X Close

The Pigment Timeline Project



Techniques used to analyse paints and pigments: a bibliography

By Ruth Siddall, on 25 April 2021

Want to know more about how we analyse pigments and paints?? We can use a large range of techniques for analyses all of which have their advantages and disadvantages. For example some are more suited to inorganic pigments such as minerals and their synthetic equivalents, whereas others are more appropriate for the analysis of organic chemicals. Observational techniques such as reflected light and polarising light microscopy enable differentiation of crystalline phases with the same chemistry, for example, synthetic chalk and mineral chalk. These techniques can also be used to analyse lake pigments and non-crystalline phases too. Many techniques used by analytical chemists are appropriate for pigment analyses. The majority of these are based on spectroscopy or mass spectrometry which detects elements and compounds based on their molecular structure and the behaviour of bonds between atoms (ions) in these phases. It is always good practice to use a range of techniques for the analysis of pigments. Some techniques complement each other and using several techniques can extend the range of information concerning, provenance, manufacturing and application of materials.  Listed here are a handful of publications (there are literally thousands out there in the scientific literature which tackle the analysis of artists’ pigments. The first section includes papers which introduce ‘classic’ techniques. The second section is a random selection of papers published in the last year or so which demonstrates the application of a range of techniques on a range of pigments and paints. Sadly, not all of the scientific literature is open access so some of you made need a institutional library subscription to access the full paper but always try googling the title in case its available via another platform. I’ve included DOI links where relevant. Also, not all books are available on line.

Some books and papers on materials in paints, colour and analytical techniques

Bell, I. M., Clark, R. J. H. & Gibbs, P. J., 1997, Raman spectroscopic library of natural and synthetic pigments (pre ~ 1850 AD)., Spectrochimica Acta Part A 53, 2 159-2179. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1386142597001406

Burgio, L. & Clark, R. J. H., 2001, Library of FT-Raman spectra of pigments, minerals, pigment media and varnishes, and supplement to existing library of Raman spectra of pigments with visible excitation., Spectrochimica Acta Part A 57, 1491–1521. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1386142500004959

Cardon, D., 2007, Natural dyes: sources, tradition, technology and science., Archetype ublications, London, 778 pp.

Chiari, G. & Scott, D. A., 2004, Pigment analysis: potentialities and problems., Special Issue 3: A showcase of the Italian research in applied petrology., Periodico di Mineralogia., 73, 227-237. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/242485634_Pigment_analysis_Potentialities_and_problems

Christie, R. M., 2015, Colour Chemistry: 2nd Edition., Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, 345 pp.

Clark, R. J. H., 2002, Pigment identification by spectroscopic means: an arts/science interface., C. R. Chimie 5, 7–20. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1631074802013413

Dyer, J. & Sotiropoulou, S., 2017, A technical step forward in the integration of visible-induced luminescence imaging methods for the study of ancient polychromy., Heritage Science, 5, 24 https://heritagesciencejournal.springeropen.com/track/pdf/10.1186/s40494-017-0137-2.pdf

Dyer, J., Verri, G. & Cupitt, J., 2013, Multispectral Imaging in reflectance and photo induced luminescence modes: a users manual., The British Museum, London., https://www.researchgate.net/publication/267266175_Multispectral_Imaging_in_Reflectance_and_Photo-induced_Luminescence_modes_A_User_Manual

Eastaugh, N., Walsh, V., Chaplin, T., & Siddall, R., 2004, The Pigment Compendium: Optical Microscopy of Historical Pigments. Elsevier – Butterworth Heinemen., 416 pp.

Eastaugh, N., Walsh, V., Chaplin, T., & Siddall, R., 2008, Pigment Compendium: A Dictionary and Optical Microscopy of Historic Pigments. (1st ed.). London: Butterworth-Heinemann., 958 pp.

Kirsch, A. & Levenson, R. S., 2000, Seeing through paintings: physical examination in art historical studies., Yale University Press, New Haven & London., 328 pp.

Mayer, R., 1991, The Artists’ Handbook of Materials and Techniques: 5th Edition., Faber & Faber, 761 pp.

Osticioli, I., Mendes, N. F. C., Nevin, A., Gil, F. P. S. C., Becucci, M. & Castelluci, E., 2009, Analysis of natural and artificial ultramarine blue pigments using laser induced breakdown and pulsed Raman spectroscopy, statistical analysis and light microscopy., Spectrochimica Acta Part A 73, 525–531. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1386142508006446

Scott, D. A., 2002, Copper and Bronze in Art: corrosion, colorants, conservation., Getty Publications, Los Angeles., 515 pp.

Siddall, R. 2018, Mineral Pigments in Archaeology: Their Analysis and the Range of Available Materials., Minerals, 8 (5), 201, 35 pp. https://doi.org/10.3390/min8050201

Spizzichino, V., Angelini, F., Caneve, L., Colao, F., Corrias, R & Ruggiero, L., 2015, In situ study of modern synthetic materials and pigments in contemporary paintings by laser-induced fluorescence scanning, Studies in Conservation, 60, sup1, S178 S184. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1179/0039363015Z.000000000222

Taylor, P., 2015, Condition: the aging of art., Paul Holberton Publishing, London, 263 pp.


