Recently I’ve noticed much confusion about the difference between mica powder and pigment powder. Both can be mixed into and used to add color to resin, soap, candles, and translucent polymer clay. They are both colorants and can be used to color the surface of polymer clay. But they are not the same thing. Here’s the difference.
Mica is sparkly. Pigment powder is matte. They behave differently. But online listings are often confusing and they’re sometimes sold mixed together in the same packet. And that can mean the powder you bought won’t work as you expect.
Mica is a natural stone mineral with shiny flakes. When mica is ground into a powder, you get mica powder. Mica powders are therefore sparkly, sort of like very fine glitter. They’re used to give a metallic or shimmery pearl-like effect. They come in many colors. Pearl Ex is a popular brand of pure mica powder. (See a color chart of all Pearl Ex colors here.) While mica powders do often have color, they’re not optimal for coloring things because their main purpose is to create sparkle or shine. They won’t create a solid wash of bright color.
Pigment powders are ground-up colors, sort of like powdered colored chalk. Pigments are the actual colors themselves and have names such as ultramarine blue, cadmium red, yellow ochre, and titanium white. There are also artificial pigments with names like Pigment Blue 15. Pigments are what manufacturers use to give paint its color. They are not sparkly. Pigment powders are excellent at coloring things (this is their job, after all). Pure artist’s pigments (pure color) are fairly expensive, so pigments you buy from cheap sellers online are usually mixed with fillers (such as chalk) that make the color go farther. (For the nitpickers among us… in recent years the word pigment occasionally refers to mica and synthetic mica particles. Therefore it can be said that mica is a type of pigment, but pigments are not mica. But in reality, these materials are two different things and are very dissimilar materials.)
Confusion happens when sellers of craft materials try to gain buyers by using confusing keywords. You often see listings in online marketplaces (like this one on Amazon) where the terms are used rather loosely. In this case, I’m not exactly sure what you’d get. You might get pigments, you might get mica powder, or you might get a mixture. And while we’re at it, these colorants are not a dye, contrary to what the listing says. Pigments and dyes are completely different things, as explained in this article.
Used in Cosmetics
Both mica powders and pigment powders are used in the cosmetics industry. In fact, a combination of pigments and mica powder is used to create eye shadow, blush, and powdered foundation makeup. These can be used with polymer clay. You can read about Using Eye Shadow with Polymer Clay here. Cosmetic supply companies are excellent sources of both pigments and mica powder. But choose a reputable company to be sure of exactly what you’re getting.
They Behave Differently
While both mica powders and pigments can be used to color the surface of polymer clay, they do behave quite differently. Knowing which material you have will help you know how to use it in your clay project. These are both incredibly versatile materials that can be used in so many ways beyond adding rosy cheeks to a cherub. For example, about a third of the veneers in my 100 Days Project are done using mica powders and pigment powders. Here’s an example of a veneer using only pigment powders, mica powders, and a stencil.
Learn to Use Them – Get the Powders Guide
Do you want to know more about using mica powders and pigment powders on polymer clay? You’re in luck. I wrote a huge 90-page guide called “Powders – using mica, pigments, metal powder, and dyes with polymer clay.” It explains all about these beautiful powdered colorants and how to use them in and on polymer clay and explains how to use them on both raw and baked polymer clay. This information will also be invaluable if you use these powders with other media. Check it out, I know you’ll love it!
48 thoughts on “Mica Powder vs. Pigment Powder – What is the difference?”
I would like to make a pearlized copper chalk paint. To go over a matte black. Can you tell me if I should use pigment or mica powder? And will it turn the white water based chalk paint copper? I’ve been looking all over the internet for this answer? Please help.
Chalk paint contains opaque pigments. That’s why it looks chalky. Those same opaque pigments will coat and obscure any sparkle from mica powder. There will be no pearl or metal effect. If you add copper mica powder to white chalk paint, you’ll get pinky-brown-tan paint the color of copper but without any sparkle.
Can micro powder be dusted on dry?
I’m wanting to add just a shimmer of soft colour to a plywood Christmas bauble ,
also would i then need to spray hair lacquer to help hold ?Thank You
You can apply it with a brush, dry, but it will only stick if the surface is tacky. Unbaked polymer clay is perfect for that. I can’t say much about other media besides polymer clay, though.
Ok, this is a clay site. On Pinterest has videos of an artist cutting jewelery size pieces of different woods, then carving grooves, and lastly adding a powder, usually white, but red and green were used also. Would you have an idea if it’s mica or a pigment? And what liquid is used with the powder?
I have not seen these, so I have no idea what you’re seeing. However, just as shown in this article, mica is sparkly and pigment is not. As for the liquid? I have no idea. Often, resin is used for such things, but there are many ways to go.
