Dye-Based Art Supplies. What is Dye? How is dye different from pigment? Liquid Watercolor, Fountain Pen Ink, Alcohol Inks, Copic Markers, Dylusions, Tim Holtz Sprays
The majority of dyes are fugitive (fade in light) and are not often disclosed as an ingredient in art materials. When a dye is present there is sometimes a "+ Fluor" note (such as on DaVinci, White Nights or Daniel Smith's Opera Pink). For fluorescent/neon pinks and bright floral gouache paints, Rhodamine dyes are most often used. Companies like Holbein and Shinhan will tell you the ingredient code number, which can be referenced to better research its chemical formula. Vibrant art materials such as markers, liquid watercolors, fountain pen inks and craft supply color sprays are usually dye based (the less common pigment-based markers and liquid watercolors will proudly declare "pigment" on the label). Dyes in small amounts may be added to mainly pigment based tube or pan watercolors (neon colors like opera, rose, violet or labeled as "fluorescent"). Copic markers and gouache made for "designers" provide abnormally bright (compared to natural pigments) color that is meant to be scanned for print reproduction, not for use in art to sell/hang on a wall. Here are some examples art supplies containing dyes:
Some commonly used dyes = BV1, BV7, BV10, BV11, BV15, BR1
. These dyes are used to brighten colors named opera, brilliant, rose tyrien and designers pink/violets in watercolors and goauche. Rhodamine dyes are used in the medical field, biological science and microscopy for their vibrant staining capabilities. (For dye based lake pigments
like Cochineal see red pigment NR4, Rose Madder (plant roots) see NR9, Indigo plant NBI synthetic PB66, Rhodamine B Alumina Lake see PR173, Rhodamine B, violet shade, see PV1.)
The following dyes have been disclosed for the paint in these swatch cards:
What is dye? How is it different than pigment?
This is a surprisingly complex question, but the shortest answer is this: A dye is soluble. A pigment is insoluble.
There are a huge variety of chemical dye types across multiple industries including coal and petroleum. In an over-simplification specifically regarding art and craft materials, dye is a transparent colorant which is often man-made or otherwise altered from it's original natural state. Dyes are mostly vibrant or fluorescent organic materials. This can include minerals or plant dyes, colors that were extracted/removed and thinned/strained from the original rock or plant matter. Dye color has lost its crystal structure chemically. Think of it like squeezing the juice out of a fruit, leaving anything of solid substance behind. The staining dye requires a carrier particle to adhere to, so dyes are often bound to a metallic salt (referred to as a "lake" or "laked pigment", which is still typically fugitive). Fluid dyes are sometimes mixed into the gum arabic binder when included as a brightener in pigment based watercolor paints.
Dye is often fluid (no chunky particles), vibrant and fades quickly under UV exposure (window sunlight tests cause dyes to disappear within several months). It can be suspended in water, such as for using as a vat-dye for clothing (like the extract from indigo plant leaves). You can often tell the difference between a dye or 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.
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, granting artists more freedom to use unnaturally bright colors. There are times when products are marketed to "illustrators" or "designers" (notably in gouache painting lines) where the colors were made for reproduction purposes (prints/product design/book illustration). 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, not because of a problem with PR122 but 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, rhodamine) as well as other UV reactive minerals that "glow" fluorescent under black light exposure such as sulphides. 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.
Exceptions to testing for dyes with UV black light:
You may see glowing colors that are not dyes. A blue-light reflecting additive likely indicates zinc sulfide treated with silver, a green-light reflecting (as in glow in the dark paints) indicate copper dosed zinc sulphide. This is classified as PW7 as a pigment ingredient code, but is rarely labeled. You can read more about UV black light reactive supplies, invisible ink and glow in the dark paints under PW7 in the white pigment database section here
. I have discovered what appears to be silver doped zinc sulphide in Daniel Smith's Manganese Blue Hue, Lunar Blue and Cascade Green watercolors. While Zinc Sulphide's glow is fugitive (it will only have a UV reactive fluorescent glow, or hold a phosphorescent charge to glow in the dark for a limited amount of time) it doesn't usually change the underlying color because ZnS is white/clear. If added to something like PB15 as I suspect in Manganese Blue Hue, only the clear UV reactive part is fugitive while the blue of the PB15 remains lightfast. If you see pink/violet UV it is likely a very fugitive Rhodamine dye that will make the whole color fade. In student grade paints and neon pigment powders you may also see other yellow/orange fluorescents that are prone to fading.
(I have a list of common fluorescent effect paints, invisible inks, watercolors and pigment powders here
A note about "liquid" watercolors -
There are many dye-based liquid watercolors on the market that may imply that they can be used just like any other art supply (Ecoline, PH Martin's Radiant, most "watercolor" 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 often sold WITHOUT disclaimer that they are NOT 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 terms like "archival", "acid-free" or "non-toxic" only meaning they might not fade from chemical instability, PH level or reasons other than UV (unlikely to change in a scrapbook/photo album away from light). All should be considered suitable for climate stable indoor low-light projects only.
Rhodamine 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, showing signs of fading in matter of weeks. Sometimes fully disappearing after 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. Pigment based products often stand out because of their insoluble nature, settling to the bottom of liquids and needing to be stirred.
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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