During the development of the central nervous system (CNS), combinations of transcription factors and signalling molecules orchestrate patterning, specification and differentiation of neural cell types. In vertebrates, three types of melanin-containing pigment cells, exert a variety of functional roles including visual perception. Here we analysed the mechanisms underlying pigment cell specification within the CNS of a simple chordate, the ascidian Ciona intestinalis. Ciona tadpole larvae exhibit a basic chordate body plan characterized by a small number of neural cells. We employed lineage-specific transcription profiling to characterize the expression of genes downstream of fibroblast growth factor signalling, which govern pigment cell formation. We demonstrate that FGF signalling sequentially imposes a pigment cell identity at the expense of anterior neural fates. We identify FGF-dependent and pigment cell-specific factors, including the small GTPase, Rab32/38 and demonstrated its requirement for the pigmentation of larval sensory organs.