Not a clay artist, but this was an excellent article. Was looking for the distinction for my paintings, thank you M’am, this was great
Thank you for the informative article! I’m still a little confused, should I be looking for mica powder or pigment to add to cement (powder) when making cement pots (planters)?
Mica powder is pearl powder. Pigment is the stuff you use to color things. Use pigment.
Thank you for making this! I own a slime store and I couldn’t find skin safe colorant on amazon. I resorted to pigment but decided to look up if it irritated skin. But you didn’t say anything about skin irritation so thats good. I also know to use pigment because the slime I’m adding it to will not have a shimmery pearl effect.
If you’re making something for skin contact, please research the SPECIFIC pigment or mica that you’re using. They’re all different and many of them CANNOT be used for cosmetics.
Thank you so much for this article. I work with polymer clay and what I call foraged supplies: anything found in nature. I’ve just started playing around with resin, and became quite confused with all the mica, pigments, inks and dyes references. You’ve brought clarity to this subject, in a straightforward, understandable way. As you do with all your other postings!
Just a couple questions:
*I’ve never tried oil pastels – how do you use them? Is it on cured and sealed clay? I thought any oil type substance wouldn’t play nice with polymer but you must have found a way. what about oil paints?
*Markers: actually I should do a search before I ask this because you may have covered it but I’m here and a little lazy…
Do you use them? What types work on cured and uncured?
Last one! And thankfully regarding this subject:
*im going to check our your suggestions and links for suppliers. I’m curious though – does quality count with mica powders? When I started out, I only knew Jaquard’s Perlex. I use them still, but I’ve seen all the others listed on Amazon and some are much less money and “appear” to be much the same.
Thank you for your time, and as always for sharing your talent, skills and beautiful work.
Real quickly… Oil pastels, you can grate them and mix them in. You can wet them with alcohol and paint onto raw clay. Experiment! | Markers…water based ones just wash off. Alcohol based ones work nicely, but they have the same issues as alcohol inks. | No, quality doesn’t count. Mica is mica. Sometimes mixes of powder/mica are sold as mica when it’s mostly non-sparkle stuff. But that’s not a quality issue, just a preference. Ethically sourced might be a concern, however, as there are some ethics issues with mica mining.
Hi, I am making candles and I have been informed that the dye blocks we use to colour candles are a mica/pigment powder in particularly i wish to use a fluro colour to make my own candle dyes, the main reason this is not suggested as a for is that it can casue wick clog, however its definantly a form thats like some kind of trade secret that no one want to share.
I have tried direct contactl with cosmetic companies the ones I ask say its possible but they have not tried it.
I am hoping you know which type of powder it is I am after, I do have an understanding of it needing to be non famable and that I may need to pre mix in an war wax base first to prevent clumping,
warm Regards S.
Dyes for candles are not powders. They are oil-based dyes suspended in an oil or wax base. They’re usually liquid oil or small intense blocks of color that melt into the molten wax. Powders are pigments or mica powder (which are particles that will be suspended in the medium, such as is used with resin). In recent years, sellers are listing their mica powders as candle dye when they most certainly are not. You need specialized candle dye, not cosmetic powders. You might find this article helpful: Pigments vs Dyes – What is the Difference?
Can mica powder be mixed in resin that is set with a UV lamp and used on baked polymer clay? I made a bead in a class on dieforming using scrap clay incase it didn’t work out well. Well, of course it came out great, so now I’d like to do something to make it more interesting. It has a raised stamped pattern and is baked, sanded and buffed Thank you.
I’m not sure what you’re asking (multiple questions?) But yes, mica powder can be mixed into resin. If it’s super thick or dark, though, light might not penetrate well and the resin might not cure. Use sparingly.
Mage means uv light resin. It cures in seconds with a lamp full of led ucdsm bulbs like nail salons use. It’s used in jewelry and think small pieces. The resin you are talking about needs uv light to penetrate to cure properly. So in extremely tiny amounts-like a whisper of a sparkle- is doable. But particles will block the light as they suspend through out. You really want to use uv dyes too. The alcohol inks can react poorly, I think it jelled it or something. It’s been a long time.
Hi, can pigment powder be used on skin
It depends completely on the pigment. Some are non-toxic and used in cosmetics. Others are irritating or allergenic. If you need pigments that can be used on the skin, order from from a reputable source that includes safety ratings on their products. I recommend Brambleberry https://www.brambleberry.com/
Hi I was wondering if mica and/or pigments could be used in things such as natural hair butters and leave- in creams and the like? It would be really helpful as I can’t find it mentioned anywhere! Thanks!
Some can, some can’t. It’s best to buy your mica from a cosmetic supplier to know if it’s safe for use on the body. They will be able to tell you. A good source is http://www.brambleberry.com
Are interference pigments considered Mica or pigment? Also how could you mix colors to get a multi Chrome chameleon shift looking end product.
