Dyes, first used thousands upon thousands of years ago, add value and meaning to objects through color pigmentation. They have a long and industrious history and can be used for decorative but also functional and aesthetic purposes. As time has passed and technology has progressed, dyes have evolved to include synthetic as well as natural products.
History of Dyes
Though textile dyeing dates back to during the Neolithic period, the first documented use of dyes through written record was in China in 2600 B.C., nearly five thousand years ago. The next documented use was in Rome in 715 B.C., when wool dyeing was established as an art and craft two thousand years later. However, textile dyeing is common in cultures and civilizations in different times and places, often with differing locally natural products.
Sources like vegetables, fruits, animals, and other plants served as the original raw materials used in natural dyes. Some of these are still used today. However, in the middle of the nineteenth century, the first synthetic dyes were developed, which are what most dyes we use today.
Some of the most notable natural dyes include indigo, Tyrian purple, alizarin, logwood, and yellow, with indigo being the oldest of these and logwood being the only one that remains in modern usage.
The Industrial Revolution and its resulting growth in the textiles industry meant the need for quick and cheap dyes skyrocketed. Thus, the already existing difficulties of using natural dyes were that much more prominent and discouraging, leading to innovation that paved the way for synthetic dyes to take the textiles industry and every other industry by storm. The economy needed dyes that were extremely inexpensive, easy to use, long-lasting, and allowed for variety in color, a need that was unmet in the current market.
In 1856, William Henry Perkin was the first to discover the synthetic dyestuff of mauve, which is different from our modern mauveine, while researching for cures for malaria. This spurred the dye industry and even organic chemistry in general. After doing lengthy research on the use of coal tar, a German scientist was able to isolate more than 50 compounds to use in the creation of synthetic dyes in 1914. This marked the birth of a new industry, leading to the thousands of synthetic dyes now in existence today.
Use of Mordants
Mordants enable the dyes to stick to the surface of a number of different things, such as fabric, wood, or others. For example, a mordant such as copper might be used with a natural dye to ensure the color stays. Mordants can also be very beneficial in helping objects be different shades or hues of a color. Mordants have thus become an often inseparable part of the modern dyeing process.
Organic and Inorganic Pigments
There are different kinds of pigments, namely options between organic and inorganic ones. Stated simply, organic pigments contain carbon in their molecular makeup while inorganic pigments do not. Organic pigments are brighter but fade much quicker in comparison to inorganic pigments. This is important information when deciding what to choose for whatever you want to make. Also, keep in mind that dyes and pigments are not the same thing. A key difference is that dyes are usually soluble and pigments are usually insoluble in water.
A different use of dyes exists for aesthetic purposes for food. This use of dye is heavily regulated as it is part of food. Most food dyes are synthetic here as well, though some remain natural. Food dye is popular for both commercial and domestic cooking.
Dyes and other pigmentation are used in virtually every industry in addition to textiles in the United States and the world. As dye technology continues to progress and innovation continues to be needed, we can look forward to seeing this industry become more sustainable with less of an environmental impact. Ultimately, the impact of this seemingly small innovation has been more than disproportionate — it has been revolutionary in so many things that are part of our daily lives.
Easter Eggs – pixabay creative commons
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Guest Author Bio
Amy Williams is a free-lance journalist based in Southern California and mother of two. As a parent, she enjoys spreading the word on positive parenting techniques in the digital age and raising awareness on issues like cyberbullying and online safety.