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.
I will let you know in this post what colors are suspect and which ones you can confidently use.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Thank you so much for this article. You have covered a lot of confusion for me as to what paints I should be using. I am currently building an art studio in my basement and in order to pass along information to others who want to begin painting, I certainly rely on your information.
I will look up those websites and do some studying. Again, I thank you for you and your family and for building this fantastic website.
You’re very welcome Nancy! So glad to hear the posts are useful. I will keep you apprised as I hear more about paint tests. Good luck with your new studio – sounds exciting to have a dedicated space like that.
I am intrigued by your use of “Synthetic Organic” in referring to certain pigments. How can something that is “Synthetic” be also “Organic”? I think that the two adjectives are, by definition, different. Am I missing something?
Great question Wally! Most pigments today are synthetic because they go through a manufacturing process – like French Ultramarine compared to the original Lapis Lazuli mineral that was used. They differentiate the organic compounds that contain carbon or carbon rings from the inorganic compounds which are generally metallic salts (not based on carbon) – the inorganic tend to be more stable in the long run. Some pigments, organic and inorganic both, are still derived straight from the source so they are not synthetic. Most pigments today though go through some sort of transformation to become the color they are – that’s why they call them synthetic. Some of the synthetic organic pigments also contain or are made with inorganic materials to stabilize them though. I hope that helps!
Exceptional article. Have you researched water-mixable oils? Many of us have switched.
Thank you KC! Yes, I have researched water-mixable. I don’t plan to use them first because I’ve tried them and they didn’t work for me nearly as well as traditional oils. Second, because I use non-toxic paint cleaner (Turpenoid Natural) and never wash my brushes with soap and water anyway. And lastly, because I don’t trust what they add to the paint to make it work with water. Robert Gamblin, during an interview, said that he will never offer water-mixable oils even though they are becoming popular because he doesn’t trust their longevity. If they are working for you and you are painting for your own pleasure, I would say to go for it. If you are painting to sell to collectors, I would be cautious and skeptical of the long-term nature of the product.
I’m disappointed to read this article. What do you know about Old Holland paints? I have used them for years. I’m always complimented on how vibrant my colors are, because of the pigments. I have bragged about how they don’t put a lot of fillers. Agree with your advice. Will have to slowly make adjustments.
I was disappointed as well Louise! As far as Old Holland I’ve always heard excellent things about the quality of their paints. I haven’t tried them out yet, but I will do that sometime in the future since you have such good things to say about them. When it comes to the possible downsides of certain organic pigments, all of the paint manufacturers are in the same boat. If a pigment is tested and found to not last for a hundred years without fading or changing, then it doesn’t matter what Old Holland is doing with that pigment – it will have problems just like it will for everyone else. Robert Gamblin is the one the Smithsonian Museum worked with to create some of the historic paints they needed for restorative purposes. I think that’s how we ended up with Gamvar – the best varnish on the market. He seems to really believe in what he does as a paint manufacturer and I trust his motives. I also talked with the owner of Natural Pigments during the Plein Air Convention and got the same feeling about him. They both want to keep improving the oil painting industry’s products to make them better for artists.
Can you please explain what you meant by fugitive colors. Loved the article .
You bet Beth. Fugitive simply means that a color changes from its original look – usually in a shorter rather than a longer period of time. Some colors fade, some turn black or into another color like blue to yellow, others crack or delaminate (chip and fall off the canvas like a Jackson Pollock painting made with house paint).
I use Mussini Oils from Schmincke. They have good testing routines and heavy Dokumentation to their colors and their lightfastnes. Would you mean this is false information?
Great question Karn! No, at least not intentionally false. Schmincke is a great company as far as I’ve heard. The problem is with the type of testing they’ve been doing. I believe the duration has been too short overall because they were trying to artificially speed up the process using specific lights they thought would be much harsher (stronger than normal UV rays) than normal gallery conditions. Whatever process they were using – there are a few I’ve read about – the testing process was flawed. That’s why this new testing will take so long – 2-3 years. There are so many factors that can influence a color – some react poorly with another specific color, but not alone, some change when added to white, but not in a dark mixture, some are affected by certain pollutants in the air. There are a lot of conditions involved and I’m not sure if this new attempt will be doing a comprehensive type of testing like that or not – probably not since there are just too many possibilities. But whatever they are doing it sounds like it will at least tell us which ones will be truly lightfast for a hundred years or more under typical conditions.
Thanks again Bill this is fantastic information and insight to what should be on our pallets. I need to restock some of my paints and this will give me the knowledge and confidence to purchase the right paints that will last and give my paintings the perfect value.
Super Ed! I hope the art supply hunt is going well for your new setup.
Great blog Bill. Have you heard anything about Holbein paints? I heard a while ago that Sap Green was fugative but I found Permanent Sap Green through Steven Harding, so I trust it’s permanent. Thanks for posting….great info!
Thanks Lind, I’m glad you liked it! Holbein paints I’ve heard are excellent. The original Sap Green was indeed fugitive. The bummer is that the new Sap Greens are usually made with a Phthalo Green mixture, and phthalo is one of the possible-problem organic pigments. I still haven’t decided whether to stop using Phthalo Green or not – it’s just so darn useful and Viridian is so much lighter in value.
I wonder if these suspect colors are more stable in acrylic than oils? Will this be tested as well?
Thank you for the enlightening article. I will reassess my palette accordingly.
THANK YOU. This was so helpful and insightful. Wow!