They are a synthetic mica. Unfortunately, you can’t mix mica colors to get the same result. Chameleon powders have a special coating on them which reflects the light with multiple colors depending on the angle of the light.
I’d like to use Pearl Ex jacquards metallics pigments. What is used in the dapper pad when stamping and is there something elso to use that I can brush on and then sprinkle the powder? I want to highlight pedals of a rose flower of forge steel. Hard to get into the crevaces.
I’m not familiar with this application. You might prefer to use a different product, however. My father (a metal sculptor) uses Gilders Paste.
Thanks for this explanation… I wish I could tag it to every online seller of pigment powder because you never know what you’re ordering. I do now… ☺ thanks again
I am thinking to add the micra to the matt hair styling powder based on Syllica Silylate. Do you think is a good idea? My only concerned is the safety, as I haven’t seen any products that have ‘loose’ micra in the formula. Usually micra is added to the pressed powders and glycerin based products where is some sort of sealed there and since the inhalation of the micra is dangerous that styling powder could potentially be dangerous. What is your opinion?
I can’t say anything about the hair powder. Not a product I’m familiar with. As for mica, nobody should inhale any powder. That being said, the particle size of mica is too large to stay in your lung tissue. It doesn’t cause silicosis. If any gets in, we exhale it right back out again or it gets stuck on our mucus and we cough it out. Just don’t sniff it.
Can mica powder be used in egg tempera as you are also adding pigment to it For example to get a shiney halo on an icon
You can add it, but I suspect little of the shine will show. Tempera is opaque and matte, so the pigment in the tempera will likely cloak and hide the sparkle from the mica.
so -thank you for all but i am still ?/–doe that mean do not use mica or only know that it is different?–cheers
Use mica when it’s appropriate for your project. Sometimes mica is the right material, sometimes pigment is. I’m just trying to clarify for polymer clay users so they understand which is which.
Hi….If im trying to create my own pearl mica powder, is it simply combining a plain white or silvery pearl mica with a pigment for color? Thanks
Pearl mica powder typically is uncolored, which is the same as white or silvery. But mixing pigment with mica powder just results in a mix of pigment and mica. The mica itself will not become colored. For some uses, it would work fine, but not all. It would not work well for polymer clay, for example.
New crafter here 🙂 Do you have a suggestion on where to buy pigment powder? I’ve tried searching for them but all I see is the pearl mica powder :/
That is a problem for sure. Pigments are almost exclusively sold by companies that specialize in pigments or by fine art supply companies. Stick with name brands. If they’re sold in little ziplocs on Amazon, it will almost always be mica powder. That being said, if you’re using them on with polymer clay, soft pastels work great. Scrape some off of a pastel stick or use Pan Pastels.
If you mix clear mica powder with colored pastel powder, would it make the latter look metallic?
Yes, it would. But when applied to unbaked polymer clay, only the mica will stick, not the pastel powder.
Hi ginger I was thing about using mica powders on wood to give it the shimmer look, (a home project). Also do you know if it mixes well with wood gloss or should I mix it with something else and what.
Mica mixes well with varnish and gives a sparkly result. But test it with a small batch on scrap first to see if you like the look. It won’t be uniform and smooth. It will collect in the low areas.
Hello. Silly question for ya- can you use gold mica flakes on fabric? Or gold leaf metallic powder on fabric? I’m not aiming for a specific look or outcome to the project. Would just like to know if you think these mediums will play nice together. For durability, etc. Thank you so much for your time and advice!
They can, but only if there’s a medium involved. They won’t stick to the fabric on their own. So you’d have to combine them with a fabric paint or other medium that will adhere to the fabric and withstand wear.
Ginger , I’m a wood worker and use lot of resins . You mention Polymer Clay but nothing about Resins . Is this the same Mica Powder used in Resins for obtaining the different affects and colors? I’m looking to purchase in bulk instead of the small quantities .
Well, this is a website about polymer clay. 😉 Mica is mica. Yes, it’s all the same stuff. Any cosmetic mica supplier should be able to sell it to you in bulk, such as https://www.brambleberry.com/ and also PearlEx by Jacquard is available in large jars.
I feel so inspired and motivated by your work and instruction. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.
Ginger, you mention veneers in my 100 Days Project, can you give me more information on this project please.
Sure! I’m doing it over on Instagram. I’m not sure where the project originated. It started in early April and has gone for 100 days. Participants just posted on IG and used a hashtag #the100dayproject to tag their photo. I took longer than 100 days to do mine because I had to travel in late June. But I’m on track for finishing August 1. I’ve found it to be gratifying because it gets me IN THE STUDIO every day and I have a reason to try new things. I have done long-term projects like this before and have always found them to be excellent for sparking creativity.
Comments are closed.