So, even after looking the words up there seems to be overlapping.

ink: mostly when talking about a pen, a plume; also for printer and printouts, and some mollusks' defensive arts & crafts

dye: mostly applied to hair and fabric?

pigment: the raw material for the above, maybe? also: what you find in nature, as chlorophyll, melanin; what gives color rather than coloration itself

Is it this clear-cut?

  • Your three descriptions contain two "mostlys", a "maybe", and two question-marks. That doesn't seem very "clear-cut" to me. Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 2:38
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    Ink colours or marks a surface, dye colours the whole thing. (Cuttlefish 'ink' is so-called just because it's a black liquid.) Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 9:24
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    By default, the purpose of "dye" is to (permanently) change the colour of something, whereas the purpose of "ink" is to write text which can be clearly identified as being a different colour to the background. And "pigment" is a relatively technical term for the substance(s) in dye or ink that actually provide them with colour. Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 18:35
  • @MarcInManhattan yeah, guess I had eaten the humble pie for breakfast, which made me inclined to use vague words not to come across as the one who asks with the razor-sharp delivery of who already knows the answers. Next time I promise to be clearer-cutter.
    – Peter
    Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 2:29

1 Answer 1


This is a case where there is a difference between the technical use of the words that a colour expert might use, and the more general use.

For a colour specialist, a pigment is an insoluble coloured powder, that is mixed with a binder (eg gum) and vehicle (eg water) to make paint. Paints are therefore thicker than inks

A dye is a soluble colour.

Inks can be dye or pigment based, but are used for writing, drawing, printing. The stuff in squid is also called "ink".

For a biologist, a pigment is a colourant found in animal or plant cells.

For a non-specialist, inks are used for writing and drawing. Dyes are used for fabric and hair, and pigments are the raw colours. The only real difference between a dye and an ink is the use. Madder was used as both a dye for clothes and as a red ink. Lampblack can be made into an ink (known as India ink), or mixed with gum to make a paint.

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    minor aside. In old English the word "black" meant "ink", the word "swart" meant black (compare swarthy) and "ink" was a special word for the purple ink used by king and emperors.
    – James K
    Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 21:24

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