Introduction: Making Natural Dye Pigments for Painting.

About: I am a part-time hobbyists biotechnologist with a photonics background. I also have a YouTube channel too. I work full time now.


In this Instructable, I will be working with Natural dyes. These dyes include Red cabbage extract, Beet Powder extract, Elderberry extract, and Madder root extract.

These dyes are quite potent on recycled Paper and will stain things very nicely including your clothes. Cabbage extract on paper will change from Purple to blue and with acids will turn Red and Pink and bases it will turn green. I have tested Citric acid and Potassium carbonate solutions (a few grams per 500 ml) -- 1 ml drop on a paper soaked with cabbage extract.

Beet powder was extracted with heat near 60 degrees and degraded into a yellow-brown color. It destroyed the dye. I will show how to do with distillation but the temp should be 20 degrees NOT 60-80 degrees.

Elderberry powder extract On paper dried and looked like Wine or wild berries.

Please see this Link on Mordants (Alum which has a charge that attracts the dye well Usually does.).

Warning: Alcohols are toxic and flammable, these dyes stain and Madder root powder is an Irritant do Not inhale the dust and wear gloves and full PPE. Alum is toxic and Potassium chloride is toxic too. Potassium carbonate is a fairly strong base and citric acid is slightly irritating to the skin and eyes.


Materials: Equipment.

Hot plate and stirrer.

Stir rods.

1 L three-necked round or flat-bottom flask.

Rubber stoppers to fit the three-necked flask.

Optional 50, 100, or 500 ml beakers.

A fridge.

Scale- Preferably a Jewelry scale. 1000 g max Plus Or minus 0.001 g.

Digital thermometer.

Stir rods.

Rubber stoppers for art.

Printer paper preferably recyclable type.

Digital thermometer glass 24/40 Adapter.

Distillation condenser.

Hoses and water to Help keep the distillation setup running (coolant).

Funnels and filter paper.

Chemicals including Pigments:

Red cabbage extract powder.

Beet Root Powder Extract.

Elderberry Powder extract.

Madder Root Hair dye Powder.

Tween 20

Glycerol (Optional).

Potassium chloride

Aluminum Sulfate or Potassium aluminum sulfate.

Ethanol 70 percent to 95 percent or 100 percent Isoproponal alc.

Step 1: Red Cabbage Extract Preparation Includes Some Paper Art Results Too.

You could take regular Red cabbage chop it up and soak it in a cauldron with warm water and alum and filter as the solution gets lukewarm. This is a good option for Pigment please see this video.

However, if you have access to Alcohol and distillation here a better method (Slightly) since you have the Powder, Hot plate, and stirrer.

We tare the Jewelry scale with a 500 g weight it off by 0.24 g but that an error I can live with. I put a weighing dish onto the scale and slowly pour in 40 g of Red cabbage Powder from Germany. I use a clear disposable spoon for that.

We pour in a three-necked flask with Ethanol halfway or Isopropanol alc. If you are using 99 percent you must dilute it to 80 percent. Then we add the stir bar and clamp the flask to the hot plate-magnetic stirrer and set for medium heat. Low stirring. Several stands with clamps must be used to hold the distillation condenser. We attach tubes to the condenser and allow water to flow through it as a coolant. It is plugged in.

If you are confused look up how to reflux distill stuff Ok then you will have an understanding of how it works.

40 g of Red Cabbage from Germany is put in a three-round bottom neck flask with 400 ml of 100 percent Isopropanol alcohol and 50 ml of water. Then 5 g of Alum was added as a Mordant. Stirring and heat around 70-80 for 5 hrs for a few days will make a very potent Cabbage extract Once cooled it can be filtered and Placed in glass bottles to be kept in the fridge.

Please see the video for further details.

Here basically How I pipette the cabbage extract onto paper with the acids and bases (You could try weak acids like tartaric acid, citric acid, acetic acid 5 percent), etc. You could also try weak bases (Sodium bicarbonate), stronger bases like Potassium carbonate, or Sodium carbonate too.

However, do Not Use Lye (Potassium Hydroxide or Sodium Hydroxide) since it will weaken the bonds of the paper and warp it thus ruining the paper.

An issue is Photobleaching too (If the acid and bases are too strong the cabbage extract on the paper may bleach and turns white, a neat pattern but I was trying to Keep it Blue, Pink, and green. A mixture of water with the acid or base should be used. Please see the second video.

