The world’s blackest paint: How it works

Date: 23/09/2022
Categories: Coatings

In the last few years, some ultra matte and ultra flat black paints have been developed that can absorb up to 99% of light. This particular property does not only create unprecedented aesthetics, but it also opens the way to truly unique applications. Let us see what the world’s blackest paint is and what sectors it can be used in.

Surrey NanoSystems, a spinout company of the University of Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute, began investigating the development of super black coatings that could improve the performance of electro-optical imaging systems for satellite applications back in 2012. The result of this study was Vantablack® (Vertically Aligned NanoTube Array BLACK), a paint consisting of an array of carbon nanotubes capable of trapping 99.965% of light, making it “the blackest material ever created by man”.

After this first version, which had a number of application and production limitations, the company designed a spray version of the Vantablack pigment (Vantablack VBx2), suitable for use in both the industry and the world of art and entertainment.

In 2016, British artist Anish Kapoor bought the exclusive rights to use Vantablack VBx2 in art, sparking much controversy.

This perhaps unethical action inspired a new study carried out by a team of artists and paint manufacturers led by British artist Stuart Semple, which in 2019 resulted in the creation of BLACK 3.0, another ultra matte and ultra flat black paint capable of absorbing 98-99% of light.

But how exactly do these paints work? How can they absorb almost all visible light?

Features of the world’s blackest paint

Although, for obvious reasons, the specific formulations of these coatings are unknown, we do know that they are formulated using pigments with very low solar reflectance.

For example, Vantablack is produced with very short carbon nanotubes that, when chemically bonded, form a coral-like structure that is highly efficient at trapping electromagnetic energy from UV radiation.

On the other hand, in order to create BLACK 3.0, Stuart Semple and his team started with a basic paint formulation but developed a special acrylic polymer capable of forming more bonds than any other acrylic polymer on the market. It therefore allows retaining a greater amount of pigment, thus achieving such a remarkable density and depth of colour that would not otherwise be possible. Nano opacifiers are also added to the formulation to flatten residual light fragments without compromising the colour results.

Application examples of the world’s blackest paint

These paints’ ability to make the surfaces they cover appear two-dimensional and create the optical illusion of looking into a black hole has paved the way for experimentation. Many brands have already employed the “blackest black” for their projects. Let us look at a few examples.

Hyundai Pavilion

For the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, British architect Asif Khan coated an entire pavilion with Vantablack VBx2, making it “the darkest building in the world”.

Commissioned by Hyundai Motor, the 10-metre-high structure consisted of rods topped by tiny white lights protruding from super black parabolic curves on all four sides of the pavilion, looking like stars suspended in the darkness of space. Khan explained to the well-known architectural newspaper Dezeen that he intended to create “the impression of a window to space”.

The pavilion was built by having the steel substructure bolted on site and then coated to create curved surfaces: a scaffold was erected around the pavilion and covered with a curtain, in order to create the ideal conditions for spraying Vantablack. During construction, the team also had to cope with mountain climate and temperatures between -15 and -25 °C.

© Luke Hayes
© Luke Hayes


At the Frankfurt Motor Show, carmaker BMW presented the world première of the third generation X6, coated entirely in Vantablack VBx2.

As this absorbs 99% of light, it visually alters the perception of the car’s three-dimensionality while enhancing other design features, such as the kidney grille in the Iconic Glow tint, the split headlights, and the taillights.

Also involving Levitation 29, the technical and creative agency behind the project, and Hussein Al Attar, the designer of the X6 car, this idea came from Christophe Koenig, spokesman for BMW’s X models, who first proposed the concept in 2018. It took more than ten months to realise it.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

On the occasion of the worldwide launch of the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, a space called Black Ops House was created with only a PS4 Pro and a screen, coated internally and externally with Vantablack VBx2.

The goal was to give players an immersive experience, creating the optical effect of playing in endless darkness.

© Activision

Uhørt AS

Uhørt AS, a Scandinavian post production company, coated the ceiling of its corporate headquarters with Vantablack. Why? By absorbing most natural light, this paint significantly reduces the diffuse light reflected by screens, thus enabling more accurate colour correction for its television and film post production activities. Indeed, the colour correction process requires clear identification of the full colour gamut on the screen and any unwanted light reflected by the room’s surfaces can slow it down.

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