Responding to a post on Frontier Folk asking where to find red paint, I realized I’d answered this question quite a few times. I put some work into the response, so am replicating it pretty much verbatim here.
First: OFFICIAL DISCLAIMER. This is my opinion. I am not a chemist, nor do I work for the FDA or any of the companies I mention here. I’ve tried a bunch of different stuff, and talked to doctors, geologists, and chemists. This is the opinion I’ve formed from those conversations, but I’m not an expert, so I recommend you ask the advice of one, test a small amount of whatever product for allergies. In general, I’m trying to warn you to use common sense. Whether you do or not, you can’t sue me if you turn permanently red or develop a persistent cough…
If you want the real “indian red” paint, or red ochre, an earth pigment. Real earth pigment is pretty much all the same, whether for concrete colorant or what’s sold as “Bare Minerals” makeup. It’s Iron Oxide (in most cases, Fe2O3) whether it’s sold for makeup, milk paint, artist pigment, concrete colorant, asphalt shingle color, or whatever.
For some reason, the red ochre from hematic clays stain worse (or better, depending on your opinion) than those that aren’t. I asked a chemist about this, and he can’t explain why. Neither can the guys at New Riverside Ochre (listed below). It’s true either way – the GA ochre (from New Riverside) isn’t as staining as the stuff I got from the Tuscaloosa (AL) clays and surely not as staining as the brighter red, heat treated product I got 50# of from Virginia ten years ago (don’t ask me to sell you any, I’m down to about 1/2 pound). I actually prefer something that will come out within a day or so, rather than stay pink for three or four days, as does my wife, since I invariably spill it or get it on clothing.
No matter where you get it – in this case, buy American (or French). South American or even worse Asian products for colorant (non-food/makeup) can have a good bit of other stuff in them without making a big deal about it on the package. In the states and France, the packages will be labeled to help you make sure they are what they say they are. Be sure to ask for an MSDS if you look at industrial products like concrete colorants.
The risk you use buying non-food/cosmetic grade is that it will contain enough silica (SiO2) to be considered a risk for silicosis with long term exposure. They have to disclose this. Read your MSDS and/or labels, and make your own, informed choice.
Now, on to where to look for the stuff:
Absolutely cheapest per pound are commercial concrete colorants.
–The only one that I called and asked a price from, and that was 8 years ago: New Riverside Ochre in Cartersville, GA. 50# bags, 200# minimum, you pick it up in Cartersville or pay truck shipping. http://www.nroonline.com/index.html.
–The best deep red in my opinion is from from Alabama Pigments http://www.alabamapigments.com/ – call them to find a vendor and the minimum charge. You want what they used to call “Tuscaloosa Red”.
–Davis Colors http://www.daviscolors.com/#concrete supply a lot of concrete mixing companies, and have a search feature to find a local one that uses their powdered pigments.
No, I’m not kidding. Products like this are the cheapest per pound you’ll find, and you’ll have enough to last you forever…literally. It’s not practical for most people, but if you call your local concrete company, they might just have some on hand, and might give you a pound or two. Look this gift horse in the mouth, and read the label on the bag, and the MSDS if they will let you.
Next best price, but not that much less (if any) than our sutlers charge are soapmaking shops, art supplies, and small volume consumer or “art” concrete colorant. The bonus here is you can buy more at a time, and probably a wider range of colors (greens, blues, etc)
–I used to be able to buy small (1-2 pound bags) of dry pigment for concrete colorant at Lowe’s and Home Depot. Our Lowe’s now only carries a liquid colorant that I don’t think I’d put on my skin, and I haven’t looked at Home Depot in awhile (not one in town).
–Real Milk Paint’s pigments: http://www.realmilkpaint.com/powder.html $16/lb/$1/oz.
–Googling concrete colorants in small volume: http://www.gardenmolds.com/PROD/5-ALL/IO-BRICK.html and similar – $15 for 1/2 pound (that is a lot of powder). BTW: That’s twice as much as Real Milk Paint’s product.
–The Earth Pigments Company http://www.earthpigments.com/index.cfm – supply mostly art-grade pigments. I never bought from them, can’t remember who told me they had. I know some art students who like their stuff, but they bought yellows and blues, not red. Careful with art supply powders, and make sure they’re pure iron oxide, not cadmium or other oxides…they’ll make you sick.
–There used to be a company in Jacksonville FL called “earth products of provence” that had good prices for small amounts, and had stuff imported from France. I bought samples from them, and it was quality stuff. Their site’s parked now, so I don’t know how to get in touch with them. If you are a visitor from the EU, and want a recommendation, try Ocres de France (http://www.ocres-de-france.com/boutique.php)
–My favorite for bulk these days: Ponte Vedra soap shop http://www.pvsoap.com/pigments.asp decent prices, their stuff is considered makeup grade. The red they have is deeper colored than AL/VA hematic. These don’t stain the skin (that would be a negative for your soap). This is who I’ll order from next time I need to order a relatively large quantity. They also have a useful black pigment.
If you want to pay more for the same stuff:
—http://www.toolsforworkingwood.com/indextool.mvc?prodid=LB-0290.XX at $11/ 100ml. Meant to color wood, not people.
–Also more expensive are the ‘sho nuff’ cosmetic suppliers, ranging up to $40/oz for cheap stuff, lots more for the real “bare mineral’ product.
So, to boil it down: Buy from people like Brandon Scott or Jim Jacobs http://www.blueheronmercantile.com/
– at $2/2oz, it’s roughly the same price as the better sources above. Jim has ‘vermilion’, but not red ochre. If you need a bunch, or specifically red ochre, buy a pound from Ponte Vedra. You won’t use it up any time soon. If you absolutely must go for the cheapest you can find, ask a concrete place or look around for the small bags of concrete colorant (and read the package three times).
If you know a sutler who carries red ochre (or you are a sutler who carries red ochre) and you would like me to link and list your price, please email me at the link in the bottom banner.