Black 4.0 Is The New Ultrablack

Vantablack is a special coating material, moreso than a paint. It’s well-known as one of the blackest possible coatings around, capable of absorbing almost all visible light in its nanotube complex structure. However, it’s complicated to apply, delicate, and not readily available, especially to those in the art world.

It was these drawbacks that led Stuart Semple to create his own incredibly black paint. Over the years, he’s refined the formula and improved its performance, steadily building a greater product available to all. His latest effort is Black 4.0, and it’s promising to be the black paint to dominate all others.

Back in Black

This journey began in a wonderfully spiteful fashion. Upon hearing that one Anish Kapoor had secured exclusive rights to be the sole artistic user of Vantablack, he determined that something had to be done. Seven years ago, he set out to create his own ultra black paint that would far outperform conventional black paints on the market. Since his first release, he’s been delivering black paints that suck in more light and just simply look blacker than anything else out there.

Black 4.0 has upped the ante to a new level. Speaking to Hackaday, Semple explained the performance of the new paint, being sold through his Culture Hustle website. “Black 4.0 absorbs an astonishing 99.95% of visible light which is about as close to full light absorption as you’ll ever get in a paint,” said Semple. He notes this outperforms Vantablack’s S-Vis spray on product which only achieves 99.8%, as did his previous Black 3.0 paint. Those numbers are impressive, and we’d dearly love to see the new paint put to the test against other options in the ultra black market.

It might sound like mere fractional percentages, but it makes a difference. In sample tests, the new paint is more capable of fun visual effects since it absorbs yet more light. Under indoor lighting conditions, an item coated in Black 4.0 can appear to have no surface texture at all, looking to be a near-featureless black hole. Place an object covered in Black 4.0 on a surface coated in the same, and it virtually disappears. All the usual reflections and shadows that help us understand 3D geometry simply get sucked into the overwhelming blackness.

Black 4.0 compared to a typical black acrylic art paint. Credit: Stuart Semple

Beyond its greater light absorption, the paint has also seen a usability upgrade over Semple’s past releases. For many use cases, a single coat is all that’s needed. “It feels much nicer to use, it’s much more stable, more durable, and obviously much blacker,” he says, adding “The 3.0 would occasionally separate and on rare occasions collect little salt crystals at the surface, that’s all gone now.”

The added performance comes down to a new formulation of the paint’s “super-base” resin, which carries the pigment and mattifying compounds that give the paint its rich, dreamy darkness. It’s seen a few ingredient substitutions compared to previous versions, but a process change also went a long way to creating an improved product. “The interesting thing is that although all that helped, it was the process we used to make the paint that gave us the breakthrough, the order we add things, the way we mix them, and the temperature,” Semple told Hackaday.

The ultra black paint has a way of making geometry disappear. Credit: Stuart Semple

Black 4.0 is more robust than previous iterations, but it’s still probably not up to a full-time life out in the elements, says Semple. You could certainly coat a car in it, for example, but it probably wouldn’t hold up in the long term. He’s particularly excited for applications in astronomy and photography, where the extremely black paint can help catch light leaks and improve the performance of telescopes and cameras. It’s also perfect for creating an ultra black photographic backdrop, too.

No special application methods are required; Black 4.0 can be brush painted just like its predecessors. Indeed, it absorbs so much light that you probably don’t need to worry as much about brush marks as you usually would. Other methods, like using rollers or airbrushes, are perfectly fine, too.

Creating such a high-performance black paint didn’t come without challenges, either. Along the way, Semple contended with canisters of paint exploding, legal threats from others in the market, and one of the main scientists leaving the project. Wrangling supplies of weird and wonderful ingredients was understandably difficult, too.  Nonetheless, he persevered, and has now managed to bring the first batches to market.

The first batches ship in November, so if you’re eager to get some of the dark stuff, you’d better move quick. It doesn’t come cheap, but you’re always going to pay more for something claiming to be the world’s best. If you’ve got big plans, fear not—this time out, Semple will sell the paint in huge bulk 1 liter and 6 liter containers if you really need a job lot. Have fun out there, and if you do something radical, you know who to tell about it.

