Difference between Organic Pigments and Inorganic Pigments

Colours play a significant role in our lives. Organic pigments and inorganic pigments are colorants extremely important for cosmetic manufacturers. India is a leading producer of pigment colours for cosmetics. These colours are supplied by pigment manufacturers in India to the domestic markets as well as imported to international markets.

Let’s take a look at the key differences between organic pigments and inorganic pigments.

Composition of pigments

Pigments colours can be used to give colour to other objects by coating them or blending them with the product ingredients. Organic and inorganic pigments are types of pigments based on their method of formulation. Organic pigments are generally derived from plants. Inorganic pigments use chemical formulations to get the desired product properties for various applications.

Compounds obtained from inorganic metallic compounds and salts such as chromates, metallic oxides, sulphates etc. are used in inorganic pigments. Organic pigments are made up of carbon rings and carbon chains. Chemical compounds can be used during colour production to stabilise the organic pigments. Inorganic compounds primarily use chemical compounds based on a specific chemical composition to create colours.

Based on the properties, the following characteristics make organic pigments different from inorganic pigments:

  • Particle Size

Organic pigments have smaller particle size compared to inorganic pigment colours.

  • Brightness

Organic pigments are brighter compared to inorganic pigments. But for long-lasting products, inorganic pigments are preferred because fading and exposure to sunlight or chemicals can take away the bright colour of organic pigments.

  • Colours

The variety of colours available in inorganic pigments is greater than the variety available in organic pigment colours. Titanium dioxide; Iron oxide, etc. are examples of inorganic pigments. Lake colours are examples of organic pigments.

Ultramarine Blue, Iron Oxide Yellow, Chromium Oxide Green, Manganese Violet, Titanium Dioxide etc. are the colours available in inorganic pigments. India also exports the blended inorganic colourants such as Iron Oxide Burgundy, Iron Oxide Sienna, Iron Oxide Amber etc. Inorganic pigments also comes in Lo Micron Iron Oxide variants such as red, yellow and black.

Organic Pigment colours consist of lake colours such as Lake of Allura Red, Lake Patent Blue, Lake of Indigo Carmine etc. Since organic pigments are derived from minerals, the colours can also be classified on the basis of mineral lakes such as Aluminium (Al) Lakes, Calcium (Ca) Lakes, Barium (Ba) Lakes, and so on.

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Inorganic Pigments

Inorganic pigment is a kind of stable chemical physical structure formed by solid-phase reaction of many metal oxides under high temperature calcination (>800). The inorganic pigment features Excellent light resistance, weather resistance, high temperature resistance; Good covering power, tinting power, dispersion; no bleeding, no migration; Excellent acid-proof, alkali resistance, chemical resistance; Compatible with most thermoplastic and thermosetting plastic.

Applications of Inorganic Pigment

Outdoor plastic and masterbatch: such as PVC decorative panels, plastic steel window profiles, engineering plastics, masterbatch and so on.

Coatings: fluorocarbon coatings, powder coatings, coil coatings, automotive coatings, traffic marking coatings, camouflage coatings, aircraft coating, marine coatings, ultra-durable outdoor architectural coatings, printing inks and industrial coatings.

Building products: cement, concrete, roof construction materials, ceramics, stained glass.

Environmental areas: food packaging containers, plastic utensils, plastic toys, painting coatings.

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Professional Water Colour Cadmium Scarlet

With 109 colours, our Professional Water Colour range offers bright, vibrant colours and unrivalled performance.

Water colour, more than any other medium, reflects the unique characteristics of the inorganic pigments used and our Professional Water Colours use only the finest inorganic pigments, and are known for their brilliance, permanence and strength of colour.


With 80 single pigment colours in the range, we offer the widest range of modern and traditional inorganic pigments for clean colour mixing.

Unrivalled Transparency

The transparency of our Professional Water Colour is achieved by our unique process of pigment dispersion during manufacture. The natural characteristics of each pigment highlights the paint’s transparency level. In water colour painting, thin washes are applied allowing the white of the paper to reflect through the wash.


106 out of 109 colours in our Professional Water Colour range are classed as “permanent for artists’ use”, rated AA or A for archival permanence to ensure that these colours used today will appear the same for generations to come.

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Natural inorganic pigments

Natural inorganic pigments are among the oldest used by humans. They first appear in the funeral preparation of human remains from 60,000 years ago, and in polychrome cave art from about 20,000 years ago. Mined in prehistory from surface deposits of clay and rock, many inorganic pigments have shown extraordinary permanence over long periods of time.

With few exceptions, inorganic pigments are combinations of a mineral element with oxygen and other elements (most often sulfur, silicon or carbon) that fall in the chemical classes known as oxides, oxide hydroxides, sulfides, sulfates, silicates and carbonates.

The pigments in this category that have been of importance to watercolor painting include:

