How Were Colours Made in Ancient Times?

Color has been an important aspect of human life since ancient times. From cave paintings to modern art, colors have been used to express emotions, convey messages, and add beauty to our surroundings.

But have you ever wondered how these colors were made in ancient times before the advent of modern technology? Let’s take a look at some of the methods and materials used by our ancestors to create colors.

Natural Pigments

Before the invention of synthetic dyes and pigments, people relied on natural sources for color. These included plants, animals, minerals, and even insects. Some examples of natural pigments are:

  • Red: made from crushed cochineal insects or powdered red ochre
  • Yellow: made from turmeric, saffron or yellow ochre
  • Blue: made from indigo plant leaves or lapis lazuli mineral
  • Green: made from malachite mineral or crushed plant leaves like spinach or parsley
  • Brown: made from burnt sienna clay or walnut husks
  • Black: made from charcoal or burnt bones


To make these natural pigments adhere to fabrics or surfaces better, our ancestors used mordants. These are substances that help fix the pigment onto the material by creating a chemical bond between them. Some common mordants used in ancient times were alum, iron salts, and tannin extracted from tree barks.


In addition to pigments for dyeing fabrics and coloring surfaces like walls and pottery, ancient people also created paints for artistic purposes. These were usually made by mixing pigments with a binder such as egg yolk or animal glue. Some examples of ancient paints are:

  • Fresco: a technique of painting on wet plaster using pigments mixed in water
  • Egg tempera: made by mixing pigments with egg yolk and water
  • Gouache: similar to egg tempera but with added white pigment to create a more opaque finish
  • Encaustic: made by melting beeswax and mixing it with pigments, used for painting on wood or stone surfaces


In conclusion, ancient people were able to create a wide range of colors using natural sources and simple techniques. Their knowledge and expertise in color-making paved the way for modern innovations in the field of dyes and pigments. Even today, some artists still prefer to use natural materials for their creations, appreciating the connection to our ancestral roots.