Some recent papers which demonstrate state of the art technology applied to the analysis of paints from different periods and using different materials, including some modern paint analyses.

Aguilar-Rodríguez, P., Mejía-Gonzalez, A., Zetina, S., Colin-Molina, A., Rodríguez-Molina, B. & Esturau-Escofet, N., 2021, Unexpected behavior of commercial artists’ acrylic paints under UVA artificial aging., Microchemical Journal 160, 105743. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.microc.2020.105743

Berthold, C., Zimmer, K. B., Scharf, O., Koch-Brinkmann, U. & Bente, K., 2017, Nondestructive, optical and X-ray analytics with high local resolution on Attic white-ground lekythoi., Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 16, 513–520. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2016.02.008

Ceccarelli, S., Guarner, M., Romani, M., Giacopini, L., Francucci, M., Ciaffi, M., Ferri De Collibus, M., Puiu, A., Verona-Rinati, G-L., Colao, F. & Fantoni, R., 2021, Are the blue daemons really blue? Multidisciplinary study for the colours characterization of the mural paintings inside the Blue Daemons Etruscan tomb., Journal of Cultural Heritage 47, 257–264. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.culher.2020.09.002

Huntley, J., Wallis, L. A., Stephenson, B., Karlka Nyiyaparli Aboriginal Corporation & Davis, A., 2021, A multi-technique approach to contextualising painted rock art in the Central Pilbara of Western Australia: Integrating in-field and laboratory methods., Quaternary International 572, 52–73. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2020.05.032

La Nasa, J., Campanella, B., Sabatini, F., Rava, A., Shank, W., Lucero-Gomez, P., De Luca, D., Legnaioli, S., Palleschi, V., Colombini, M-P., Degano, I. & Modugno, F., 2021, 60 years of street art: A comparative study of the artists’ materials through spectroscopic and mass spectrometric approaches., Journal of Cultural Heritage 48, 129–140. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.culher.2020.11.016

Pozzi, F., Basso, E., Centeno, S. A., Smieska, L. M., Shibayama, N, Berns, R., Fontanella, M. & Stringari, L., 2021., Altered identity: fleeting colors and obscured surfaces in Van Gogh’s Landscapes in Paris, Arles, and Saint‑Rémy., Heritage Science, 9:15. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40494-021-00489-1

Steger, S., Stege, H., Bretz, S., & Hahn, O., 2021, Disclosing glittering and sparkling effects in 20th-century reverse glass paintings: a study of metallic pigments and metal foils by means of in situ XRF and DRIFTS analysis., Journal of Cultural Heritage 48, 196–204. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.culher.2020.11.008

7 Responses to “Techniques used to analyse paints and pigments: a bibliography”

  • 1
    Lisa Bengtsson wrote on 5 July 2021:


    Thank you for a fantastic page, I follow you with interest on Instagram! I am a watercolor artist in Gothenburg, Sweden. I have started to make my own watercolor from plants to make the art sustainable (it is of course also fun to make my own color!). I wonder about your recipes? Do you possibly share them? I also wonder especially about the coding process: If you make a decoction of e.g. dandelion. Do you dry it to a powder before mixing with e.g. gum arabic, or do you add it to the decoction? How does the purification process work? Filtration? Thank you for a nice and valuable work on pigment! Best regards, Lisa

  • 2
    Ruth Siddall wrote on 21 February 2022:

    Thank you for your comments. I don’t regularly share recipes as they are not necessarily written down.

  • 3
    John N Adair wrote on 21 February 2022:

    I have a possible Albrecht Durer master oil that I would like to get dated. I am in Oregon on the west coast of the United States. Can you refer anyone to me please? Thank you. John Adair

  • 4
    John N Adair wrote on 21 February 2022:

    I have had some interaction with Dr. JJ Massing of Cambridge on this. He was familiar with Professor Byron Cummings of the University of Arizona in the United States and some of his books that he wrote. Professor Cummings passed away in the 1950s. The painting was passed down by him to his family and then to mine. It has been in private party hands for nearly 120 years. Now in my possession.
    There is a lot of credibility with the painting. As a young man at the turn of the 20th Century, Professor Cummings made trips to Germany and throughout Europe to places where the artist was known to have travelled and painted. I am looking for some help in getting the pigment dated.
    Thank you.
    John Adair

  • 5
    Ruth Siddall wrote on 21 February 2022:

    Dear John, Within the academic setting we do not do commercial or private analyses. I only work with public collections. I am afraid that you will need to contact a commercial forensic art history or art analysis company. I am also afraid that I cannot give you any recommendations as I do not work within this sector.

  • 6
    Painters Red Deer wrote on 31 January 2023:

    Nice article! thanks for sharing the post!

    Painters Red Deer

  • 7
    Liana wrote on 14 April 2023:

    thanks for info

Leave a Reply