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When it comes to art, I see both terms quite frequently, but nobody ever really stops to explain the difference. What, then, is the difference between a pigment and a dye? Is it source? Usage? Or something else?

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The simple difference is that a pigment is insoluble in water. So, when you mix it with water or another liquid, it becomes a suspension. Over time, a suspension will settle, and you'll have to mix it back up. Or, if the liquid were to evaporate, the pigment would remain.

A dye is generally soluble in water, or already a liquid. It doesn't settle, and if it evaporates, everything will go. Historically, dyes came from natural sources such as mashed berries, boiled plants, bugs and various vegetation.

This site contains a more scientific comparison:

https://www.duraamen.com/blog/differences-between-dyes-and-pigments/

You can also find some encyclopedic definitions on Wikipedia, which get into the way the compounds and molecules interact on a more fundamental level.

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  • Or to put it another way, pigments are solids while dyes are liquids. If you want a dye to behave like a solid pigment, you need to use it to color something; this is what "lake" pigments are. – Martha Oct 11 '16 at 13:30
  • @Martha But you can buy solid dye that you mix yourself. Once mixed it shouldn't settle – user24 Oct 11 '16 at 13:55
  • @Martha , you could probably have that as an answer in it's own right, especially if you had a link to what a 'lake' pigment is since your answer prompted me to say "what's a lake pigment?" – EmRoBeau Oct 13 '16 at 17:57

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