The Rich Story of Pigment Red 254

Updated on October 17, 2019
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I enjoy collecting pigments in many forms to add a personal touch to my artistic creations. I have learned a lot about paint making.

Pigment Red 254
Pigment Red 254 | Source

My Appreciation of Pigment Red 254

One of my first artist acrylic paints I purchased was pyrolle red. I couldn’t get over how the red seemed to leap up at me! What further astonished me was how much acrylic medium I could add without losing the chroma or intensity of the red color. Every metal sculpture I created that had this color sold rather quickly. Sadly, I ran out of the pyrolle red acrylic paint but I recently purchased 1 pound of the dry pigment from Kama Pigment! So now I can have this wonderful red in acrylic, oil, oil-based alkyd, and lacquer.

Like Most Pigments, It Was Discovered Accidentally

The first appearance of pigment red 254 or pyrrole red was not in some paint manufacturer's R&D room, but in a lab at Michigan State University in 1974. Like so many other pigments now used by artists, pigment red 254 was stumbled upon while another substance was desired. Chemistry professor Donald G Farnum was trying to synthesize a new chemical compound but failed. The residue left In the flask was in fact pigment red 254. Farnum did not think much of this discovery nor did he realize its potential as a lightfast pigment.

The Ciba Patent of 1983

Ciba Specialty Chemicals, based in Basel, Switzerland, patented a manufacturing process for pigment red 254 in 1983. This discovery revolutionized the automotive finish market. Before pyrolle red was on the market, automotive red paint would fade and eventually chalk up. Pyrrole red was completely light fast and stable. But as long as Ciba had the patent rights, they pretty much could ask for any price they wanted. Ciba Chemicals had no problem getting $100 per kilogram for pigment red 254! That is especially astounding considering their out-of-pocket costs were on the order of $20 per kilogram—keep in mind this was in 1980s dollars! Pyrolle red was, indeed, a very expensive pigment. When the patent expired, competition moved in and the price lowered.

Pigment Red 254 on 2001 Ferrari 360 Modena
Pigment Red 254 on 2001 Ferrari 360 Modena | Source

Ferrari Red

As the 20 year limit was closing in on the patent from Ciba Specialty Chemicals, the market for pigment red 254 really opened up. From 2000 to 2006, pigment red 254, often referred to as Ferrari Red, was being used on Ferraris, Alfa Romeos, BMWs, and Corvettes, as well as Volkswagens and the Lexus Soarer SC430.

A Red Above the Rest

I can remember personally that many red cars before the late 1980s would fade and even get chalky due to prolonged exposure to fluctuating temperatures and harsh UV rays. You can delay this onslaught by regular waxing, but the delicate chemistry of many red pigments ultimately led to them fading.

This is where pigment red 254 truly outperforms any other red pigment. Pyrolle red is completely stable not only to UV light and weather, but also to heat and chemical agents!

Pyrrole red is not attacked by acids or alkali materials to any appreciable extent. Its stability in response to heat makes pigment red 254 invaluable to the coating and plastics industry. Pyrolle red has been tested in baked, oil-based alkyds up to 390 degree Fahrenheit. Pigment red 254 is stable up to 570 Fahrenheit in plastic formulation. This makes pigment red 254 a great asset for coloring HDPE and PVC.

Good Replacement for Cadmium Red

Cadmium pigments have been under scrutiny in recent years due mainly to health concerns and proper disposal. Many industries have sought alternatives to replace the cadmium pigments in their products to remain compliant. Most of the replacements for cadmium pigments are either azo pigments for the yellows and oranges or pyrolle red for cadmium red.

Cadmium pigments where first used in artists' paints in the 1840s and 1850s. Cadmium pigments were the first range of pigments to have such a bright color, opacity, and lightfastness. But cadmium was a scarce metal during the 19th century, so industrial development of cadmium pigments did not really catch on until 1920s. They were used in many industrial products, including automobiles, and exposure to sunlight, air, and moisture caused them to chalk as previously mentioned.

Pigment red 254 is a medium red that is opaque and has a tendency to form pinkish tints. It has most of the desirable properties for most applications of cadmium red, minus the toxicity and tendency to fade and chalk.

Pigment Red 254 Video

Questions & Answers

  • Is there more than one pigment in Pyrrole red. If so, what are they please?

    It is a single pigment-based on one organic molecule. There are a few different shades of pyrrole red but these are slight modifications in the chemical formula.

    If you go to a pigment distributor and they call is Red 254, it’s pure pyrrole red and the most common one.


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