How Was the Color Yellow Made in Ancient Times?

In ancient times, the process of making colors was a task that required skill and patience. Yellow, being one of the most popular colors used for various purposes, was no exception.

The color yellow was made using natural materials, mainly from plants and minerals. Let’s take a closer look at how yellow was made in ancient times.

Plant-Based Yellow

One of the most common ways to make yellow was by using plants. The plant-based yellow dye was extracted from various parts of the plant, such as flowers, leaves, roots, and bark. The process involved crushing the plant material and soaking it in water to release the natural pigment.

Some of the popular plants used for making yellow dye were:

  • Weld: A flowering plant with bright yellow flowers that were picked and dried before being crushed to extract the dye.
  • Turmeric: A root spice that gave a bright yellow color when mixed with water or oil.
  • Saffron: A spice derived from crocus flowers that gave a vibrant golden-yellow hue to fabrics.

Mineral-Based Yellow

Apart from plants, minerals were also used for making yellow color. These minerals were typically ground into a fine powder before being mixed with water or oil to create paint or dye.

Here are some of the minerals used for making yellow dye:

  • Ochre: A naturally occurring mineral that had varying shades of yellow depending on its origin.
  • Orpiment: Another mineral that gave a bright golden-yellow color when ground into a fine powder.
  • Gamboge: A resin obtained from trees in Southeast Asia that gave a deep yellow pigment when mixed with water.

The Role of Mordants

To make the color last longer and adhere to the fabric or surface, mordants were used. Mordants were substances that helped fix the dye to the material, making it more resistant to fading or washing.

Some common mordants used for making yellow dye were:

  • Alum: A white crystalline salt that was used as a mordant to fix the yellow dye to fabrics.
  • Tannin: A naturally occurring substance found in plants that helped improve the colorfastness of yellow dyes.
  • Copper: A metal that was added to the dye bath to intensify and darken the yellow color.


In conclusion, yellow was a popular color in ancient times that was made using natural materials such as plants and minerals. The process of making yellow required skill and patience, and involved crushing the raw materials, extracting their pigments, and using mordants to fix the color onto fabrics or surfaces.

With advancements in technology, synthetic dyes have largely replaced natural dyes. However, the art of making natural dyes still survives today as a sustainable alternative for those seeking eco-friendly options.