The Origin of Color Names for Artist Pigments

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When you stand in the paint aisle at the art supply store, you can’t help but notice all the different pigment names on the paint tubes. As you try to twist your tongue into those hard-to-pronounce names, you might wonder who thought up color names like Quinacridrone Crimson or Phthalo Blue. Why do these hues have such awkward names?

If the name of a hue looks difficult to pronounce, it usually means that it is named for the prominent chemical compound that gives the pigment its color. Here is an overview of where some of those quirky pigment names and their origins:

    • Alizarin – Alizarin is an organic compound that originally came from the roots of the madder plant, but now it is sythentically produced.
      Cadmium – Cadmium is a bluish-white metal that is used in the production of Cadmium Yellows, Cadmium Oranges and Cadmium Reds. Although the colors are brilliant, they are also toxic so they should be used with the utmost care.
      Cobalt – Cobalt is a lustrous metal that has been used for centuries to make rich blue, green and teal pigments.
      Naphthol – Naphthol is actually a colorless crystalline solid, but it is used in the production of artist pigments, usually red or crimson.
      Phthalo – Phthalo is short for Phthalocyanine, which is a synthetic pigment of greenish-blue. Colors like Phthalo Blue and Phthalo Green are popular amongst artists for their intensity and tinting strength.
      Quinacridrone – The organic compound known as Quinacridrone is a red powder that is used as a pigment. It is synthetic. The colors range from reddish to violet.
  • Now that you know the origins of these pigment names, the next time you see them at the art supply store or squeeze them onto your palette, you’ll have a better understanding of what is actually in them.


    1 thought on “The Origin of Color Names for Artist Pigments

    1. Pingback: The Many Different Hues of Blue « Segmation-The Art of Pieceful Imaging

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