Finally, I will show with Pipettes how to Modify this technique and make an interesting pattern with citric acid and potassium carbonate. (1 g to 2 g citric acid in 400 ml water), and (3 g of Potassium carbonate in 500 ml water).

Step 2: Organic Beet Powder.

I weighed out 34.6 g of beet powder and 11.4 g of Alum (Potassium alum sulfate) in 80 percent Alcohol and 20 percent water but when I set up for distillation I heated it to 60-90 degrees C. If U are going to repeat this you should put the beet powder into a flask and stir with a magnetic stirrer at 20 degrees C.

The beets are sensitive to heat and will turn yellow degrading the dyes into a yellow liquid that is Not a dye but a degradation byproduct.

Regular beets boiled will Prob not break down but the Red beet powder was very sensitive to excessive heat.

Here are a few videos of Mine about extracting 50 g of sludge in water. I would not go over 35 g if you want a good dye it makes it very difficult-- too concentrated.

You, if you choose the 50 g Powder method in 300 ml of water, will have to add 50 ml of hot water into the filter paper carefully with the beet sludge. Stirring carefully the filter paper with 1/3 the max volume of the filter paper to avoid a spill and loss of Product and add Hot water from a 100 ml beaker.

This will make a concentrated 500 ml water solution then you can add alum and tween tho alum is not very soluble at 20 to 25 degrees C. So reflux of the solution at 20 degrees C for 3-4 days with strong stirring then filtering is a better method than the Method that I described.

Step 3: Elderberry Extract Method and Some Combo Pictures.

33.45 g of Elderberry powder, 11 g of alum was added to a 1 L Rounded flask to prevent potential degradation of the dye that May happen distillation of the dye was only done at 16 degrees C strong stirring was used to extract the elderberry dye. It rapidly converts into a reddish-purple liquid in the air to wine or berry-like color which is very cool.

Note these dyes ARE NOT VERY STABLE so they should be kept in the fridge at 4 degrees C to prevent degradation and increase the shelf life of these natural dyes. They if kept in the fridge can last 4-5 months while Alcohol types if you Use ethanol 70 percent or Higher can prevent natural bacteria and yeast from growing in your dye mix.

Options if you want it from nature. Here I will show how to make it from distillation. Please see my video too.

Also adding the dye carefully (Powder) it is very statically charged and sticks to plastics including the Weighing boats so the powder stuck to a little (of the sides of the scale). I had to carefully clean it up with damp water.

Again since the Alum was cold, Not hot while I stirred it and extracted it, I am assuming it did not fully dissolve and thus did not function well as a Mordant.

You also could take the Elderberry powder put it into a glass bottle with a good cap, 1 L and add alum and water and shake vigorously for a week if you don't have stirring capability. Then fine filter and get the dye out afterwords.

Step 4: Madder Root Extract With Water.

17.45 g of Madder root (Amazon supplier) and 20 g of Potassium chloride with 6 g of Aluminum sulfate was added to 500 ml of water in a round bottom flask or flat-bottom flask 1 L. Alcohol cannot be used here since the salts WILL NOT DISSOLVE.

Then a stir rod was added. Simple reflux distillation was done and the digital thermometer was added. We want quite a vigorous stirring and we do not want to filter this product it will filter out the pigment as well. I made that mistake and lost 10 percent (50 ml out of 500 ml) of the product.

It got filtered and was impossible to re-use without diluting the sample. We are aiming for 80 degrees but do not allow the material to boil in this case.

Step 5: Final Words on These Organic Pigments.

Making Organic Pigments with vegetables and berries was fun and the cabbage extract with water and ethanol shifted pH with citric acid solution and potassium carbonate solution. They were quite weak in concentration and if you mix the water from a pipette with the acids and bases then you can retain purple, pink, and even green with the blue cabbage mixture.

Beet powder should be distilled and not refluxed if you use the Powder heating it Past 50 degrees risks degradation of the dye.

These dyes MUST be stored at 4 degrees C since they are prone to aging and degrading. Preferable in an amber or green light reduced bottle. Pierre water bottles (glass) make good ones too.

The pigments on recycled paper 50-100 percent is a good way to make pigments adhere to the paper.

You can with the paper use rubber stoppers to mat the dye and give a splash effect as well. I use fresh spoons for a similar pattern.