New Oil Paint Permanence News – Are Your Oil Paint Colors Lightfast?

How do we know if our oil paint colors are lightfast? What does ‘lightfast’ mean, you ask? Lightfast describes how long the paint color will last without fading.

Well, there’s some new talk in the art world that some of the colors we thought were completely permanent – are NOT. The real bummer is that they might be some of my favorite colors.

Michael Harding, Gamblin, and M Graham & Co paint tubes of Quinacridone Magenta, Phthalo Green and Manganese Blue Hue

Michael Harding, Gamblin, and M Graham & Co paint tubes of Quinacridone Magenta, Phthalo Green and Manganese Blue Hue. New tests are being conducted over the next few years to see if they are lightfast.

 

I will let you know in this post what colors are suspect and which ones you can confidently use.

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How does the Average Artist Figure out Which Paints are Permanent?

Learning to paint is a lifelong challenge that never gets easy. We rarely have time to study and research if one brand of art supplies is better than another or how long our materials will hold up. And even if we do, there is so much conflicting information on the web.

What do we do? We don’t want to paint a masterpiece, sell it to an admiring collector, and then find 10 years later that the colors and paint have faded, cracked or changed.

Most of us artists are not chemists. We rely on the paint manufacturers to keep us supplied with high-quality materials.

Art supplies companies like Winsor & Newton, Blockx, Grumbacher, Gamblin, Liquitex, Michael Harding, Utrecht, and Old Holland

Art supplies companies like Winsor & Newton, Blockx, Grumbacher, Gamblin, Liquitex, Michael Harding, Utrecht, and Old Holland

 

Overall, I still believe most of the professional paint companies are doing their best to create long-lasting oil paints. Then again, it’s easy to become complacent and rely on old research or opinion.

It may not be possible to always paint with ‘archival’ materials. Why?

Because not even the art manufacturers know everything about the products they produce.

The conscientious ones do their best to follow what science and research have made available. When it comes to art supplies there’s just not enough testing and not all companies have the same standards or approaches – especially with paint.

Most of the advancements in paint and materials come from industrial manufacturers like auto paint companies. Those companies do conduct some testing and R&D, but not to the standards that artists hope for. They aren’t overly concerned about their paints lasting hundreds of years.

So, what do we do?

My suggestion:

Take a calming breath and decide to do the best we can and not take it all too seriously.

Nothing in this life lasts forever. We’re better off painting every day and enjoying the art journey than we are getting too hung up about our paintings lasting for hundreds of years.

That said, we don’t want to be careless either. Having a bit of knowledge can be helpful. Let me give you some basics to make your paint-choice life a little easier.

 

Paint Permanence Ratings like Lightfastness

The standard for art materials’ toxicity and permanence has been the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials). They stopped rating pigments almost 20 years ago. It’s just too complicated to test every new pigment and how each binder affects the permanence or lightfastness of those pigments.

Yes, an oil, alkyd or acrylic binder can help many pigments keep their luster longer than other binders. Watercolor’s gum Arabic is the worst in most cases.

But there are other factors that affect the life of paint colors as well. Circumstances like pigment size, additives, moisture in the air, pollution and the quality of ingredients are things the ASTM can’t test for because they change constantly. Yet each of those elements influences how long the color will last.

So, while the ASTM or the Blue Wool Scale (testing of coloring dyes for fabric or printing) aren’t foolproof, they’re the best we have right now.

My suggestion:

Stick to paint with a lightfastness rating of I (meaning they will normally last over a hundred years without fading or changing).

Natural Pigments, Golden Artists Colors, and Gamblin are Teaming up to Test Paint

When I figured out that Alizarin Crimson had too much blue in it to make clean lavenders for certain flowers, I experimented. That resulted in adding Quinacridone Red to my palette. I love the quin colors.

One of the reasons I chose the Quinacridone hues was because they were supposed to be some of the longest-lasting colors on the market. That went for the Phthalo greens and blues as well.

Insert car tire screeching sound here as we come to a sudden stop.

Turns out they might not be permanent at all. The organic pigments were recently retested – and they failed.

Natural Pigments (Rublev Oil Paints), Golden Artists Colors, and Gamblin went to the ASTM conference that discussed the problem. They decided to team up.

Rublev Ultramarine Blue oil paint with a lightfastness that will last more than a hundred years without fading or changing color or value

Natural Pigments Rublev oil paint – Ultramarine Blue with a lightfastness I that will last more than a hundred years without fading or changing color or value

 

They will be testing 196 pigments in the Arizona sun to see which ones courageously conquer the elements – and which ones run and hide. It will take two to three years to see the results.

My suggestion:

If you want to paint with confidence, stick to the inorganic pigments.

 

Which Paints Should I Choose? Inorganic vs Organic pigments

Here we come to the vital information. Which paints do we use?

Natural Pigments has a great blog post about this where they say that not all the organic pigments are guaranteed to fail. Like you, I sure hope my favorites make it.

It might be wise though to begin experimenting with paints we are more sure about – the inorganic pigments.

So, I will show you which paints on my palette are ‘safe’ and some possible replacements for those that might not be.

 

The ‘Lightfast’ Inorganic Oil Paint Colors (This does NOT Guarantee All Brands are Equal)

The Cadmiums are at the top of the list for permanence.

