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.
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.
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.
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.