Natural and Historic Dyes & Inks

Animal Derived

Name Colour Description Image
Cochineal Red to Orange Cochineal Insect (Dactylopius coccus). Carmine is derived from this.
Lac (Shellac) Reddish-Purple to Amber Lac Insects (Kerridae Family). Sticklac (raw), seedlac (washed) and shellac (solvent extracted resin) are derived.
Indian Yellow Orange-Yellow Urine of cows fed mango leaves. Fluoresces in sunlight, making it seem extra bright. 1
Tyrian Purple Reddish-Purple Murex sea snails (Murex Genuss).  

Plant Derived

Name Colour Description Image
‘Dragon’s blood’ Dark Red Dried resin of several plants. ‘True dragon’s blood’ comes from plants in the Dracaena genus. Often confused with cinnabar in history. 2
Madder Red Rose Madder (Dyer’s Madder, Common Madder, Rubia tinctorum. 3
Turmeric Yellow-Orange Turmeric Root (Curcuma longa) 4
Onion Skins Yellow   5
Weld Yellow Dyer’s Weed (Reseda luteola). 6
Nettles Blue-Green    
Lincoln Green Deep Green Woad dyed fabrics, over-dyed with weld.  
Indigo, Woad Deep blue Variety of plants, mostly from the Indigofera genus or Woad (Isatis tinctoria)

Mineral Derived

Name Colour Description Image
Vermilion Brilliant Red Powdered cinnabar (mercury ore). 7
Ochre, Umber, Sienna Earthy Red-Purple to Yellow Ochre mineral family. All contain Iron(III) Oxide, with varying proportions of other minerals.
‘Burnt’ varieties (e.g. Burnt Sienna) are produced by heating raw minerals (calcination).
Ultramarine, Persian Blue Deep Ocean Blue Powdered lapis lazuli.


Name Colour Description Image
Lamp Black Black Soot, mixed with oil or water & a binder.  
India Ink Black Fine lamp black, mixed with hide glue and set into sticks or pellets. Reliquefied with water before use. Invented in ancient China, but named as it was commonly traded in India.
Iron Gall Ink Black-Green/Brown Tannins from oak gall extract mixed with iron sulphate.  
‘Dragon’s blood’ Ink Dark Red Powdered ‘Dragon’s Blood’ resin and gum arabic, dissolved in water. See ‘Dragon’s Blood’ under Plant Derived. Commonly used by the Romans.  
Cephlapod (Sepia) Ink Black-Brown Ink sacs of squids, cuttlefish and octopuses.