Shades of Black

Using most black paints in the shadow areas of a painting can create a dull, muddy color when mixed with other colors. Here’s a recipe for chromatic black that darkens a color without changing the color’s hue.

If you were a teenager in 1966, you may remember the Los Bravos song “Black is Black”. As much as I hate to quibble, the lyrics are arguably inaccurate and misleading. In the world of visual arts, one black is often noticeably different from another black. Among the paints that artists and sign painters use, popular blacks include Lamp Black, Drop Black, Mars Black and Ivory Black. Each looks a little different.

Among vinyl films, blacks can also vary. RTape’s VinylEfx line, for example, has two blacks: Galaxy and Carbon Fibre Black. These are very different looking colors. The Carbon Fibre Black film uses a durable carbon black pigment. To my eyes this carbon black looks like a really dark grey. Below you will notice the difference in appearance in the Carbon Fibre Black compared to the Galaxy Metal Flake.

The Galaxy color is best described as a chromatic black. This luxurious black color has no black pigment at all. It is comprised of red, green and blue dyes. With respect to aesthetics, I prefer this rich black color to carbon black. For outdoor applications, however, the carbon black product is a much better choice, because it is more durable.  

Using Chromatic Black for Painting

In painting, many fine artists prefer to mix their own chromatic black paint, combining complementary colors. Their reason for doing so, is that many blacks straight out of a tube create very dull, muddy looking colors when mixed with other hues.

The rule of thumb is never use black in the shadow areas of a painting. Instead, add a color’s complement to darken it. Another option is to add chromatic black. Because it has no black pigment, chromatic black darkens a color without changing the color’s hue.

By mixing your darkest red with your darkest green you can achieve black. To that add your darkest blue to create a beautiful, rich-looking Chromatic Black.

There are numerous recipes for creating a chromatic black. If you are mixing your own colors, start with equal amounts of a dark red with a dark green. Alizarin Red combined with Phthalo Green is often used. To this you may want to add an Ultramarine Blue. My suggestion is to experiment with color mixing.