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What are the darkest shades of black?

What are the darkest shades of black?

Black is the darkest color on the visible spectrum. While it may seem simple on the surface, black has many subtle variations and shades depending on how it absorbs and reflects light. In this article, we will explore the darkest black colors and pigments ever created, from Vantablack to musou black. Understanding the science behind these ultra-black materials gives insight into light, color, and material engineering.

What Makes a Color Black?

Black objects absorb almost all visible light that hits them, reflecting very little light to the human eye. This makes them appear dark. The more light a black material absorbs, the darker it will look.

True black materials absorb close to 100% of visible light at all wavelengths (red, green, blue). This means no light is reflected or scattered back to the eye. However, most black materials still reflect a tiny bit of light, so no natural material is able to achieve perfect blackness.

Measuring Blackness

To quantify blackness, scientists measure a material’s light absorption using total hemispherical reflectance (THR). This measures the percentage of light reflected across all angles and wavelengths. The lower the THR, the blacker a material will appear.

For example, matte black paint has a THR of about 5-10%. Velvet has a THR of 1-2%. The super black materials discussed below can have THRs of 0.005% or lower.

Vantablack – One of the Darkest Substances on Earth

In 2014, the British company Surrey NanoSystems developed a material called Vantablack that set a new record for darkest man-made substance. Vantablack has a THR of only 0.035%, absorbing 99.965% of light. This makes it one of the darkest substances ever produced.

Vantablack consists of a forest of tiny carbon nanotubes grown vertically on a surface. The nanotubes trap light between them, preventing almost all reflection and scattering. This creates the illusion of a flat, unending void.

How Vantablack Works

Component Description
Vertical carbon nanotubes Tiny carbon structures grown upright on the surface, spaced very close together.
Entrapment of light Light enters the gaps between the nanotubes but cannot escape, getting continually absorbed.
Virtually no reflection Almost no light bounced back, giving the appearance of a bottomless void.

The nanotubes in Vantablack are grown at high temperatures on aluminum foil. Their small size (100 nm wide), close spacing, and high aspect ratio trap light extremely effectively. Vantablack currently has aerospace and defense applications to absorb stray light. It is too expensive for widespread commercial use.

Other Super Black Materials

Vantablack is not the only ultra-black material created. Here are some other record-setting black substances produced in laboratories:

– Carbon nanotube arrays – Various research groups have created different vertically aligned carbon nanotube arrays similar to Vantablack, some reaching 0.01% reflectance.

– Super black from nickel-phosphorous alloy – In 2019, researchers accidently created a nickel and phosphorous coating with 0.06% reflectance while trying to electroplate a laser absorber.

– Ultrablack acrylic – In 2021, researchers mixed black carbon particles into acrylic to absorb 99.5% of light. This created a paintable coating called ultrablack acrylic.

– Schwazzeug – A carbon nanotube spray coating developed in Germany that absorbs up to 99.8% of light.

– Super black 2.0 – Columbia engineers created aligned carbon nanotube arrays that absorb 99.995% of light, slightly darker than the original Vantablack.

Musou Black – The New Record Holder

In 2022, a Japanese company called Koti developed an acrylic paint called Musou black that reflects even less light than any previous material. Musou black has a THR of only 0.0014%, absorbing 99.9986% of visible light. This likely makes it the darkest artificial substance ever created.

Musou black uses a combination of multiple black pigments as well as an acrylic binder to strongly absorb and trap light. The black pigments include:

– Carbon black – Soot-based pigment made by burning organic materials like tar and wood
– Iron oxide (magnetite) – Natural mineral pigment, black in color
– Ultrafine particles – Smaller particles absorb more light by scattering less

By optimizing the pigment mixture ratio and using nanoscale pigments and polymers, Musou black achieves its record-breaking blackness. It is currently sold commercially as an acrylic paint.

Material Total Hemispherical Reflectance
Vantablack 0.035%
Superblack 2.0 0.005%
Musou Black 0.0014%

Properties of Ultra-Black Materials

Achieving this level of black requires meticulous engineering and comes with some unique properties:

– Extreme light absorption – By definition, these materials reflect the least amount of light possible. Vantablack only reflects 0.035% of light.

– Loss of surface detail – Ultra-black coatings seem to become flat voids with no surface detail since they absorb almost all light. This can produce surreal effects.

– Matte texture – The microscopic structure of materials like Vantablack strongly scatters the tiny amount of reflected light, giving an ultra-matte look.

– High cost – The special manufacturing techniques make most ultra-blacks expensive. Vantablack costs over $100 per square centimeter.

– Fragility – The nanotube structure of Vantablack is very delicate and can be damaged easily. Newer coatings aim to improve durability.

– Toxicity – Some ultra-blacks use toxic pigments like carbon black. Safe handling during manufacture and use is essential.

Black In Nature

While materials engineers strive to create ultra-black substances in the lab, some natural phenomena come quite close to perfect blackness:

– Black holes – Space-bending black holes absorb all light that falls in them, reflecting nothing through their immense gravity. They are invisible but detectable from their effects on nearby matter.

– Bismuth – This chemical element absorbs nearly all visible light, reflecting only 0.3% back. Solid bismuth has an exceptionally dark black appearance.

– Black adder – The skin of this English snake contains black pigment granules stacked to absorb light. Its scales reflect just 2-4% of light.

– Black dragonfish – Living in the ocean’s depths, this fish has ultra-black skin and glows red. It absorbs over 99% of blue light that filters down from above.

– Peppered moth – During the industrial revolution, these moths evolved black coloration to camouflage against dark soot-covered tree bark.

Natural Black Object Light Reflectance
Black adder snake skin 2-4%
Black dragonfish skin
Bismuth 0.3%
Vantablack 0.035%

Applications of Ultra-Black Materials

The unique light-absorbing properties of the blackest materials open up some novel applications:

– **Space instrumentation** – Coatings like Vantablack reduce stray reflections inside telescopes and star trackers.

– **Military stealth technology** – Ultra-black coatings hide objects by absorbing radar, infrared sensing, and visible light.

– **Photography** – Photographers use ultra-black backdrops and props which disappear on camera.

– **Architecture** – Blackest materials create surreal visual effects on sculptures and buildings.

– **Electronics** – Carbon nanotubes and metallic blacks absorb heat and electromagnetic interference in circuitry.

– **Art and design** – Novel black materials provide new aesthetic possibilities for installations, clothing, paints, and more.

Creating a True Black

While we now have access to materials that come astonishingly close to true black, perfect blackness may not be physically possible:

– **Theoretical limits** – According to models, the darkest possible THR may be around 0.000015%, limited by the intrinsic reflectance when light hits atoms.

– **Quantum effects** – Uncertainty and fluctuations at the quantum scale could prevent 100% light absorption even in ideal theoretical materials.

– **Practical limits** – Actual manufactured materials will always have some microscopic defects, preventing perfect performance.

As engineers push the limits, each incremental improvement requires enormous effort. Most applications do not require such extremes of blackness. But the quest continues to create ever darker shades that deepen our understanding of light itself.


The darkest blacks reveal the complex interactions of light and matter. While black may seem simple, physicists and engineers create new black materials using precision nanoscale engineering to manipulate light. The record-holding Musou black paint may represent the practical limit, but the push continues for that elusive perfect black that absorbs truly all visible light. The pursuit itself reveals the finer points of optics and inspires yet unseen applications. Blacker is not always better, but unlocking the secrets of ultradark shades leads to deeper scientific and artistic insights.