Alizarin crimson (PR83)

Alizarin lack, alizarin crimson

Alizarin is the dye in madder red, a red dye extracted from the madder root, from this dye the pigment madder lake can be made. As a dye for textile dyeing, the dye is very old, it has been grown in Central Asia and Egypt since 1500 BC. As a pigment for artist’s paints, it was mainly used during the 17-1800s. Today, real madder lake is unusual as a pigment in artist colors.

The German chemists Carl Liebermann and Carl Graebe discovered the composition of the dye and in 1869 they succeeded in producing it synthetically. Only a few years later, the synthetic dye alizarin had outperformed the natural madder red due to the much lower price. As a pigment for artist colors, it is called Alizarin crimson and has the index name PR83.

The color is very transparent, quite staining and not granulating. The hue is blackish primary red. This blackish tone makes the color difficult to use as a primary red, it works great for lowering the value for green color mixtures and for violet with any blue color, but worse for mixtures with different yellow colors. Its major problem, however, is the durability which is highly questionable, a property it shares with natural madder lake. Most manufacturers rate the lightfastness from semi-good to fugitive.

Different manufacturers’ Alizarin crimsons may differ slightly in hue, from bright pink to almost brown. Some have color names with some addition such as “deep” or “permanent” they should be avoided, they are usually not Alizarin crimson but some other pigment or a mixture. As always: check the index name (should be PR83 for Alizarin crimson) before you buy a color unknown to you.

You should pay special attention to all the colors that are called something with madder they are usually not genuine, but some kind of imitation. Different color mixtures and alternative pigments act as a replacement for the original color, perhaps understandable because both rose madder and alizarin crimson are doubtful in terms of durability, replacing them with something durable may seem like a good idea, but in that case they should give the color a another name.

This applies to alizarin crimson and rose madder:

  • The genuine color from madder root should be called rose madder or madder lake.
  • The synthetic Alizarin color should be called alizarin crimson.

All other pigments and color mixtures should be given a different name, but this is not the case, unfortunately, the manufacturers call any cold red color madder or alizarin. There are several manufacturers that have colors called something with both madder and alizarin, e.g. “Brown Madder Alizarin” or “Alizarin Rose Madder”.

Alizarin crimson is a color I own, but I almost never use it. I prefer quinacridone rose, which has the advantages of being fully lightfast and having a clearer hue, otherwise the colors are the same and have similar properties.

Alizarin crimson is a blackish deep cold red color that seems cooler in thin layers of color. It is fully transparent
The color is very staining, therefore difficult to wash out of the paper.
Fantastic wet on wet, flows out on a wet paper very well.
The color is very happy to bloom.
Because the pigment is very transparent, a hard edge easily forms around the edge of a painted spot.


Color index name: PR83
Lightfastness: Doubtful – fugitive
Transparency: Yes, very
Staining: Yes
Granulates: Not at all

Where the color alizarin crimson is found in the color wheel.

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