Cadmium oil paint colors from Gamblin, Utrecht and M Graham & Co

Cadmium Lemon, Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Red Light, and Cadmium Red Medium from Gamblin, Utrecht and M Graham & Co are considered lightfast and permanent

 

Basically, most of the modern mineral colors like Earth or Oxide, Ultramarine, Cobalt, Cerulean or Manganese (pure – NOT hue), Viridian and others are still considered lightfast. They will last for more than 100 years without significant fading or changing.

Inorganic modern mineral colors like Earth or Oxide, Ultramarine, Cobalt, Cerulean or Manganese (pure – NOT hue), Viridian and others are still considered lightfast.

Inorganic modern mineral colors like Earth or Oxide, Ultramarine, Cobalt, Cerulean or Manganese (pure – NOT hue), Viridian and others are still considered lightfast.

 

earth colors of paint

Earth colors that are considered lightfast like Transparent Earth or Oxide Red, Yellow and Orange

 

That does not mean that all inorganic colors are safe. There are fugitive colors that you should avoid. Just because an artist you admire has used the color for years doesn’t mean it’s safe.

Gamblin and Rublev are two companies that I trust when it comes to the accurate labeling of their paints. Check their sites to see the current lightfast rating of their inorganic colors.

My suggestion:

Stick with Cadmium Lemon, Cad Yellow Med, Cad Orange, Cad Red Light, Cad Red Medium, Transparent Earth Yellow/Red/& Orange, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, and Cobalt Violet. I’m not sure yet what to do about an Alizarin or Quin Red replacement (Alizarin Permanent is made with Quinacridone Red – the original Alizarin Crimson is fugitive – never use it)

Possibly NOT ‘Lightfast’ Synthetic Organic Pigment Paints

Some of my favorite colors like Phthalo Green, Manganese Blue Hue (made with Phthalo Blue), and Quinacridone Magenta fall into this category.

Synthetic Organic Hues of paints from Gamblin, Utrecht, M Graham & Co, and Michael Harding that might not be lightfast. Some of those colors are Quinacridone Red and Phthalocyanine Green.

Synthetic Organic Hues of paints from Gamblin, Utrecht, M Graham & Co, and Michael Harding that might not be lightfast. About anything that has the word HUE in it probably has organic pigments.

 

Synthetic Organic pigments in oil paints might not be lightfast. About anything that has the word HUE in it probably contains organic pigments.

The Quinacridones, Dioxazines, Alizarin Permanents, Perylenes, Hansa Yellows, Transparent Orange, Anthraquinones, Sap Greens and others are all organic pigments. These are paints from companies like Winsor & Newton, Richeson OIls, Utrecht and others.

The Quinacridones, Dioxazines, Alizarin Permanents, Perylenes, Hansa Yellows, Transparent Orange, Anthraquinones, Sap Greens and others are organic pigments.

 

The Quinacridones, Dioxazines, Alizarin Permanents, Perylenes, Hansa Yellows, Transparent Orange, Anthraquinones, Sap Greens and others are all organic pigments.

Keep in mind – not all organic pigments are likely to fade. There are independent experiments out there like the one Bruce MacEvoy did with watercolors that showed excellent results for colors like Quinacridone Red and Phthalo Green.

Unfortunately, we won’t know for sure until about 2022.

My suggestion:

Use the Quins and Phthalo pigments sparingly until we know for sure. If you just can’t live without a specific color at least make sure it is currently rated at the highest lightfastness.

Conclusion

Will I continue to use organic pigment paints? Probably, especially Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Quin Red (until I find a good replacement). I plan to experiment with Cobalt Blue and Viridian again to see if I can replace my use of Manganese Blue Hue and Phthalo Green – just in case.

Watch out for paints that contain more than one pigment. The colors that use only one pigment, like Ultramarine Blue or Cad Yellow, are more reliable.

Be cautious also of manufacturers like Winsor & Newton who use names that can be misleading or confusing like Winsor Blue (which is simply Phthalo Blue). Look at the actual pigment number.

Winsor & Newton's Winsor Blue is a misleading paint color name.

Winsor & Newton’s Winsor Blue is a misleading paint color name. Look at the PB15 pigment listing instead to see what it is made of.

 

That’s another reason I love Gamblin and Rublev paints – they try to name their colors the way artists expect or according to the traditional pigment names.

Gamblin names their paint colors the way artists expect like calling Phthalo Blue by the name Phthalo Blue rather than Exotic Waters Blue or some other unhelpful name.

Gamblin names their paint colors the way artists expect like calling Phthalo Blue by the name Phthalo Blue rather than Exotic Waters Blue or some other unhelpful name.

 

There are some fantastic paint manufacturers out there (Michael Harding is another that comes to mind). Experiment and find the colors that work for you from companies you trust.

For some extra details that I didn’t cover read these other excellent articles from some of the sites I researched:

1. https://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/pigmt6.html#salt – labeling, lightfastness & toxicity – great info from Bruce MacEvoy who did his own lightfastness tests with watercolors
2. http://artiscreation.com/Color_index_names.html#.XhUJlEdKguU – to research each pigment
3. https://gamblincolors.com/oil-painting/color/artist-grade-oil-colors/ – Gamblin’s site is the best at showing each of their paint colors and then listing the ingredient information for those colors
4. https://www.naturalpigments.com/artist-materials/pigments-artists-paint-lightfast/ – Natural Pigments blog post about the possible impermanence of organic pigments

If you want to be on the safe side, stick with inorganic pigment paints until the testing is done.