Introduction Pigments for paint making
This page contains the pigment lists where you can find information on the pigments you may use. There are also guides to the various terms and classification systems you will find in the pigment lists. At the bottom of the page is the list of references used while compiling the pigment lists.

Related Links:

Traditional and historic palettes

Limited palettes

Paint characteristics



Extenders, fillers, and driers

Pigment list Links to colors listed by color type
As there are too many pigments to list on one page each basic color has it's own page. Thus you will find both Perinone Orange and Cadmium Orange on the Orange page. All recommended reds on the Red page and so on. This list is not comprehensive but does cover all major pigments the artist is likely to need. A more comprehensive site just about Color And Pigments is already in preparation. When that is ready we will put a link to it here.

Common name Poetic but often confusing
Many colors have numerous common names. Sometimes the difference is historic, and sometimes just because a manufacturer wants to sound different from their competitors. Often a color maker will offer 2 nearly identical versions of the same pigment then give them different names. There will always be those who buy both in the belief that there is a difference. All this confusion has lead to the use of chemical descriptions and Color Index names as detailed below to help identify individual pigments.

Color index Standardized names
The color index provides chemists with a standard naming system that accurately describes the pigment in question. Color makers  will often refer to a color by it's index name. Ultramarine Blue is called PB 29 in the color index. The 'P' stands for pigment (there are other coloring agents such as dyes and metals each with their own letter). The 'B' stands for 'blue' and then the number is which exact blue. These are the main abbreviations that an artist comes across
  • PB  -  Pigment Blue
  • PBk  -  Pigment Black
  • PBr  -  Pigment Brown
  • NR  -  Natural Red
  • PR  -  Pigment Red
  • PO  -  Pigment Orange
  • PY  -  Pigment Yellow
  • PW  -  Pigment White
  • PG  -  Pigment Green
  • PV  -  Pigment Violet


ASTM / Woolscale Standard  light fastness ratings
Before ASTM manufacturers each had their own rating system sometimes based on numbers, sometimes on stars, and sometimes letters. This system is still used but is rapidly being replaced by industry standard ratings such as ASTM. The problem had always been that companies had a vested interest in their pigments being seen as being the best. Also many manufacturers just were not big enough to employ the chemists necessary to do rigorous testing, so various quality tests were used, and many company's did not test at all. On the other hand some manufacturers correctly claimed that permanency involved more factors than just light fastness. Unfortunately this lead to subjective judgments that were applied differently in different circumstances.

The American Society for Testing Materials, a standards body, was asked to start testing colors. They developed a standard as to how paints could be labeled. For example before ASTM a manufacturer might make a color that was a mixture of say Carmine, a fugitive but beautiful crimson red, with Ultramarine. The resulting color would be an attractive violet and could be given an exotic name like Persian Violet. Because the color contains the excellent color Ultramarine, the color would most likely have the permanency rating for that ingredient put on the tube by a manufacturer wanting you to believe that their color is excellent. Unfortunately the Carmine would fade quickly and the color would eventually be just Ultramarine Blue. Any manufacturer who adopts the ASTM system has to agree to rate the color for the least light fast ingredient. This gives the paint formulator incentive to avoid using poor ingredients. Because it is an independent body and because they apply standards fairly the  ASTM can be trusted.

In ASTM all colors are rated from Class l (the best, and considered permanent) to Class V which is very fugitive and will fade in a very short time. The industry accepts Classes l, l l, and l l l as being suitable for artists , although personally I only use ASTM Class l colors as good enough for my work.

Another testing method that appears on some tubes of paint is the Blue Woolscale. It has several advantages in that it tests colors as tints. Woolscale cards can also be of great benefit to the artist who decides to do their own light fastness testing. More info

Detailed information on both ASTM and Blue Woolscale tests and what they are the equivalent of in terms of years without fading can be found on the Testing page here

Chemical Type What is a pigment made of
This is the chemical description that chemists use. It can be helpful for identifying pigments so I have included it where it is known.

Toxicity Important to know and understand
As a guide to safety issues elsewhere on this site I rate pigments as low toxicity, medium, and highly toxic. The low toxicity pigments are things like Ochre or Titanium White that are considered non toxic once made into a paint but have the ability to be mildly toxic while in dry powder form. There are no pigments that are completely non toxic in dry powder form.

Medium toxicity refers to those pigments which are suspected carcinogens and are mostly the pigments containing heavy metals like the Cadmium's and Cobalt's. Umber is in this group too as it contains Manganese.

High toxicity refers to those very dangerous pigments that contain lead and arsenic and other known poisons. I do not recommend the use of any of these pigments and they are included here in case you inadvertently have obtained some, and need more information.

Media suitability And other notes
Many pigments are suitable for use in all media but many are not for various reasons. If for instance a pigment is only good in oil or only in watercolor etc. I note these important things in this section.

Alberti, L B,    On Painting    1435 (Penguin Classics)
Cellini, B,    The Life Of Benvenuto Cellini,    finished 1562 but not published until 1730 (Heron)
Cennini, C d'A,    The Craftsman's Handbook.    1437 (Dover)
Doerner, M,    The Materials Of The Artist And Their Use In Painting,    1921 (Harcourt Brace)
Eastlake, Sir C L,    Materials For A History Of Oil Painting,    1847 (Dover)
Feller, R L,    Artists Pigments    1986 (National Gallery Of Art / Cambridge University)
Gottsegen, M D,    A Manual Of Painting Materials And Techniques,    1987 (Harper & Row)
Maire, F,    Colors: What They Are And What To Expect Of Them,    1910 (Drake)
Mayer, R,   The Artists Handbook Of Materials And Techniques,    fifth edition 1991  (Faber & Faber)
Merrifield, Mrs M P,    Medieval And Renaissance Treatises On The Arts Of Painting    1849 (Dover)
Muther, R,    The History Of Painting From The Fourth Century To The Early Nineteenth Century,    1907 (Putnam)
Parkhurst, D B,    The Painter In Oil   1898 (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard)
Patton, T C,    Pigment Handbook,    1973 (Wiley)
Pliny, The Elder (Gaius Plinius),    Natural History,    77AD (Penguin Classics)
Taubs, F,    A Guide To Traditional And Modern Painting Methods,    1963 (Thames & Hudson)
Theophilus,   On Divers Arts,    1125 (Dover)
Various,    Encyclopedia Britannica,    fifteenth edition 1981  (Encyclopeadia Britannica, Inc)
Various,    Paint And Painting,   1982,  (Winsor & Newton / The Tate Gallery)
Various,    The Artist's Colourmen's Story,    1984 (Winsor & Newton)
Vasari, G,   The Lives Of The Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors And Architects,    1568 (Penguin Classics)

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