Vantablack: The Deepest and Darkest Man-Made Black Material

With developments to ensure good travels into space, this material is the darkest black ever created. It has been compared to being just as dark as a black hole because of how it absorbs light with no refraction. It’s mostly for space exploration for equipment use only with some upsets in the art world.

What is the colour black?

Black is obviously the opposite of the colour white but it is also not a colour as well. In RGB, black is R:0; G:0; B:0, which is zero light admitted. In print and painting, it’s all the colours combined. Black is the absence and absorption of all light. It has no hue but is used to make colours darker by shading. Black can be a colour in the sense of being a pigment for something but the reality of what black is not a colour at all. Black has no wavelength to be able to test. There is no RGB percentage to measure at zero percent.

Some research and development companies specialize in making coatings darker than a black hole. A black hole emits zero light and the most recent and only photograph we have of a black hole used the light being absorbed around the hole to be seen.

Many companies and scientists can create synthetic versions of the colour that can be deeper and darker than previous versions. These materials that they are trying to create the perfect Black Body. The definition of a Black Body the idealized physical version of black that absorbs all intended emissions of light, radio waves, infrared, ultraviolet, gamma rays and x-rays from all angles. It doesn’t just absorb but can emit some kind of electromagnetic radiation. An example of a Black Body would be Super Black which roughly emits 99.6% of light. It was originally developed by the applied physic lab at National Physical Laboratory in London, England. This is an example of structural colour purposely engineered not to shine a light for practical research use.

A photo of Vantablack under glass.
Source: Justin Snow on Flickr

The newly engineered material

Surrey NanoSystems made the deepest and darkest version of black. It’s called Vantablack. This is an acronym for vertically aligned nanotube arrays. The engineered material made of large bundles of vertical tubes that grown on the surface by chemical vapour deposition. The material also keeps machinery cool since the engineered nanotubes are comparatively like a dense narrow wooden forest. They are tall tubes with a lot of space in between to allow air. It is also vest used at a temperature between 100 degrees Celius to -230 degrees Celius. This makes Vantablack heat resistant. But it’s insoluble in water and toxic.

It absorbs all emissions of light up to 99.96%. When other versions of the colour coatings of black are beside Vantablack they just look grey in comparison. Three-dimensional objects turn two dimensional because of how dark the black is. All of the depth made from light is absorbed. The delicate coating is for aerospace use and satellites in a remote and dark area that won’t have the user accidentally touching the material because it would collapse the tubes under the weight of contact. The surface of the coating is smooth even though the coating looks velvety from a glance. The coating is shock absorbent to mechanical vibrations.

Coatings like Vantablack are used for scientific research like spraying in telescopes to help block out light or ghosting (blotches of light creating a blurred copy of an image making it looks like a ghost), on nanotechnology, improve infrared technology, solar power, thermal camouflage and on other types of equipment that need to shade out light. The first orders of use came from the aerospace divisions and defence divisions. Vantablack has to be applied by a specialist in the colour for the best cohesion and use. There are multiple steps that if it was applied incorrectly the material won’t work as desired.

Since this is a coating that was just invented in 2014 for scientific research and discovery, it’s not widely used for commercial use. This isn’t something that can be easily found in stores. If a product ever existed for retail sales, all of the products coated in the material would be a very stark black. It would look like the very real object in your hand taking on a photo edited black image. Without light refracting around the object to indicate depth, the object would look very matte and flat. It can turn foil into a solid matte black object. Plus, it may not be applied to places that would be beneficial to others that need light or a sense of depth for safety. For instance, the stairs would be a terrible place to coat this for any reason.

Once used in art and marketing

Anish Kapoor and Vantablack

There were some licensing of the coating from the last few years. A British sculpture Anish Kapoor has an exclusive license to use Vantablack in art. He apparently has a knack to buy and use extreme pigments for his art to the point that it started a social media war.

Just to point out again that it’s a not really a colour he claimed rights to but a material to use for his work exclusively. Also, it’s very expensive and has tested to have some health concerns involving carcinogenic effect of multi-walled carbon nanotubes.

In the art world, this is a fight to use an extreme version of a material that produces an extreme version of a colour. There was a fight between Kapoor and Stuart Semple. After hearing about the exclusive contract that he was able to muster with the CTO Ben Jensen by writing interest to use the colour, Stuart Semple developed his extreme pigment with the world’s pinkish pink excluding Anish Kapoor to ever use it. He responded with a middle finger dipped in the pink on Instagram.

It was a little petty but somewhat ineffective since it was used on a BMV later. This is an interesting license since individuals can’t use it so freely.

BMV and Vantablack

BMV X6 coated in Vantablack in studio.
Source: BMV

The BMW X6 Vantablack was a combination of marketing, experiment and seeing a car silhouette. Sadly the car was always still in the photoshoots so the car was never in motion. It was chosen because it showed off the body of the car perfectly while highlighting any angle of the car. It gave the car a brooding and imposing presence, especially when the lights are on.

It is a part of developing an everyday version of Vantablack that can be used on automotives anywhere. Most likely on luxury cars first.

Alternative Version of Vantablack

There is an alternative version of Vantablack that can be commercially used if someone wanted to try it out. It’s called Black 3.0 that upgrades version of Black 2.0. It is currently in production and on Kickstarter. It claims to have 98-99% of light absorption. It is soluble in water and non-toxic. It is an acrylic paint that is easy to use without anyone buying out copyright to even use the product for themselves.

More information on the company that makes Vantablack:

Survey NanoSystems – Vantablack


pg 161 Chromatopia: An Illustrated History of Color

Fact Company – Why The Art World Is Fighting Over A Bizarre Material Developed For Satellites

CNN – BMW unveils X6 in the world’s ‘blackest black’

BMV – Black Beast: Vantablack light absorbing paint meets BMV

Science Alert – Engineers Just Unveiled a New Blackest-Ever Material, Even Darker Than Vantablack

Banner credit: Surrey NanoSystems – Vantablack grown on tinfoil

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