98 thoughts on “Black 4.0 Is The New Ultrablack

      1. Oddly enough, for a lot of low-mid temperature absorbers, you actually want poor absorbance in the “thermal” ir range… This is because they can actually lose energy by emitting it to space.

    1. Even if this absorbs a bit more light than usual, it could waste more heat if it’s also a black-body at thermal infrared temperatures, because then it will radiate a fair amount of heat back to space rather than collecting it.

      1. Applied to the thermal collection parts, it should work very well, if it can take the heat. At night it likely is also a very good radiator. Might be able to use it for cooling at night by pumping water through the same solar thermal collectors, with the transparent lids opened to allow the radiant heat to escape easier.

        Experimentation will have to be done. A really neat trick would be a black paint that’s next to zero reflective in the visible range while highly reflective in IR. That would work well on satellites to not have them show up in ground based optical telescopes.

        Extra nice would be a coating that’s both transparent and next to zero reflective in the visible range. It would be good for photovoltaic panels.

        1. Unfortunately a lot of the optical telescopes are sensitive to short wave IR (near visible light). Conventional camera CCDs use an IR filter. For telescopes, seeing in IR is a feature not a bug.

        2. No, any normal black object absorbs most of the sunlight that hits it. A blacker black can only absorb a fraction more than existing objects already do. That fraction can be easily canceled out if it loses more heat to the environment than a well-insulated normal object. Whatever temperature an object reaches when it’s in the sun and you’re drawing no heat from it, that’s the temperature at which its efficiency is zero. If you were using a collector that absorbs 95% of sunlight before, and now you get 100% but most of that gets wasted, why not try reducing waste instead of worrying about a small amount of reflected light?

    1. I would love to have some grey from those :)

      On the other side. Semple said on yt (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXfOgHrjMRY)
      that he belives in sharing – and then 150ml of paint is for 45 pounds. I guess this is his compensation
      for good part of his adult life (after work for maybe 15min on average…)

      The website where the paint is sold does not give an option to switch off advert cookies…
      (https://culturehustle.com/products/black-4-0)

      1. Good pigments/inks are not cheap to produce. Of course there’s some profit in that number, but it’s not 200%.

        I’m a fountain pen enthusiast, and have tons of inks on almost every class/level. The more expensive, higher class inks always behave better, are more saturated, forge proof and more archival. More expensive inks are also more pH neutral, and doesn’t damage pens/papers in the long run (except some extreme examples).

        Then, we have Noodler’s inks, which are pretty cheap for what they provide, but there’s a lot done to keep the costs down, and they’re the exception, not the norm with a couple of well-known brands (Parker, Waterman).

        So, the price didn’t shocked me much, I may say.

        1. Yes, you MUST believe the marketing.
          Fountain pen enthusiast would know real cost of base materials
          – I am sure.
          Generally research cost is miniscule after selling millions at high price.

          At 45 pounds per 150ml this ink is at price of blood (1500 dollars per gallon), still bit shy to price of printer ink (2700 per gallon).
          Ink is hard to make you said. I guess blood (much more complex chemical cocktail ) is easy to make – you just take a human and drain a bit…
          Please refer to: https://www.rankred.com/most-expensive-liquids/

          200% – where this is coming from?

          If you are willing to pay inflated prices for whatever (due to lack of knowledge) – please do it.

          If you did read carefully – I was writing about logical error within in a first place.

          1. Where did you come up with selling millions? This does not seem like the kind of operation that has or even is planning to sell millions, yet at least.

            Blood is definitely easier, 0 research costs and most times the blood source does not even ask for anything (ie free blood drive) to allow a hole to be poked and the precious goo collected. This is what makes me question any numbers on the price of blood. Who are these blood dealers and where do they get their products, because I imagine someone who sets up a blood drive donation prgram and then turns around and sells that blood for a hefty profit, would have some questions to answer.

            Unless we are not talking about human life goo, in which case I it is an easy to get byproduct, at least until Peta finds you.

            In short, no need to get all high and grumpy , we are all trying to learn here.

