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Department of Art / Resources / Environmental Health & Safety Guide / Printmaking / General Chemicals / Pigments


Pigments are the colorants used in lithography, intaglio, and relief printing inks. There are two types of pigments: inorganic pigments, and organic pigments.


  • Pigment poisoning can occur if pigments are inhaled or ingested.
  • The classic example of a toxic inorganic pigment is lead chromate (chrome yellow). Other inorganic pigments may be hazardous including pigments based on cobalt, cadmium, and manganese. All can cause cancer and organ damage.
  • Some of the inorganic pigments, in particular cadmium pigments, chrome yellow and zinc yellow (zinc chromate) may cause lung cancer if inhaled. In addition, lamp black and carbon black may contain impurities that can cause skin cancer.
  • Chromate pigments may cause skin ulceration and allergic skin reactions.


  • Obtain MSDS on all pigments, the label may not turely represent the pigments present.
  • Use the safest pigments possible. Avoid lead pigments.
  • Avoid mixing dry pigments whenever possible [see painting]