HomeChemistryThe Chemistry & Science of Color

The Chemistry & Science of Color

The chemistry of color covers the way in which through which completely different frequencies and wavelengths of seen mild are absorbed or mirrored by molecules often called pigments. These pigments have particular compositions and configurations that correspond to their respective colors. 

From the various colors of autumn leaves to the dyes used within the clothes trade, our world is filled with wealthy and various colors. However precisely how are these colors shaped, and why? Learn on to study extra in regards to the chemistry and science of color.

The science of colors

In easy phrases, a substance can both be colourless or it may possibly have a color(s). Stable objects are usually colored, whereas many gases are typically clear (colourless). The exact color (or lack of color) is set utilizing a few completely different strategies, relying on the substance concerned.

The color of easy inorganic substances, akin to gems for instance, is set by the presence of sure parts. For instance, rubies are crimson as a result of presence of chromium, whereas emeralds are inexperienced as a result of they comprise chromium, vanadium, and iron.

In lots of instances, the color (or its absence) is set by the presence of a sure atom or molecule that has a corresponding chromophore(s), that are constructions in molecules that may both soak up or mirror seen mild. 

The colors of some objects can be decided by the way in which microscopic parts are organized. That is true for each butterfly wings and peacock feathers. In these examples, the overlapping microscopic constructions mirror mild in a method that blocks different wavelengths or frequencies of sunshine, leading to quite a lot of shiny hues being displayed at completely different angles.

Close up of colourful peacock feathers

How chemistry colors our world

Whether or not you’re watching a movie in your smartphone or admiring a portray on the museum, the chemistry of colors has an necessary position to play. On an LCD display, for instance, every pixel is a cell stuffed with twisted nematic liquid crystals that may change polarity relying on the electrical voltage passing by means of it. This transformation additionally alters the color and tone of the sunshine produced by every pixel.  

In contrast to the liquid crystals on flat-screen TVs or smartphones, pigments in work aren’t dynamic and don’t change instantaneously. Though some pigments might alter over time attributable to chemical degradation, the chromophores within the pigment molecules stay comparatively steady.

Wooden dice spelling the words beta carotene, with a plate of carrots in the backgroundColors can be discovered within the meals we eat. A few of these colors, such because the yellow-orange color of beta carotene, happen naturally, whereas others, like Sensible Blue FCF, are added artificially.

Chemical structure of beta-carotene
The chemical construction of beta-carotene

Color wheel chemistry

The color wheel in chemistry is said to spectrophotometry (the measurement of sunshine absorption), with every color immediately comparable to its respective wavelength. Nonetheless, the colors we see confer with the mirrored wavelength of sunshine versus the absorbed wavelength.

Usually, the vary of color areas and their corresponding wavelengths may be tabulated as follows:

Color Area Wavelength in Nanometer
RED 750 − 610
ORANGE 610 − 590
YELLOW 590 − 570
GREEN 570 − 500
BLUE 500 − 450
VIOLET 450 − 370


The kind of substance determines the color or colors it absorbs, whereas its focus impacts how a lot mild is absorbed. The color that we understand is the complementary or reverse color of the absorbed mild. 

For instance, if we understand that an object or substance is crimson, the absorbed mild is definitely blue-green. You possibly can confer with the color wheel to find out the complementary colors. The colour wheel

Figuring out the color and quantity of sunshine that’s absorbed may be helpful when analysing composition and focus. Chemical indicators may be then used to find out the acidity or alkalinity of a substance. For instance, phenolphthalein is colourless in acidic options however turns magenta in primary options, as proven within the illustration under:

Graphic showing what happens to the chemical structure of phenolphtalein when an acid or an alkali is addedA degree chemistry: color modifications

In the event you did A degree chemistry, you’ll in all probability have discovered {that a} change within the color of a substance is an indicator of chemical change. That is true for chemical indicators utilized in titration experiments, for instance. 

It’s additionally usually true for a lot of chemical reactions, be it a decomposition response, mixture response, single displacement response, double displacement response, or combustion. Throughout a chemical response, atomic bonds are both created or damaged (or each), leading to a change within the construction and composition of the substances concerned.

Color-changing experiments in chemistry

If you wish to put what you’ve learnt into follow, listed here are some examples of experiments in chemistry that display change in colors throughout reactions:

Copper oxide and sulphuric acid

Copper oxide is a black stable (powder) whereas sulphuric acid is a colourless liquid. When the 2 are combined collectively they produce copper sulphate and water, and the as soon as colourless resolution modifications to a cyan-blue color.

Purple cabbage juice

Purple cabbage juice can be utilized as an indicator for figuring out whether or not an answer is acidic or primary. The juice color modifications from crimson to inexperienced whenever you add a primary resolution. It reverts to crimson whenever you add an acidic resolution and turns into blue when the answer is neutralised.

Blue bottle experiment

The blue bottle experiment is a traditional demonstration of chemical change as indicated by the color change. To carry out this experiment, you’ll want to mix glucose, methylene blue, and sodium hydroxide in a flask. If you shake the flask and let it settle, the answer modifications from blue to clear. If the flask is swirled round once more, the liquid will revert again to blue.


The colors that we see are the results of the absorption of sunshine of sure wavelengths by a substance. The chemistry of color is important to completely different industries akin to meals preparation and the clothes sector. It’s additionally necessary in chemical evaluation as an indicator of chemical change. 



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