          2. Jd…

            You must read first what is written – with understanding.
            You put letters together into words – this step you are ok with.
            Then you need to put words into sentences to understand the message – you struggle there. Sentences go into message – you are lost here.
            You should not just pick up on randomly selected word within the message.

            Zero research cost connected with blood (we are talking about the product used at the hospital) – wow – I will not attempt to comment this further.

            Grumpy? Nah. Rather amused, sometimes tired, with people who seems to be smart. People that cannot take comments and spin them thro’ their grey goo to understand the message.

      1. I just got my bottle and painted an SLS nylon Benchy. Not impressed. It’s about as black as black classroom tempra paint, fully not kidding. CultureHustle’s emphasis is on the hustle part I think. You can mess with Photoshop and make it look great on the Internet however. Save your money.

        1. The development drivers of this ’color’ was to invent a coating that can suck up radar waves for military uses. The black is mainly a lot of hollow nano tubes, i think graphen or so. If you add a hard coating you would los the deep dark color and it is actually not easy because of the repellent/lotus non sticky effect.

          1. Radar absorbent coatings are more like lens coatings. Almost exactly 1/4 wavelength thick and 50% reflective. The surface reflection negates the base material reflection.

            Of course: Secret, so there may be other ways.

    1. BEYOND the silly legal bs of a single companies carbon vapor deposition being licensed to one douchetard…
      Vanta IS delicate. Vanta can only be applied to SOME substrates.
      Vanta is great for telescopes and optical sensors. Its shit for ART.

      Carbon Nanostuff loaded paints are a better option for MOST applications.

    1. If you’re building a solar water heater, you actually want something with an engineered absorption spectrum that is reflective in the IR range while still really absorptive in the visible spectrum. Otherwise you loose too much heat as IR radiation

      You want something like solar black chrome or blutek(sp?)

    1. its like lead based paint. If you dont inhale or eat paint scrapings youll probably be okay. Its just a bunch of carbon nanostuffs captive in an acrylic base medium, Certainly safer than toying with vanta which is just a bare exposed CVD forest

  1. “You could certainly coat a car in it, for example, but it probably wouldn’t hold up in the long term.”

    Given the crazy looking patterns that car manufacturers add to unreleased(?) new models, presumably to thwart photographic “spying” by obscuring body lines and such, it seems like a temporary application of superlatively black paint might be of interest to that industry.

  2. i wonder if it would make a noticeable difference used inside of a telescope tube. Painting the inside flat black increases contrast. Wear/weathering is not an issue in that application.

    1. In the past was lamp black or soot was used and is really basically the same as vanta black aka carbon nano tubes. In the industry is carbon black widely used and it is simply industrial prduced soot. The particle size depents on what was burned (oil, wood,…).

    2. I used Black 3.0 in my telescope and it worked great. The real challenge isn’t the reflectance looking straight at the surface of the paint, it’s when the light hits it at a shallow angle like the insides of your lens tubes. Any surface becomes shiny at a shallow enough angle, it’s just a question of how shallow. I’m curious if 4.0 would be any better.

    1. propably wont last long in the hars radiation environment of earth orbit. That aside, It would wreak havoc with heat management in a satellite unless specifically built to use this paint.

    1. I suspect that the relationship between effective antenna lengths and wavelengths doesn’t help.

      For RF purposes that means a (comparatively) sturdy and mechanically well-behaved antenna; if anything people put a lot of effort into trying to find ways of making them smaller without too much loss of function.

      When dealing with light that means relatively fiddly and exotic fabrication of thin films, optical metamaterials, forests of precisely spaced silicon nanopillars; and similar trickery that is both difficult and unlikely to survive a smudge from a fingerprint or adsorbed material from the atmosphere or similar common hazards.

    1. Actually everthing in nano is in longterm deadly. Dupont knowed it for decades and keep it secret and today we know that pfas/teflon is highly cancerous. The industry is stronger than some humans.