Red earths. A large and diverse category of pigments, all made from earths (mostly clays) containing large proportions of iron oxide (the dark violet to light red hematite or everyday rust, the orange to yellow lepidocrocite, or the dark brown maghemite) that is processed and sold as natural iron oxide. The pigment color may range from a dull yellow through a dull deep yellow, dull orange, dull red or dark brown (listed either as PR102 or PBr7) to near black (PBr6). The color depends on the average particle size, the presence of manganese or other elements (which darkens and dulls the color), and whether water is chemically bonded within the iron oxide crystals. (The dull red orange to yellow hydrous oxides contain water, the maroon to dull red anhydrous oxides do not.) Although red iron oxides occur in all parts of the world and have been used as pigments since antiquity, rich deposits are currently found near Malaga, Spain (Spanish red, which has a characteristic brownish undertone) and in Ormuz, in the Persian Gulf (Persian red). Historically, European sources of yellow brown earths were mined near Leghorn or Siena (in Tuscany, Italy); these are the siennas, containing roughly 50% iron oxide and less than 1% manganese dioxide. The dark red or brown earths or umbers, containing 45%-70% iron oxide and 5% to 20% manganese dioxide, were originally imported to Europe from Turkey (via Venice), but are now mined primarily in Cyprus. (The name probably derives not from the Italian region of Umbria but from the Latin ombra or shadow, referring to the original use of dark iron oxides as shadow colors.) These earths are often “burned” (calcinated or roasted at a dull red heat) to darken them (burnt sienna, burnt umber), a technique that was probably suggested around 2000 BCE by the visible reddening or darkening of pottery after it had been fired or glazed. And natural manganese ores have sometimes been added to red earths create darker red, violet or black colors in pottery clays or glazes. (Due to growing scarcity of high quality natural deposits of iron oxides, most artists’ colors are now made from synthetic iron oxides, for example the same pigments manufactured for wood stains.)

Yellow earths. Natural earths containing silica and clay, hydrous forms of iron oxide (yellow brown limonite or the brown yellow to green yellow goethite), and traces of gypsum or manganese carbonate. Like the red iron oxides, they are found around the world and have been used as pigments since prehistory. French ochre, historically one of the best grades of limonite, contains about 20% iron oxide and is high in silica. Currently workable deposits for yellow oxides are located in the Republic of South Africa and France. Most often sold as yellow ochre (PY43) or brown ochre. Most yellow clays are normally not “burnt” as heat does relatively little to alter their color.

Green earths. Clays containing large amounts of silica and the green minerals glauconite and celadonite, consisting essentially of hydrous iron, magnesium, and aluminum potassium silicates. Color varies from a dark, grayish blue green to a dark, dull yellowish green. Completely lightfast and chemically inert, green earth or terre verte has been used around the world since ancient times. In Europe, the first documented use in paintings is in Roman frescos; it was also commonly used in the Middle Ages as an underpainting for flesh tones and shadows. Originally extracted from deposits in central Europe (today’s Czech Republic), near Verona (Italy), or in France, modern supplies come from high quality deposits in Cyprus. Most of these pigment deposits originated as marine clays. In watercolors the typical color is light valued (diluted), and paints made from the genuine pigment tend to be thin and gummy. The label terre verte is often applied to paints mixed from other inorganic pigments, typically chromium oxide green (PG17) or viridian (PG18) mixed with a red iron oxide. (See also the section on chromium compounds.)

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Chemical and Physical Properties of Inorganic Pigments


Inorganic pigments play double-duty as fillers that provide a greater benefit than simple coloration of a formulation; they also impact physical properties of the film during application and throughout the product lifecycle. Pigments in coatings protect the resins and binders from electromagnetic or thermal degradation due to their reflectance of short-wave IR radiation, which also helps to keep the materials containing said pigments cooler.1

Why We Use Pigments

Before we can understand best practices for dispersing materials containing pigments, it is important to understand what a pigment is, and the chemical and physical reasons why we use pigments. Inorganic pigments are transition metal complexes,2 primarily oxides of crystalline or semi-crystalline repeating units of ceramic crystal lattice structure.

The d-orbital of the metal ions is responsible for a multitude of inorganic pigment properties, including color, reactivity, strength (as in Mohs hardness) and weatherability. Pigments are unique as fillers in that they are composed of transition metals surrounded by ligands (functional groups). The way in which the d-orbital of the metal ion interacts with the various ligands to which it is bonded also influences pigment properties; ligand substitution results in modified pigment characteristics.

As an interesting aside, the metal ion-ligand coordination complexes of pigments used in coatings function (that is to say, provide a visible output color) much like light-harvesting complexes in photosynthetic pigments. Drawing from the Stark-Einstein law, we will take this full circle. The law states that an absorbed photon will initiate a primary chemical or physical reaction within the system.3 For coating pigments, this means that the d-orbital of the transition metal experiences excitation; the degree to which this excitation increases the energy gap dictates corresponding perceived color of the material. For example, the transition metal Vanadium can form complexes of four different ionization states (i.e., V2+, V3+, V4+, V5+), which offer pigments of different hues from purple (V2+) to yellow (V5+).4

That is to say, to reduce agglomerates to aggregates requires one-tenth the energy of reducing aggregates to primary particles; aggregates are chemically bound. Surfactants physically bond to aggregates/primary particles and prevent the reformation of pigment agglomerates by disruption of the London-Van der Waal forces. It must be noted that the geometry of the particles plays a role in the extent to which these forces are felt over a specific distance. Surface defects and aspect ratios other than one result in an increased surface area-to-volume ratio, which entails a greater Van der Waal force of attraction than simple spheres; the probability of the geometry leading to mechanical interlocking is also increased.

Understanding Dispersion

Dispersion is a physical process that tends to increase the entropy of a system. A poorly stabilized dispersion will tend to flocculate; a state that decreases the potential number of conformations of the system (i.e., reduced entropy or randomness). This is largely due to the randomized Brownian motion of the dispersed particles, which are attracted (i.e., tend to agglomerate) via short-range London-Van der Waal forces.

For adequate dispersion it is essential that the surface tension of the liquid(s) be less than the surface free energy of the pigment (and other solids, such as fillers). If a specific solvent, resin or other liquid is to be used with a solid that it does not have an affinity for -in the sense of it being difficult to incorporate and wet out -surfactants are utilized to mitigate de-wetting and prevent floccules from forming.

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