Paint and pigment: Colour and performance from design to delivery

Photos courtesy Sherwin-Williams

By Rick Wilson

What is in a can of paint? Pigment choice considers more than colour alone. Paint can evoke certain feelings, both positive and negative, and plays a crucial role in the anticipated outcome of a space. The genetic makeup of a pigment and coating can provide desirable performance characteristics.

Understanding the history of colours, how performance is impacted by pigments, and getting back to the basics of paint will help specifiers select high-quality, innovative coatings in order to deliver meaningful benefits to their project’s owners and occupants.

A history of colour

The history of colour is told through the art, design, and fashions of the past. Throughout the years, colours have earned a reputation for evoking certain feelings due to specific roles in history. From insects, plants, and stones, people have been using the natural materials around them for years to develop pigments that span across the colour wheel to create art and bring emotions to life.


Viewed as an exciting, dramatic colour, red draws attention, stimulates energy, and encourages interaction and confidence. It has more personal associations than any other colour and is often used as an accent in spaces. Examples of red pigments found in nature include carmine, brazilwood dye, and madder.


Considered universally appealing, blue creates a feeling of serenity and openness while encouraging communication and promoting interaction. In the past, blue pigments were rare in nature and only affordable to the wealthy, creating the association with aristocracy and royalty. The colour elicits a feeling of calm and aids in intuition. Azurite, indigo, and pollia condensate are examples of blue pigments found in nature.


Associated with extremely positive emotions, yellow is the most visible colour, which is why it is often used for road signs and school buses. It is primarily linked with the sun, therefore positivity, happiness, and cheer are words often associated with this bright colour. Examples of naturally occurring yellow pigments include yellow orchre, naples yellow, and orpiment.


Signifying a strong association with nature, green refreshes and restores. It is perceived as calming and serene. Green brings balance to the human brain and can have relaxing and renewing effects. Buckthorn, terre verte, and malachite are examples of green pigments found in nature.


Giving off an aura that is cheerful, bold, and exciting, orange is the colour of vibrancy. It is described as daring, joyful, and adventuresome. Examples of natural orange pigments include realgar, cadmium orange, and carnelian.

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