Bone Black Pigment

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Bone black is an impure black carbon pigment prepared from charring animal bones. Bone black is described in literature as being a deep blue-black to brown black color. Learn More.

Bone black is an impure black carbon pigment prepared from charring animal bones. Bone black is described in the literature as a deep blue-black to brown-black color. It comprises 10% to 20% carbon, 80% calcium phosphate (hydroxyapatite), and smaller amounts of other inorganic minerals. A fine particle size and high carbon content grade of bone black is sold commercially as ivory black oil paint.

Rublev Colours Bone Black pigment is naturally derived from charring ground animal bones, namely bovine and porcine. We label it as an inorganic pigment to classify it in either of two categories: inorganic or organic pigments because the resulting product from bone char mainly consists of hydroxyapatite, calcium carbonate, and carbon, all of which are considered to be inorganic substances. Hydroxyapatite, also known as bone mineral, is a naturally occurring mineral form of calcium apatite. Although naturally derived, it is a synthetic substance since it has been altered by human intervention; namely, it was charred in a kiln. In reality, bone black still contains organic substances that are not entirely modified or vaporized by heating in a kiln.

Pigment Names
Current Names:English: bone black
Dutch: beender zwart
French: noir d'os
German: Beinschwarz
Italian: nero di osso
Portuguese: preto de osso
Russian: костяной черный
Spanish: negro de hueso
Synonyms:English: ivory black
Dutch: ivoor zwart
French: noir d'ivoire
German: Elfenbeinschwarz
Italian: nero d'avorio
Russian: слоновой кости черный
Spanish: negro de marfil
Alternate Names:English: animal black, animal charcoal, bone char, bone charcoal, drop black, ivory black, Frankfort black, German black, ossa sepiae, Paris black

Origin and History of Use

Numerous identifications of bone black are reported in the literature. Bone black has been identified in prehistoric paintings and found in Egyptian, Greek, and Roman art. It is found throughout European medieval and Renaissance art and later in oil and watercolor paintings until modern times.

Many old masters used bone black in their work. In Rembrandt’s paintings, the dark-colored umber might have been almost enough for the background shadows, but the black clothing worn by his sitters called for an intense black pigment.

In the 19th century, a fine grade of bone black was sold as ivory black, and an inferior grade was sold as Paris black.


Bone black is animal charcoal prepared from bones exposed to high temperatures (550° C.) without access to air. The bones are roasted in closed vessels. The ignition residue is a black matter, which, when reduced to powder, forms bone black, sometimes incorrectly called ivory black. Ivory, by carbonization, will furnish a black, which, because of its fineness and intensely black color, is more esteemed than the ordinary bone black, but it is unavailable today.

In manufacturing bone black, the bones are first boiled in water or a solvent to remove the fat and then subjected to destructive distillation in closed containers, vented to remove the ammonia, called bone spirit, and a dark, tarry liquid (bone oil). When the bones cease to release vapors, the residue is charred bone or bone black. Bone consists of protein collagen with inorganic matter. As a result of the decomposition of the animal matter in this destructive distillation, nitrogen and hydrogen, united as ammonia, and a part of the charcoal, in the form of carbonic acid gas, are distilled from the charred bones. In contrast, the remainder of the charcoal is left in the closed containers.

Carbon pigments formed by the pyrolysis of animal matter, such as ivory black and bone black, fall within the category of cokes as the protein collagen softens or liquefies before charring. Cokes are defined as carbonized matter from a precursor in a liquid or plastic state. Thus, they do not show evidence of their former structure but form irregular, porous lumps. Ivory and bone contain a high percentage of inorganic matter, elephant ivory about 55%. The inorganic components of this latter material are comprised of calcium phosphate (82%), magnesium phosphate (15%), and calcium phosphate (2%). Consequently, these pigments contain an even higher proportion of inorganic material, primarily hydroxyapatite, Ca5(OH)(PO4)3.

Maximilian Toch describes how ivory black differs from bone black, “Ivory black is prepared from charred ivory, and contains only about 20% of carbon black, the balance of it being phosphate of lime or bone material, but it is unlike any other black, on account of its intensity.” (Materials for Permanent Painting, p. 134) Today, ivory black is no longer made commercially, so pigments and paints named ivory black do not contain charred ivory but are a fine particle-size grade of bone black with a high carbon content.

Natural Pigments uses the term “bone black” to describe its grade of bone black pigment with a carbon content of about 10% and very fine particle size. Other manufacturers would typically designate this grade of bone black as “ivory black.”

Permanence and Compatibility

Bone black is a permanent color for all uses on the artist’s palette. The stable blue-black pigment is denser than carbon black and works well in oil paints and watercolors. It is compatible with all other pigments and can be used with good results in all mediums.

Oil Absorption and Grinding

Bone black absorbs a moderately high amount of oil. The oil absorption ratio is 46–49 parts by weight of linseed oil to 100 parts by weight of pigment. If the measurement were grams, it would require about 46 to 49 grams (by weight) of raw linseed oil to grind 100 grams (by weight) of bone black to form a stiff paste. It makes an average drying oil paint.


Bone black is not considered hazardous, but care should be taken in handling the dry powder pigment to avoid inhaling the dust.

Pigment Information
Colour Index:Pigment Black 9 (77267)
Chemical Name:Hydroxyapatite (calcium phosphate) and carbon
Chemical Formula:Ca5(OH)(PO4)3 and C
ASTM Lightfastness Rating
Physical Properties
Specific Gravity:2.52
Weight per Solid Gallon:20.99 lb.
Bulking Value:4.764 gal/100 lb.
Particle Size:3–15 microns
Oil Absorption:46–49 grams oil/100 grams pigment
Tinting Strength:134 ±2%
Masstone:*600 ±2%
Refractive Index:1.65–1.70
Chemical Properties
Carbon (C):9.6%
Carbon dioxide (CO2):1.3%
Sulfur trioxide (SO3):0.5%
Manganese dioxide (MgO2):0.5%
Iron (Fe):0.15%
Aluminum (Al):0.19%
Nitrogen (N):0.04%
Residue on Ignition:85.8%

* According to ASTM Method D210, matching cosmic black standards of jetness.

More Information
BrandRublev Colours
VendorRublev Colours
Processing TimeUsually ships the next business day.
Pigment TypeInorganic, Natural

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