Inorganic vs. Organic Pigments

Colors are an important part of our daily lives. From the clothing, cosmetics, and decorations we surround ourselves with to the foods we eat and how we communicate, color is an essential part of life, serving both aesthetic and functional purposes. As such, manufacturing colors is an important part of industry —but, how is color produced? Colorants for textile and cosmetic manufacturing are produced through the use of pigments. Pigments are insoluble solid materials that improve the appearance of or give color to a medium. As they are insoluble, they are added to the medium by grinding them into a fine powder and mixing them into the solution. Pigments change the way light transmits through or reflects off a surface by absorbing certain wavelengths of light. There are two primary types of pigments —organic and inorganic. It's important to understand what these types of pigments are and how they differ.

In this article you will learn:

  • Inorganic Pigments
  • List of Inorganic Pigment Examples
  • Organic Pigments
  • List of Organic Pigment Examples
  • Main Differences Between Organic and Inorganic Pigments
  • How to Decide Whether to use Organic or Inorganic Pigments
  • Organic and Inorganic Pigments in the Market

paint pigment
spray cans

Inorganic pigments

Inorganic pigments are not based on carbon chains and rings. Instead, they consist of dry ground minerals, usually metals and metallic salts. Because of their composition, inorganic pigments are usually more opaque and more insoluble than organic pigments. In general, inorganic pigments are the most commonly used in industry, favored for their lightfastness and low cost.

Inorganic pigments tend to be a popular choice in industry for numerous reasons, but they do have their drawbacks.

Properties of inorganic pigments

Some of the most significant positive and negative properties of inorganic pigments are:

  • Excellent fade resistance: One benefit of inorganic pigments is their excellent resistance to fading when exposed to light. They also tend to be more resistant to fading when exposed to open air and heat.
  • Cost-effective: Inorganic pigments tend to be cheaper to produce, especially in the large quantities needed for industrial applications. Much of this is due to the relatively simple chemical reactions needed to produce inorganic pigments.
  • Poor tonality: While inorganic pigments tend to retain their color well, the color they produce by themselves is often dull. Improving tonality and brightness is often only possible when mixing inorganic pigments with organic pigments or dyes.
  • Toxicity: Inorganic pigments tend to be more harmful to the environment due to the presence of lead salts in their composition. Some are even outright toxic, such as lead-based pigments.

Exploding Powder

Inorganic pigments list of examples

Heart of the forest

Organic pigments

Organic pigments are based on carbon chains and rings. While some contain inorganic elements as stabilizers, organic pigments are defined primarily by this factor. These strong carbon chains also make them highly stable.

Carbon-based pigments are derived from animals, vegetables or synthetic organic chemistry. While traditional pigments were typically created using flora and fauna, the majority of modern pigments are created through synthetic organic chemistry. Synthetic organic pigments are most commonly derived from aromatic hydrocarbons including coal tars and other petrochemicals.

Organic pigment qualities

Organic pigments are marked by the following qualities:

  • Color quality: While most organic pigments are considered transparent, their tonality is unparallelled. Organic pigments are characterized by bright, rich colors. They often provide powerful tint strength despite their transparency.
  • High prices: Organic pigments tend to be more expensive to produce, especially synthetic organic pigments. Synthetic pigments require a great deal of chemical processing to produce, increasing the cost by volume.
  • Varying lightfastness: There are many different varieties of organic pigments, but most of them tend to hold up poorly when exposed to light. While some can resist light and heat exposure well, many will fade over time.

Organic pigments tend to be less popular in most industries compared to inorganic pigments, with the exception of artists' paints. However, organic pigments are frequently used on a lesser scale in combination with inorganic pigments as this method improves the color quality of a product.

It's a plastic rainbow of color!

Organic pigments list of examples

Multi-colored Paper in Stack

Main differences between organic and inorganic pigments

Organic and inorganic pigments are inherently different at a chemical level, but the differences extend further. When comparing the two pigment types, consider the following differences between organic vs. inorganic pigments:

  • Brightness
  • Chemical stability
  • Color
  • Cost
  • Dispersion
  • Light absorption
  • Size
  • Surface area

How to decide whether to use organic or inorganic pigments

When it comes to determining which type of pigment to use in your project, you need to consider the differences between organic and inorganic pigments and how they will affect your product. It's important to consider these factors and rate them in order of importance to decide which type of pigment to use. For example, if your project requires bright colors and is unlikely to be exposed to outside conditions, organic pigments may be your best choice. However, if color vibrancy is not as important as color resilience, inorganic pigments may be the best option for your application.

Generally, the following three factors are the most important:

Paintbrush on open tins with pigments

Organic and inorganic pigments in the market

While organic and inorganic pigments have very different properties and advantages, both are experiencing excellent market growth. The organic pigments market was valued at approximately $3.51 billion in 2017, and projections show it increasing to $4.89 billion by 2024, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 4.8% between 2018 and 2024. The inorganic pigments industry, on the other hand, was valued at about $20.7 billion in 2017, and the global market is expected to expand at a 3.7% compound annual growth rate between 2018 and 2026.

Much of the difference in market value has to do with the stability and particle dispersion properties of inorganic pigments, which make them more valuable for the paint and cosmetics industries. There has been some slowdown in the inorganic pigments industry lately due to environmental concerns associated with the metallic byproducts of the production process, but this has only represented a minor setback in the market.

Explore your pigment options with Brenntag North America

When you're working with color, you need to work with pigments from a distributor you trust. If you're looking for quality products from a top distributor, Brenntag is here to help.

Brenntag is the top specialty and chemical distributor for a variety of industries. We provide high-quality raw materials for nearly any application, including pigments for the cosmetic, textile and painting industries. We know everything there is to know about both inorganic and organic pigments and can connect you with the resources you need to supply your next project.

Brenntag is a leading pigment solutions provider, offering a wide range of products. Our regional operating companies distribute our products across 190 locations, making it easy for you to connect with us and our products. Combined with our vast experience and our connections with some of the highest-quality suppliers in the world, we are the number one resource for all your raw chemical materials needs. Call Brenntag today at (800) 915-0027 or contact us online.

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