Imagine inventing a color. Not a new shade or tint or blend made from others on the palette, but an entirely new pigment with a novel chemistry. For most artists that thought alone can instill a strong sense of wonder, of something magical and mysterious being coaxed into being from an alchemical mix of ingredients. And of course our imaginations immediately race ahead to the potential of new possibilities and perceptions.
Something similar to this has animated the excitement over the discovery of a new blue in 2009 by chemist Mas Subramanian and his team at Oregon State University. Since then, we have received many inquiries and questions: Have we heard about it? Will we make it available to artists? What does it look like? Below we try to provide some answers as well as images of the color in both acrylics and oil.
First, what exactly is this new color? Named after the elements it is made from, YInMn Blue is a complex inorganic pigment created from a mixture of yttrium, indium and manganese oxides. By altering the amount of manganese in the crystal, the color can run from a bright blue all the way to black. In addition, the Oregon team continues to explore how swapping various minerals in place of manganese might lead to additional colors. For example, by using combinations of zinc, titanium, iron, and copper, among others, they have managed to create a variety of purples, yellows, browns, as well as a green and orange. While these additional possibilities remain a ways off, it still seems likely that the initial discovery of a singular blue might lay the groundwork for an expanded range of future colors.
Some unique properties of YInMn Blue can seem fairly exotic, although even these might eventually benefit artists as well. Two of the most noted features include being a strong reflector of NIR (near infra-red), which allows it to remain cooler than similar colors in strong sunlight, along with being an effective UV absorber, which could help limit polymer degradation in various binders. At the same time, other testing has addressed the usual concerns and shown that it has excellent lightfastness, chemical resistance, and physical durability in outdoor conditions.
In terms of color, the excitement around YInMn Blue is more about nuance than carving out a dramatically unique color space. As you can see in Image 1, where we compare YInMn Blue to both the Cobalt and Cobalt Blue Deep in our Williamsburg line, the YInMn Blue is definitely deeper with a distinctly reddish bias, which is easiest to see in the undertone and tint.
In Image 2, we compare YInMn Blue in acrylic to both our Heavy Body Cobalt Blue and Ultramarine Blue, with the three masstones grouped together on one card. The contrast with the much redder but more transparent Ultramarine helps locate YInMn Blue within that range, where it shares the opacity of Cobalt while leaning towards Ultramarine Blue in warmth.
Given all of the above, where do things stand on making this color available? At the time of this writing the color is still waiting to be listed on TSCA (Toxic Substances Control Act) and until then, cannot legally be sold. Once that hurdle is past, which we hope might be in the coming year, the pigment would still remain prohibitively expensive and a challenge to add to our regular line. That said, we could certainly make it available on a custom basis for anyone interested in ordering it; just contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know. In the meantime, know that we remain highly aware of the developments taking place both with this new discovery as well as any other innovations occurring in the world of pigments.
Finally, for those of you wanting more information about the crystal structure and how it was discovered, the following links are good places to start: