Pigments are solid, insoluble materials that give color to or enhance the appearance of a medium. Through the absorption of varying light wavelengths, pigments can create diverse effects by transmitting light through or reflecting it off of surfaces.

The earliest known pigment types were derived from natural sources such as ground minerals and charcoal, among others. Synthetic coloring agents began to be used as early as 2000 B.C.E. These pigments included white lead, which was made from the combination of vinegar and lead in the presence of CO2, as well as calcium copper silicate, also known as Egyptian blue, which was made from malachite or copper ore-colored glass. This was followed by a surge of pigment technologies, which made it challenging to keep track of compositions.

The 20th century witnessed the establishment of several standards developed by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) for the testing and characteristics of pigments. An example of such a standard is the CII (Colour Index International), a published index that identifies pigments based on their chemical compositions and features over 27,000 pigments in its schema.

The pigments market can be classified broadly into organic, which includes phthalocyanine, azo and quinacridone; inorganic, which includes chromium oxide, cadmium pigments, titanium dioxide, carbon black and iron oxide; and specialty, which includes light interference, metallic, complex inorganic, classic organic, luminescent, high-performance organic, thermochromic and fluorescent.


Burgeoning Adoption of Organic Pigments

Organic pigment technologies demonstrate several advantageous characteristics, such as high color strength and bright shades, and thus deliver performance benefits such as high resistance to heat, light and migration. Given these robust properties, the application scope of the organic pigments industry has expanded exponentially across various industrial sectors.

For instance, the use of organic pigments in printing inks has gained massive traction in recent years. In fact, in developed nations, the use of organic pigments in printing inks represent nearly 50% to 60% of the overall output. This popularity of organic colorants in the development of inks is further characterized by the emergence of novel printing technologies, equipment and rising demand for cultural goods.

For instance, in 2020, printing company CottonBee initiated the use of a novel industrial printer, Durst Alpha Series 5, for all its printing activities. With printing speeds of up to 490m2/h, it is among the fastest printers of its kind in Europe. In addition to speeding up the printing process, the adoption of the new printer has also enabled the company to embrace new sustainable pigment technologies, by facilitating the use of OEKO-TEX 100 (Class I and II)-certified and GOTS 5.0-compliant pigment inks.


Rapid Restructuring of the Europe Pigments Industry Landscape

In 2019, Europe witnessed a significant upheaval in its coatings raw material domain, as two of the most prominent industry players, BASF and Clariant, announced their plans to divest their pigments businesses. Despite a significant shake-up in the regional industry due to these announcements, the divestments have opened up avenues for more players to expand their presence in the European pigments market.

For instance, Japanese firm DIC Corporation announced its acquisition plan for BCE (BASF Colours & Effects), the global pigments business of BASF. This deal was undertaken as a part of DIC’s strategy to expand its portfolio as a global pigment manufacturer for inks, coatings and specialty applications, as well as expand its presence in the European market.

Likewise, China-based C&G Pigment recently established its European subsidiary under the name C&G Pigment Europe GmbH, in Leverkusen, Germany. This expansion strategy was aimed at broadening its inorganic pigments product portfolio throughout the continent.

The European pigments industry has also witnessed a substantial upsurge over the years as a result of the flourishing printing ink, paints and coatings, construction, and other industries, as well as increasing demand for specialty colorants in the region.


TiO2 Pigment Production Faces Challenges

Emerging as one of the most unusual and pervasive events in history, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed a host of unprecedented impacts across the entire industrial spectrum, including the pigments market. This was evidenced by the nearly 5-15% rise in synthetic dye prices in February 2020, within just weeks of the stoppage of pigment raw materials due to the outbreak.

The TiO2 (titanium dioxide) sector particularly witnessed a considerable setback due to the pandemic. The main challenges faced by the TiO2 pigments industry during these turbulent times are a result of widespread supply chain disruptions, especially in areas such as Sichuan, where TiO2 feedstocks are more prevalent, as well as the east coast, where coatings manufacturing is focused. Furthermore, logistics disruptions and transportation issues stemming from the implementation of travel bans further exacerbated the impact of the pandemic on the industry in recent months.


Next-Gen Pigment Technologies Will Boost Growth

The situation is starting to improve gradually, however, as manufacturers and industry players across the globe refocus their efforts towards recovery, by innovating novel pigment technologies.

For example, leading pigments producer SCHLENK Metallic Pigments has recently unveiled its new effect pigment product, dubbed Zenexo® GoldenShine WB 21 YY, designed for waterborne and automotive coatings. The Zenexo GoldenShine WB 21 YY product, which is based on UTP® Technology, is considered to be a revolutionary breakthrough in effect pigment technologies for automotive applications. The novel product delivers benefits such as superior flop, high hiding power, and greater safety with regards to storage, transport, and utilization as a powder-based, non-hazardous material.

Meanwhile, a team of researchers from the Eckart division of Altana AG has recently been awarded the Innovation Award for the year in the specialty chemicals group for the development of novel production technology for pearl-effect pigments for various application sectors, from automotive, to coatings to cosmetics, among others. This advanced technology yields pearlescent coloring agents that deliver robust luster and color intensity properties, as well as exceptional chemical resistance, and UV and mechanical stability.