What is the difference between 色素{しきそ} and 色{いろ}? Is there a major difference? According to Jisho they both seem to mean basically the same thing.

  • After reading this question and the answers, I expected the definitions in Jisho to be the same or very similar. But they appear to not overlap, in line with the way the differences are explained here. Did someone submit a change?
    – Leebo
    Oct 6, 2020 at 8:03

2 Answers 2


I didn't realize until now that there is no straight translation of 色素 in English, although they are very different in concept.
(Pigment seems to cover it according to @Nanigashi, but also seems to usually stand for a certain type of painting material we call 顔料.)

is a stimulation a ray of certain frequency gives to eye.

色素 is a material that takes on a certain 色. It is found in dyes, paints, flower petals, or your skin (melanin). WP has an article Biological pigment, which defines them "substances produced by living organisms that have a color resulting from selective color absorption". Remove the "produced by living organisms" part and that is the definition of 色素.

  • Sounds like "colorant" may be the English word most closely matching your description of 色素. The definition of colorant is "a dye, pigment, or other substance that colors something". Oct 6, 2020 at 21:59
  • @GrumpyYoungMan The referent may be close, but I think "colorant" = 着色料. ニンジンには赤い色素がある means that carrots have red pigment not colorant. Oct 7, 2020 at 2:21
  • Oh maybe it's my verb choice... Oct 7, 2020 at 2:23
  • I think "pigment" can be considered an English equivalent of 色素. In addition to the biological pigments that give organisms their natural colors, we use the term "pigment" to refer to paints, dyes, and the like, and also to the substances that are used to make them. The term "mineral pigments" is often used to refer specifically to insoluble or nearly insoluble pigments of non-biological origin. (And you're correct that "colorant" is not a very good translation for 色素, at least in most contexts.)
    – Nanigashi
    Oct 7, 2020 at 23:49
  • @Nanigashi I originally thought that, but when I searched images on Google, nearly all "pigment" results were related to insoluble substances for paint or cosmetics. 色素 returned soluble dyes, colorants, skin color, fluorescent markers and that like, as well. Though not sure about the connotation because I'm not a native speaker of English. Oct 8, 2020 at 5:11

I would say there is a definite difference. 色 is a generic abstract noun for color. 色素 is a concrete noun which refers to a physical substance that gives color to another object. I think the clearest English word pair to differentiate these is 'pigment' and 'color'. A pigment produces a specific color in an object. Likewise, 色素 produces 色 in objects.

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