Food and Cosmetic Dyes

You can use liquid food coloring from the grocery to color your soap. Most food colors will fade with even a little exposure to sunlight, so just know that your soaps will fade. Since the colorings are liquid, you need to allow for the extra liquid you'll be adding to the recipe.

Annatto Seed Infusion

Annatto seeds produce a vibrant orange dye. It will fade to various shades of lighter gold and yellow in soap. Annatto is sold as “annatto seed,” but it isn't really seeds. It is little beads made of the dried fruit. They are very hard and difficult to grind. To get color out of it, it needs to be exposed to warmed oil.

4 tablespoons annatto seed

1 cup distilled water, boiling

1 cup olive oil

  • Place 2 tablespoons of the annatto seed in each of the heatproof containers.

  • Pour the water over the annatto in one cup.

  • Add the oil to the annatto in the other cup. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Check for color — if the annatto has released a lot of orange, you don't need to continue heating. If necessary, microwave on high for 1 more minute. (Watch the oil carefully through the second minute. If it starts to bubble, take it out.)

  • Place the two containers of annatto infusion side by side and compare the colors. You'll observe a clear golden color to the water infusion. The oil infusion will be a very deep orange.

Alkanet Root Infusion

Alkanet root produces a brilliant, deep magenta pink. The more alkaline the soap, the more blue it will be. It would be interesting for someone to come up with an alkalinity test based on the use of an alkanet root solution. You buy alkanet root as dried shavings. To get color out of it, it needs to be exposed to warmed oil. It is interesting how little color you get when you add it to boiling water.

4 tablespoons dried alkanet root

1 cup distilled water, boiling

1 cup olive oil

  • Place 2 tablespoons of the alkanet root in each of the heatproof containers.

  • Pour the water over the alkanet in one cup.

  • Add the olive oil to the alkanet root in the other cup. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Check to see if the alkanet has released pink into the oil: If it has released a lot, stop heating now. If necessary, microwave on high for 1 more minute. (Watch the oil carefully through the second minute. If it starts to bubble, take it out.)

  • Place the two containers of alkanet infusion side by side and compare the colors. You'll observe a very faint tint to the water infusion. However, the oil infusion will be a deep, gorgeous pink.

You can also buy food and cosmetic dyes in very concentrated powder form. They produce brilliant colors, and one tiny package of powder goes a long, long way. Take care when using them that you don't get them on anything you don't want dyed. In general, you add a tiny amount of dye powder to a teaspoon of warm water. You add the concentrated color in small amounts until you get the color you want. It is easy to go overboard, so watch carefully how much you add.

Gel Colorants

Liquid gel colors are an invaluable method of color delivery. They work extremely well in soap casting and can be applied to lye soap processes as well, with varying results. Again, learning through experimentation is how you can predict what will happen.

The gel colorants come in an incredible array of colors. Many of them are grouped into color stories and are available as kits. There are triple-strength colors that are more concentrated than the others. You can also get gel tones in primary colors so that you have unlimited color blending powers at your fingertips. TKB Trading manufactures them and sells them from their Web site, and there are a number of licensed dealers to be found on the Internet.

Lab Colors

Since 1999, Bramble Berry soapmaking supply company has been offering Lab Colors. They are superconcentrated food and cosmetic dyes with exacting directions about how to use them. They come in small portions, which are diluted in hot water and stored in bottles to use as needed. There are many colors including a “basic twelve” that can be used to blend a wide variety of colors. The colorants come with a usage booklet and a color blending chart, showing color blends for high and low pH products. So, the trouble with food and cosmetic colors being unpredictable is eliminated as the colors were particularly formulated for use with high pH cold-process soap.

Working with Lab Colors can take some getting used to, but when you have facility with them, you'll wonder how you did without them. If there are color blends you frequently use, premix them into smaller containers to make things simple. For people who want to spend less time experimenting with color and more time actually working with color, this is a great system.

Mineral Pigments

You can get incredible color by using mineral pigments, such as ultra-marines and oxides. These are the basic pigments used in cosmetics and by artists who blend their own paint. Be sure the mineral pigments you use are designated for soap and cosmetic application. Don't buy them at an art supply store, since you don't know if they are safe to use on the skin. Responsible soap supply houses will sell only the kinds of pigments that are safe to use in soap.

If you are going to make soap of all one color, you can add the mineral pigment with the lye to the water to make a colored lye solution. This way, the color will not be affected negatively by the lye and the color will be dispersed throughout the soap.

Some colors are not stable in lye soap and will either change into a different color or lose color altogether. Once you have experimented and know what the color will do in your own recipe, you can plan for it and make use of the colorant. Some colorants dissolve in water and some disperse in oil. You need to check with the supplier for how to use them.

You may also add the mineral pigment at the end of the stir. Mix the amount of pigment you want to use and blend it with a teaspoon of hot water. Blend it well. Strain it if there are stubborn clumps that won't dissolve. Remove a portion of the soap to be colored and mix the pigment mixture into it. Add it back to the main mass and stir well to evenly incorporate. Do this for as many colors as you want to use in a batch.

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