      1. Teflon (aka PTFE) is not dangerous.
        One of the chemicals used to make it, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), (which does belong to the PFAS family) *is* dangerous, but hasn’t been used to produce PTFE for at least a decade. It’s also unclear if any PFOA is likely to be present on/in a non-stick frying pan for example.
        As for “everthing in nano is in longterm deadly”, I’m not sure where to even start with that, other than to point out that ‘nano’ usually refers to ‘things that are around a nanometre in size’, which covers, well, many things, including things like the nucleus of a cell.

        1. It’s like with PVC plumbing pipe. A lead containing compound *was* used in manufacturing it but the pipe itself always has had *zero lead content*.

          But the California screaming meemies would not STFU about “lead in PVC pipe” that was never there so the EPA forced PVC manufacturers to come up with a lead free production method, which of course cost more, which increased the cost of PVC pipe.

    2. Excellent question, especially as the HSE [UK safety authority] are already working on the quite reasonable assumption that CNTs behave similarly to asbestos in the lungs, because of their biopersistence, size, and high aspect ratio.
      Note this is purely based on their physical characteristics, and that this field of toxicological research is still in its infancy; risk from other routes of exposure is still poorly understood.
      Take a look at the HSE document HSG272 for some key terms that may be useful for further research, and the Wikipedia article on ‘Toxicology of carbon nanomaterials’ is also a good starting point.

      That said, liquid suspension of CNTs that leaves them embedded in a matrix once the solvent evaporates (sounds like paint to me…) follows conventional risk reduction protocol to reduce exposure to the physical hazards.
      I’d personally be happy to use CNTs in that form at home as long as the paint was unlikely to be exposed to much wear (NOT professional advice, just sharing an opinion). I’d be far more cautious of widespread use in that manner in the workplace however as familiarity breeds contempt, and ‘mission creep’ outside my direct awareness increases the likelihood of inadequately-controlled exposure.

    1. Black 3.0 reflects 2.5% of light, while Musou Black Paint reflects only 0.6% of light. Black 4,0 reflects 0.4% of light. The whole point of mixing it was to nudge the needle and retake the title of BLACKEST PAINT. I imagine Mosou 2.0 will probably drop within a year.

      1. its acrylic paint with a bunch of carbon nanostuffs loaded in. Not really ideal for your ninja suit, better for a BLACKOUT job on your 3d printed ironman costume.

        If your stuck hard on being the Darkest Shinobi take a page out of The Action Labs playbook and GO KIWAMI!

  3. Black 3.0 is the (somewhat expensive but worth it) hack most people don’t know about in SOOO many ways, so this is actually totally appropriate HAD content ;) Even if you’re not doing anything more traditionally craft/painting related, Black 3.0 is great to use for practical applications too.

    Really looking forward to getting to work (and play) with Black 4.0! We got some in but other than quick swatch tests I haven’t really gotten to use it/see it used seriously (since I’m rarely the one painting) yet :(

    The micro salt crystal issue with 3.0 is definitely real, although always washing brushes (and doing any mixing) with distilled goes a long ways to reducing the likelihood of having it crop up.

  4. @Lewin Day said: “Upon hearing that one Anish Kapoor had secured exclusive rights to be the sole artistic user of Vantablack, he determined that something had to be done.”

    @M: Thanks for the reference links.

    Why did the makers of Vantablack (Surrey Nanosystems) give Anish Kapoor sole exclusive rights to use the paint for artistic purposes? Was there a truck full of money involved?[1] Was it traded on the Black Market?

    Regardless, I am afraid of inhaling Vantablack aerosol – it is carbon fiber nanotubes that are 300 times longer than their diameter. Sounds like a material designed to get permanently lodged in your lungs (or anything for that matter).[2]

    * References:

    1. Vantablack – Controversy

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vantablack#Controversy

    2. Stuart Sempel – Conflict with Anish Kapoor

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stuart_Semple#Conflict_with_Anish_Kapoor

    1. The whole feud is silly and had worked as great marketing. Sempel stated that the blackest black should be available to the masses, while the Vanta Black technology doesn’t even lend itself for that. Kapoor however is easy to enrage which has only works in Sampels favor. The drama is basically half the product.

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