DIY dying cement is a tough job. Cement is often a dark media (my favorite crafting variety, Rockite, however, is already light, making dying easier), and the chemical processes and heating that take place during the curing process seem to destroy most dyes.
In my initial attempts, I used a professional grade high pigment fluid acrylic paint and was shocked to find literally no trace of the color after the cement cured. In subsequent attempts I tried alcohol-based dyes and even a super powerful resin pigment, each time un- casting my cement to discover no color visible in the final project.
Finally, after trying all these methods to add color to my cement castings, I found myself at a craft store clutching a grossly overpriced tiny bottle of cement dye and I just couldn’t do it. One more attempt at scouring the internet for cheaper alternatives to achieve dyed concrete turned up an idea to try the dye that hobby soap makers use: pure pigment.
Pigment, dye, and colorant are all words used pretty much interchangeably, but they aren’t the same. While colorant is a word that includes both dyes and pigments, dyes and pigments are not identical. Dyes are colored chemicals that are dissolved in a solution while pigments are colored particles that can be suspended in a liquid but remain distinct structures from that liquid. Consider: a bottle of dye-based stamp ink never settles and separates carrier from coloring, but quality watercolor mixed heavily in water, because it’s pigment-based, will eventually settle at the bottom leaving a clear glass of water.
Making DIY cement dye with pigments
Do pigments work to color concrete? Well, kind of. In my testing, it appears that the pigments made up of larger particles do a much better job of dying concrete.
What didn’t work: Resin dye (made for adding color to clear epoxy resin), Liquitex Basics acrylic paint (a version of paint with a bit more pigment than general craft store paint), craft store paint, and even Liquitex High Flow Acrylic Paints (which are artist-grade, pigment-based, and extremely powerful colors in other media)
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How I dyed natural colored concrete white
What did work: Raw organic pigment.
While that phrase might sound more like something you would pay a premium price to eat off the salad bar at an organic food market, unprocessed pigment is actually an affordable way to get high quality pigments. They’re the same thing that most commercial concrete dyes are made from, but at a fraction of the price of commercial concrete dye.
Pure Titanium Dioxide* produced dramatic color changes with the addition of one or two tablespoons of powder per pound of cement.
In the image below, you can see how I used this white titanium dioxide pigment to make a DIY cement dye to color the bases for a three-dimensional sculptural art project I made using water glasses and clear epoxy resin sculpted to mimic the look of splashing water.
By mixing the cement in batches, and mixing each batch of cement with different amount of titanium dioxide white pigment, I was able to create gradients, color contrast, and visual interest in my poured cement molds without purchasing commercial cement dye (which is often very expensive or only sold in quantities appropriate for a driveway – not a small art project)
You can confidently use inexpensive titanium dioxide pigment to color fine cement (such as a Rockite) for use in fine art projects as well as home DIY’s (like making your own cement flowerpots and planters or even molding your own industrial concrete countertops)
Just be sure and always create a test batch first. Different cement brands and mixtures are formulated differently and may react with pigments uniquely. Testing is the best way to determine how your DIY cement dye will turn out in your final project. Although I have only tested white, many other pigments are mineral-based and should reliably add drama and color to cement.