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Pigments are insoluble colorants that have no affinity to the substrate. So how can they function as colorants if they "can't stick"? Are pigments always applied together with a "binder"?

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    $\begingroup$ ""that have no affinity to the substrate"" the affinity may be weak, but it is never zero. Aside from the "pigments" precipitated within the fabric as explained by Fred Senese it is simple: pigments are not used as dyes, pigments are made to colorize laquers and plastics. $\endgroup$
    – Georg
    Jan 31 '15 at 15:51
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Consider natural indigo, formerly used to color blue jeans. It is insoluble; reduction converted it into water-soluble "indigo white". Fabric was soaked in indigo white solution; on air oxidation, it became insoluble blue indigo again, with indigo molecules now presumably mechanically entangled in the fiber and held by van der Waals forces.

More often "binders" called mordants are used. They form an insoluble "lake" when they coordinate to the pigment; the lake can bind to fabric fibers. You can read more about the chemistry of the process here.

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