Abstract The optical properties and the thermal diffusivity of natural cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) melanin have been measured. The optical absorption and scattering properties of melanin particles were determined at 580 nm and 633 nm, using photometric and photothermal techniques. For the photometric studies, the absorption and the transport scattering coefficients were determined from the measurements of diffuse reflectance and transmittance. The scattering anisotropy was obtained from an additional measurement of the total attenuation coefficient and independently obtained by goniometry. For photothermal studies, pulsed photothermal radiometry was used to deduce the absorption and transport scattering coefficients via a model based on optical diffusion theory. Pulsed photothermal radiometry was also used to provide the thermal diffusivity of solid melanin pressed pellets.