Dye-Based Art Supply Color Charts: Liquid Watercolor, Fountain Pen Ink, Alcohol Inks, Copic Markers, Dylusions, Tim Holtz Sprays
What is dye? How is it different than pigment?
This is a surprisingly complex question, as there are a huge variety of chemical dye types across multiple industries including coal and petroleum. In an over-simplification for the art and craft world, dye is a transparent colorant which is often man-made from a chemical, or otherwise altered from it's original natural state. This can include minerals or plant dyes, colors that were extracted/removed and thinned/strained from the original rock or plant matter. Dye color requires a carrier particle to adhere to, so they are often bound to a metallic salt (referred to as a "lake" dye or "laked" pigment).
Dye is known for being vibrant, fugitive, with very thin particles. It can be suspended in water, such as for using as a vat-dye for clothing. You can often tell the difference between a dye and a pigment by how it behaves in water. Most dyes will remain suspended (mixed, ready-to-use, as in a blue bottle of ink), while pigment such as the unaltered finely-ground mineral rock in watercolor paints will sink (creating sediment needing to be shaken or stirred).
This is further confused by the common artist comment "look at how highly pigmented this is" when talking about an intense/high chroma colorant such as liquid watercolor, markers, dye sprays and other inks. The word "pigment" is used in a misleading way in regard to dye quite frequently, more often being used to simply imply color load/saturation.
This section serves as a gallery of art, craft and writing products that are made with dye. Because most dye-based products are fugitive, and many artists need art supplies to be lightfast and archival for wall display, these are rarely marketed to professional artists. This does not mean they can't be used for great looking artwork. They should only be used for art that will be scanned for making prints/reproductions. Dye is typically more vibrant, making it ideal for illustration purposes. There are times when products are marketed to "illustrators" or "designers" notably in gouache painting lines, where the colors were made for reproduction purposes. Almost all major watercolor manufacturers also offer "opera pink" due to the demand for this bright fluorescent pink dye in botanical work and artist preference. Sometimes these companies do NOT disclose that the color contains anything other than PR122 magenta. That is very misleading to those who do not know that opera (sometimes called neon, opus or bright pink) is a fugitive paint due to the addition of dye.
Exposing art supplies that did not disclose their dye additive, along with taking note of the ones that did have a disclaimer will be noted as this section grows. I will be paying close attention to art supplies that contain fugitive dye additives, especially fluorone dyes (fluorescein, erythrosine and rhodamine and other UV reactive minerals that "glow" fluorescent under black light exposure). Not all dyes can be easily detected like this, but a UV flash light / black light bulb is a great way to quickly identify if fluorone dyes have been used in your art materials.
A note about "liquid" watercolors -
There are many dye-based liquid watercolors on the market that IMPLY they can be used just like any other art supply (Ecoline, PH Martin's Radiant, most brush pens, markers etc.). These are just super vibrant dye inks marketed to a different audience, but can be found cheaper as paper crafting sprays like Distress and Dylusions brands made for card makers / rubber stampers. Sadly these are sold WITHOUT disclaimer that they are NOT actually traditional pigment based watercolors. On the bright side, there are a couple options for pigment-based liquid watercolors on the market, including Schmincke's Aqua Drop
on Jackson's and PH Martin's Hydrus
on Amazon. These products are clearly labeled as pigment based and suitable for professionals that require lightfast pigments.
Most permanent markers (meaning waterproof like Sharpies) suspend dyes in alcohol. The tiny particles of dye do not clog the felt-tip of markers, like larger particle pigments would. One of the most common dye based products in the anime and illustration world is Copic markers. This is a good example of a high-price "artist-quality" product that is well made, from intense dye colors... but will fade with any light exposure. Some colors will even fade in indoor lighting within weeks. It's common for art and craft supplies to be called "artist-quality" because they have made a coloring supply that achieves beautiful color payoff. This should not be confused with meaning lightfast, as even the most professional quality watercolors from companies like Daniel Smith and Schmincke, will offer neon opera pink and other colors that fade.
Determining the quality of an art material is not based on lightfastness (though sometimes I wish it was), but rather how well it performs it's purpose based on the biased manufacturer discretion. Because there's no law against calling anything "artist quality", try not to allow products to mislead you with the statement. Dye products are not usually sold with any ingredient information and do not follow ASTM standards. Some will mention archival or non-toxic, and all should be considered suitable for climate stable indoor low-light projects only.
The following swatch card color chart gallery includes these brands, comparing similar colors to each other. If you prefer to see these organized by brand, instead of by color, see their individual review pages here
BV10 Rhodamine B fluorescent dye is commonly used in watercolor paints to create "neon pink", "opera" or "opera rose" colors. This organic material is toxic and has been banned from use as a food or cosmetic colorant. Like all fluorone dyes, it is fugitive, fading away in a matter of weeks with even minor UV exposure such as from a nearby window. It is soluble in water or alcohol, and requires a substrate particle to be "laked" onto. It is frequently mixed with PR122, but not always disclosed as an ingredient. Unfortunately several big companies have labeled their paint tube pigment ingredient as PR122 without noting the dye additive. This implies that you are buying a very vivid, but lightfast, pigment which later fades because of this hidden dye ingredient.
Pretty Excellent, also known as MeiLiang 36 watercolor set (made by the company that produces Paul Rubens) has included fluorescent dyes in a few colors. In their pro grade Paul Rubens this is mainly limited to their version of opera pink as expected. Unfortunately in the Pretty excellent set, this dye additive was included in Alizarin Crimson, Dioxazine and the mauve color. I was sad to discover this, since their color chart claims Mauve to be absolutely permanent (*** / max lightfast) even though they mixed a large ratio of fugitive dye into it.
Other dye based products that are violet in hue, but may be made up of multiple dye mixes:
Black/White/Metallic: Some colors included in dye based product lines (mainly black, white and standard metallic colors like gold, silver and copper) tend to actually be pigment based. These colors are usually lightfast and opaque. To verify, bottles will typically mention pigment, or come with a rattle-ball inside the jar to mix up the sediment.
Where to buy? ------- list in progress-------
BRUSHO (DYE-INK IN DRY CRYSTAL POWDER FORM)are available here
. ALCOHOL INKS (RANGER INK - TIM HOLTZ / JACQUARD - PINATA): I offer alcohol inks in the art supplies section here
CRAFT SPRAYS (DYLUSIONS, TIM HOLTZ DISTRESS INK):
You can find Prima Marketing / Art Philosphy watercolors and other crafty supplies like dye inks and stamp pads here: Scrapbook.com: Thousands of scrapbooking supplies. HUGE daily discounts!
The paints, papers and other art supply affiliate links on this page may go to Jacksons, Amazon, direct paint manufacturers or other trusted sources where I personally bought my art supplies. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Swatch card template
available for download here
, or get the rubber stamp here
. Swatch cards were painted on Legion Black or Arches Cold Press 100% cotton watercolor paper. Paper and brushes are available at Jackson's or Amazon here:
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