A dye is a colored substance that chemically bonds to the substrate to which it is being applied. This distinguishes dyes from pigments which do not chemically bind to the material they color. Dye is generally applied in an aqueous solution and may require a mordant to improve the fastness of the dye on the fiber.[2]

Chemical structure of indigo dye, the blue coloration of blue jeans. Once extracted from plants, indigo dye is almost exclusively synthesized industrially.[1]
Yarn drying after being dyed in the early American tradition, at Conner Prairie living history museum.

There are two broad categories of dyes: natural and synthetic; Natural dyes are dyes extracted from plants, Insects, or minerals. The majority of natural dyes are vegetable dyes derived from plant sources such as roots, berries, bark, leaves, and wood, as well as other biological sources like fungi.[3]

Synthetic dyes are also referred to as "coal tar dyes" because they are derived from substances that, until recently, could only be extracted from coal tar. A synthetic dye consists of a chromophore and an auxochrome added to a benzene derivative.[4]

Both dyes and pigments are colored, because they absorb only some wavelengths of visible light. Dyes are usually soluble in water, whereas pigments are insoluble. Some dyes can be rendered insoluble with the addition of salt to produce a lake pigment.

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