The Science of Pigments

July 1, 2008

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Pigments are the organic and inorganic solid compounds that give paint its signature color. Today, we are going examine pigments and discover how they make colors come to life.

Pigments are solid particles held in suspension with the binder. These solid particles react with the wavelengths of visible light to produce color. Most every day light sources emit a range of light frequencies. When light hits a painted surface, some of those frequencies are absorbed by the pigment, while the other frequencies are reflected away. The reflected light determines the color that the eye perceives.

Red paints absorb higher frequency light, while reflecting the light closest to the infrared spectrum. White paint looks the way it does because the pigments reflect all of the light frequencies that hit the painted surface about equally.

The interaction of pigment with the other components of a paint help determine other characteristics of the perceived color. Increasing the amount of pigment relative to the amount of binder increases the saturation or intensity of the perceived color. Greater amounts of pigment in paint also contribute to a flat finish. Smaller amounts of pigment allow natural light to reflect unchanged from a painted surface, which gives the paint a glossy look.

Coming Up: Modern Pigment Compounds

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