A new blue pigment
YInMn, an intriguingly cryptically named pigment, has amazed and excited industrialists and artists since it was accidentally discovered in 2009. A fascinating account describes how YInMn, (pronounced Yin-min), a blue pigment was accidentally created by chemists at Oregon State University, when Yttrium, Indium and Manganese were mixed with oxygen, producing an inorganic brilliant blue compound. Also identified as Oregon Blue or Mas Blue, after the name of the lead USU chemist, Mas Subramanian, YinMn is reported to be the first new blue colour discovered in two hundred years. Because the colour is durable and stable, even at extremely high heat, it was first used industrially for paints and coatings, and more recently has been used commercially. The colour inspired a new Crayola Crayon called “bluetiful,” as well as added to artists’ palettes a rich, intense, vibrant and brilliant new shade, in colour between Ultramarine and Cobalt Blue.
Making Blue Paint
Blue pigments were originally made from minerals such as lapis lazuli, cobalt and azurite while dyes were made from plants, such as woad in Europe and indigo in Asia and Africa. To make blue paint lapis lazuli and azurite were crushed, then ground into powder, then mixed with a quick-drying agent such as egg yolk to make tempera paints, or with slow-drying oil, like linseed oil, added to make oil paints. Watercolour was made by adding gum arabic and other additives to pigment. Before commercial manufacture of paints artists made their own paints in their own workshops, grinding their own pigments and mixing them with additives. Today most blue pigments and dyes are made by a chemical process in commercial laboratories.
Of concern to users, blue pigments unfortunately have detrimental health and environmental effects and are not durable. We have heard of the health declines and poisoning of artists such as Turner and Van Gogh purportedly caused or exacerbated by their paints. Cobalt Blue, Prussian Blue, Ultramarine Blue and Azurite all pose some toxic risks for painters and many artists wear protective gloves while painting, particularly when using these blues. By contrast, YInMn Blue is chemically stable, does not fade and is non-toxic.
Availability and Cost
YInMn pigment remains extremely rare and very expensive and most artists’ paint companies have been discouraged from including it in their product lines; one supplier apparently prices a 40 ml tube of the blue paint at $179.40. Golden, Kremer and Shepherd paint labs are developing YInMn product lines. Golden Artists Colours is offering heavy body acrylic, oil and watercolour paint made with YInMn pigment. The colour is not yet available but one can join a notification list by contacting the Golden Customer Service Team and Custom Lab.
Unfortunately, the stunning and appealing colour has been seized by the black market who use illicit pigment to produce copy-cat paints, milling the dry pigment into an acrylic emulsion. Be wary of low-priced paints claiming to be YInMn Blue, or a trade name that has the ring of the pigment name, perhaps offered through arts and craft on-line or discount suppliers.
YInMn Pigment Blue BirdConnecticut artist Michael Rothman produced his own blue paint by hand-milling dry YInMn pigment in an emulsion resin and painted this imagined 47 million-year-old bird believed to have been the oldest to have blue plumage. The colour is astoundingly intense and perhaps serves as an inspiration for pictures we may one day produce when this paint is ours to use, too.
More Colours to Come
Following the surprise and success of YInMn Blue chemists have expanded their research and have synthesized a range of new pigments including oranges, purples, turquoise’s and greens. Elusive so far is red, an ongoing challenge to create.
-- researched and submitted by Janice Graham
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