Understanding Synthetic Pigments

Pigments have been an integral part of human history, dating back to prehistoric times. The first pigments were natural earth pigments, such as ochre, which were used by early humans for cave paintings and body decoration. As civilisation developed, people discovered new sources of pigments, such as minerals and plants, and developed new techniques for extracting and using them. Ancient Egyptians, for example, used pigments made from minerals and plants to create colourful murals and paintings.

The Development of Synthetic Pigments

Synthetic pigments have played a crucial role in the development of modern art and industry. These artificial pigments were created to replace natural pigments that were often expensive and difficult to obtain.

The Industrial Revolution in the 19th century saw the development and mass production of synthetic pigments. One of the first and most famous of these pigments was Prussian Blue. This pigment was created by a German chemist named Johann Jacob Diesbach, who accidentally discovered the pigment while trying to create a red dye. Prussian Blue became popular in the art world and was used by artists such as J.M.W. Turner and Claude Monet.

While they are chemically similar, synthetic iron oxides tend to be highly saturated and ‘cleaner’ in colour than natural iron oxides, which can contain naturally occurring impurities. Generally speaking, synthetic iron oxides have a smaller pigment particle size than natural earth-based pigments.

This makes them usually higher in tinting strength and, in watercolour, more staining and harder to lift. But because of the huge variation in the properties of both natural and synthetic iron oxides, it’s difficult to make definitive comparisons between the two. But even so, it’s helpful to identify the pigments that are used in artists paints today.

During the 20th century, the development of new synthetic pigments continued, driven by advances in chemical technology and the growing demand for colourful materials in a range of industries. Today, synthetic pigments are used in everything from paints, inks, and plastics to cosmetics, textiles, and food colouring!

One of the key advantages of synthetic pigments is that they can be precisely tailored to meet specific needs, such as lightfastness, heat resistance, or colour consistency. This has led to the creation of thousands of different pigments, each with its own unique properties and applications.

Difference between Synthetic and Organic Pigments

So as mentioned above the main difference between organic and synthetic pigments is how they are made. Synthetic pigments are man-made colours that result from a chemical process. But there are many different characteristics which make up each organic and synthetic pigments but first lets look at the fundamentals of pigments, which are the following:

- Lightfastness - - A rating of a pigment over a 100-year timeframe estimating how much it will fade

- Opacity/Transparency - Transparent pigments let the light through their layer to hit the surface and bounce back through the layer of paint, making the colours more luminous. Opaque pigment covers the surface much more efficiently, meaning the light doesn't go through them.

- Permanence- The permanence of an artists’ colour is defined as ‘its durability when laid with a brush on paper or canvas, graded appropriately and displayed under a glass frame in a dry room freely exposed to ordinary daylight and an ordinary town atmosphere’.

- Series number - The Series number indicates the relative price of the colour and is determined mainly by the cost of the pigment. Series 1 is the least expensive and Series 5 is the most expensive. Where there is no series column, this indicates the price is uniform across the range.

Organic pigments are generally less opaque than synthetic pigments because of pigment size and produce more muted colours when mixed. When you are painting a natural landscape or portrait, muted colours are what you want. Some properties of organic pigments are good colour dispersion property, high tinting strength

Generally Organic Pigments are earthly hues (example being Green Gold as you can see below) such as Ochres, Lakes, Quinacridones, Phthalos to name a few.

Synthetic Pigments partical size is bigger than that of organic compounds so they actually reflect more light. As a result of this synthetic pigments are more opaque and insoluble then organic. They also produce very bright and intense hues which are naturally more difficult to achieve with organic pigments. Also in terms of Lightfastness they are significantly more resistant to fading or general discolouration too.

Some Synthetic Pigments include all groups of colours such as Cadmiums, Oxides, Phthalos and Cobalts such as our hero colour Cobalt Teal