Mica Powder vs. Pigment Powder – What is the difference?

Mica powder and pigment powder are not the same thing. Learn more at The Blue Bottle Tree.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 Powder

Mica powder is shimmery or metallic and has a shine. It makes a great coating on polymer clay.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 Powder

Pigment powder is pure color and appears velvety when applied to polymer clay.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

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

Veneer made using mica powder, pigment powder, and a stencil with polymer clay.

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!

Get the Powders Guide

Learn to use mica, pigment, metal, and dye powders with polymer clay in this comprehensive Guide to Powders. Understand how these materials work so you can grow your art and create with confidence!

28 thoughts on “Mica Powder vs. Pigment Powder – What is the difference?”

  1. Are interference pigments considered Mica or pigment? Also how could you mix colors to get a multi Chrome chameleon shift looking end product.

    1. 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.

  2. Hello Ginger

    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.

  3. 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

  4. 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?

    1. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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

    1. 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.

  7. 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 :/

    1. 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.

  8. 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.

    1. 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.

  9. 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!

    1. 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.

  10. 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 .

  11. I feel so inspired and motivated by your work and instruction. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  12. Ginger, you mention veneers in my 100 Days Project, can you give me more information on this project please.

    1. 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.

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