With having several upcoming workshops in the near future on botanical inks, natural dyes and water-colour paint making with earthen pigments, we thought it might be beneficial to clarify the differences between stains, dyes, inks and pigments.
A natural dye is when we extract the colour from the source material (plants, fungi, etc) with water. The colour that has leeched from the organic matter is water soluble, which means that it is dissolved in the water. When either paper or fabric is dyed, the particles are bound to the cells of the fabric and change the fabric's colour.
A stain whilst similar to a dye is not permanent. It will either wash off or will fade. Examples of stains are beetroot juice, red cabbage water, or some berries.
A mordant is generally used with natural dying, although not all dyestuffs require the use of a mordant as they themselves can be used as a mordant (oak galls, for example). A mordant covers the fabric and enables the dye to bite or ‘glue’ itself to the fabric.
A pigment is a raw colour, often from rocks, soil, clay, or minerals, and usually comes in powdered form. The pigment is not water soluble therefore it will not dissolve in water, it is suspended in water. To make paint, in our case, water-colour paint, the pigment needs to be ground or mulled with a water-colour binder that coats each particle with the binder solution aiding suspension and holds the particles in place. Pigments coat the surface of the paper, with the binder helping the pigment particles to stay attached and not spread out. They are layered onto the paper, while dyes are in the paper.
Ink is a substance that is used to make marks on paper. A stain could, therefore, be used, although as we have noted, it could fade, change colour, or completely disappear within hours. A condensed dye solution can be used as an ink as is. However, other ingredients can be added to help with adherence or permanence. A dilute water-colour suspension can also be used as an ink, whilst an ink can be used as a paint.
As you can see, there is quite a bit of crossover in the use of natural colours; there are no hard and fast rules and plenty of exceptions. Our purpose is more to explain the differences and to encourage you to go outside, collect your own resources and give it a go yourself.
Thanks for contacting Hebron Outdoor Ministries. If you have questions or comments, we'll be very happy to talk to you. Send us a message and we will get back to you as soon as possible.