the Romans as Minium, comes from the mineral ore Cinnabar (see above), and the name Vermilion is most commonly used to describe the synthetic version of the pigment, which nowadays is usually obtained by reacting mercury with molten sulfur. In Antiquity, Vermilion/Cinnabar was highly prized, being ten times more expensive than red ochre. Later it was an important colourant in illuminated manuscripts, although it remained prohibitively expensive until the 14th century when a synthetic version was first produced. Vermilion was the traditional red pigment in Chinese art, and is the colourant used in Chinese red lacquer. Today, Vermilion has been replaced in painting by the pigment cadmium red.
Viridian Green
Discovered in 1797 by the French chemist Vauquelin, it wasn't fully developed into an artist paint hue until about 1840. A very stable, powerful cold green it possessed excellent permanence and lack of toxicity, and superceded a fugitive colour known as Emerald Green, whose name it took until it became widely known as Viridian.
A common plant-based Yellow Lake, it was one of the most popular organic yellows before the introduction of the modern synthetics. Quercitron and Buckthorn berries were better known but no more common among painters than Weld. More suitable than its rivals for creating opaque yellows, it was used as an alternative to Orpiment.
White Lead
See Lead White (above).
An ancient pigment obtained from the woad or dyerswoad herb of the mustard family, grown for its blue/indigo dye and pigment. Derived from the Saxon word "waad", it is the weaker European equivalent of the more famous colourant made from the Indigofera plant, with which it was sometimes mixed.
Zinc White
Zinc oxide was recognized as a possible source of artist-white by the French in the 1780s. After the discovery of zinc deposits in Europe during the 18th century, patents were granted for the manufacture of zinc oxide to the English colourmaker John Atkinson, and others. By the early 1830s, Zinc White was accepted as a watercolour although it took longer to formulate it for use in artist oil paints. In 1834, Winsor and Newton, Limited, of London, presented a dense form of zinc oxide which was sold as Chinese white. The name stemmed from the popular oriental porcelain in circulation in the 19th century. But the chemist George H. Backhoffner of London who lectured widely in the Art Academies recommended Flemish white (Lead White) as superior so in 1837, Winsor and Newton published a convincing response to Backhoffner. In 1844, a superior Zinc White for oils was produced by LeClaire in Paris. In comparison with Lead White, Zinc White is a slower drying pigment, less opaque, more permanent and less prone to blackening. It is also non-toxic and more economical. Tints made with Zinc White show greater nuances than tints made with other whites. Also, Zinc White has a much colder, cleaner, whiter masstone than the best grades of lead white or even titanium white. Its drawback is that it makes a rather brittle dry paint film when used unmixed with other colours, which can cause cracks in paintings relatively quickly.
Zinc Yellow
A pale greenish semi opaque pigment more suitable for oil paint than watercolours, this synthetic Zinc Chromate was available for some 150 years (c.1850-1990) and possessed excellent lightfastness. But its chrome content made it quite toxic.


• For a guide to the use of pigment by painters, see: Colour in Painting.
• For tips and advice about combining colours on your palette, see: Colour Mixing Tips.
• For information about the concepts and ideas involved in colour, see: Colour Theory in Painting.
• For the definition and meaning of colour terminology in painting, see: Colour Glossary For Artists.
• For information about painting, see: Visual Arts Encyclopedia.

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