What Is Dye Made From?

by David Harris ; Updated September 28, 2017

Though people have used many different substances to create dye throughout history, modern dyes are usually made from chemicals.


Most dyes are derived from chemicals that come from petroleum or coal. However, there are some dyes made from natural substances or a mix of natural and chemical substances.


While people used to use the indigo plant to dye clothes, indigo dye today comes from a mixture of caustic soda, sodium phenylglycinate and sodamide.

Production Costs

Modern dyes are derived from petroleum and coal because they are cheaper and easier to obtain than the plants and animal substances traditionally used to make dye.

Environmental Considerations

Natural dyes, derived from plants and insects, are gaining popularity because they have a less negative impact on the environment.


All dyes, whether natural or chemical, must be proven safe for human use before they are approved for use.

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About the Author

David Harris is a writer living in Portland, Ore. He currently is the editor-in-chief of the online magazine Spectrum Culture. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College.