Sunday, April 18, 2010

Lightfastness and Alizarin Crimson

The industry standards for lightfastness have been established by the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM), which does very rigorous testing. The ratings range from Class I (very lightfast) to Class V (very fugitive).

Alizarin crimson has been a popular pigment in many art media since it was first synthesized in 1868. But it has received an ASTM rating of III or IV. It will eventually fade out of any painting that is exposed to the light.

These test samples were conducted by Bruce MacEvoy of, an excellent website for color information. The right half of each swatch shows alizarin crimson watercolors after an exposure of 300 hours of sunlight. The brands, from left to right, are Winsor & Newton, Daniel Smith, Holbein, M.Graham, Rembrandt, Rowney Artists, Sennelier.

Genuine alizarin crimson can be identified by the color name of PR 83. Several manufacturers still offer PR 83 alizarin in all painting media in the name of being traditional, but they shouldn't.

And artists shouldn't use it, even if it was a favorite color of our artist-ancestors.

There are several replacements, which nearly match alizarin crimson’s hue and transparency. They’re sometimes called “permanent alizarin” or “alizarin hue” and they tend to come from the quinacridone, pyrrole, or perylene families, and include such names as PR 202, PR 176, PR 206, PR 264 and PV 19.

Tomorrow I’ll offer some web and book resources to suggest what you can do, and how you can find out more about other pigments. on Alizarin


Charles Valsechi said...

Curious if this holds true for oils as well.

Steve said...

Jim, the main surprise in the Wikipedia piece I quoted yesterday was this:

"Modern lightfast watercolors are now more stable than oil or acrylic mediums."

Does that seem true to you? (Leaving aside the question as to whether the final word should have been "media").

It's always good to see cited. It's an amazing resource.

Jean Wogaman said...

Jim - In watercolor, do the replacement alizarins stain like the original pigment?

My Pen Name said...

discussions about the fugitive nature of alizirian.. and even more so, rose madder baffle and confuse me to the point where i don't want to use them. ... but they are so darn useful - particularly with watercolors..

the claims and counter claims are endless for example, i have heard rose madder- even the geniune kind - is not fugitive if it is not mixed with earth colors like yellow ochre (thus someone claimed you can still see it clearly in fran hals paintings)

Allison said...

So is Windsor and Newtons Permanant Alizarin Crimson safer to use?? we were discussing this in class the other day.

Jan Pope said...

I find all of your post on lightfastness interesting and informative. I wonder how these same pigments would be affected by the preservative sprays such as Blair's digital archival spray. It's supposed to preserve digital prints for many years even in UV light.

Celeste said...

Winsor & Newton, which is the blue-ribbon company for watercolors, does two things which I find very questionable.

1: Alizarin Crimson (PR83) is listed at Permanency B- moderately durable. But based on the results, and others, in sunlight it is completely fugitive in washes and very much altered in mass-tone. Opera Rose (Fluorescent dye! & Quin Rose, PR 122) also is rated as Permanency B. So what does it take to earn a C in this rating system?

2: In the description for Aliz. Crimson/PR 83 they give the "ASTM lightfastness rating: N/L" BUT according to their "Composition and Permanence Terms Explained" section, this doesn't stand for "Not Lightfast," it stands for "Not Listed". I don't have access to the ASTM ratings. However, this is not a new, or uncommon pigment, and it has known durability issues. If this pigment is not rated, the ASTM system is useless for evaluating pigments, and if it is rated then W&N misrepresents the rating.

Dave said...

sYes Jim this is such good information that you are sharing with everyone. Thanks Dave

Kent M said...

The painter Virgil Elliott (author of Traditional Oil Painting), did a test panel several years ago with many (19) varieties of alizarin and alizarin replacements. I have an image of the test panel, but cannot post it into a comment.

Each sample was tested as impasto, as a thin glaze-like layer, and in a 50/50 mix with flake white, and placed in a south-facing window.

Anything that had PR83 in it, as James already mentioned, fared poorly.

Over the next few years, of those 19, only 2 showed themselves to be fairly lightfast: Archival Oils Alizarine Permanent (PR175 / PR122), and M. Graham's Quinacridone Rose (PV19).

However, even those using other pigments, including ones that claim to be 'permanent' were not:
These only had moderate performance - they still showed significant fading:
Sennelier Rose Madder Lake
Gamblin's Alizarin Permanent
W&N Rose Madder Genuine
Mussini Permanent Madder Red

W&N Permanent Alizin, as well as Schmincke Ruby Madder, Holbein, and Old Holland Alizarin Crimson Lake Extra were all poor performers

James Gurney said...

Thank you, Kent, that's really interesting, and those are reputable makers. It just goes to show we have to be really cautious about label claims, and the only way to be sure is to test them out ourselves and share results online. Thanks to Mr. Elliott for doing the tests.

Adam said...

Very interesting information! I was always curious why colors like Alizarin Crimson have such a high lightfastness (my gouache of Aliz. crimson and Spectrum violet are IV and V respectively) Although my Acrylic version is a Liquixtex Alizarin Crimson Hue Permanent which has a lightfastness of I because it's made of Quinacridone, and the pigment's pretty much the same. Although I've also used Quinacridone in acrylics (golden brand) and theirs is slightly more red than violet. Thanks for the info! I'll be sure to keep that in mind when purchasing colors.

Unknown said...

Thanks everyone for the info - I've been trusting the W&N ratings but now will do my own tests. They say on their site the reason they still produce fugitive paints (in watercolour at least) is so that people who are producing work intended for production in magazines or what have you can still achieve certain colours they would not otherwise be able to. They site opera rose as a colour unobtainable using any other pigment (PR122).

Unknown said...

An artist told me shortly after posting this that they had been to a meeting where a W&N representative said that they 'do not manufacture ANY fugitive paints, just that some are less light fast than others'. According to their tests AC fades in thin washes in a brightly lit conservatory after 20 years, but in spot colour you won't really notice. Hmmm...

Ryan said...

How do UV protective varnishes affect this issue? Do they make use of AC acceptable again?

Matheus said...

Definitely not. Watercolors are more fugitive than oils.