Art materials and color permanence

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Part of the Scribal Arts collection.


Research paper

The material posted here was turned into a research paper for the 2014 Midlands Regional Arts and Sciences faire, where it received a 2nd place (less than half a point from first!)


Preliminary and ongoing notes

There are several different standards used to measure color permanence.


The three I've seen used most often are the Blue Wool standard (numbers 0 - 8 where we want 6-8 for SCA purposes), the ASTM standard (I to III where we want I and II), and Winsor & Newton's AA through C letter grading (where we want AA and A).


(I'm going by the assumption that we want scrolls to last at least 25 years and preferably longer, so those are the cutoff points I'm using for reference.)


General guidelines

Reds, pinks, magentas, and purples are often less colorfast than others. However, some manufacturers' entire lines are less colorfast than other manufacturers' reds.


If you're planning on investing in a full set of art materials, it does pay to read the colorfastness data before investing; I've looked at several sets that I ended up not buying because over half the colors weren't guaranteed even 5 years of lightfastness.


Art manufacturers' colorfastness rating charts

Some of the manufacturers from whom I've collected colorfastness charts:


  • Caran d'Ache  (home page)
    (Gouache, water colors, watercolor pencils; PDF file)
  • DaVinci (home page)
    Brand comes recommended as a good quality brand with larger tube sizes for the money / lower cost per ounce on an artist's forum, and ALL their gouache colors are colorfast enough for SCA use.
    (Gouache and several other art materials; chart of colors' materials and colorfastness) 
  • Derwent (home page)
    (Watercolor pencil and water-soluble ink pigment pencil notes: assembled in a wiki page)
  • Faber Castell  (home page)
    (pens, pencils, water colors, watercolor pencils; PDF file)
  • Koh-i-noor  (home page)
    Because their colors are so wildly variable in lightfastness, I didn't bother trying to sort out individual items that might be SCA-compatible.
  • Royal Talens (home page)
    (Gouache and a lot of other media; PDF file)
    Royal Talens is sold at Hobby Lobby. Their English language PDF was really hard to find on their website so I'm putting a copy here in case they ever redesign and break links.
    Note: They've skewed the ASTM scale so as to be able to include more colors in what looks like a lightfast category, but which only meet the 25-year standards under museum-grade conditions.Since I doubt most SCAdians keep all their scrolls in museum conditions, I'd recommend only getting the +++ grade paints that are noticeably more durable.
  • Schmincke  (home page)
    Brand recommended by HL Iohannes on the MK Scribes mailing list. Also recommended for paintable gold.  
    Their Horadam line is described as the most lightfast, with the HK Designers and Akademie series somewhat less so. However, there are some Horadam colors not lightfast enough for SCA use, and some of other lines that are fine, so make sure to check your color's label for 3 or more stars. (Their English color chart PDFs: Horadam, HKS Designers, Akademie.)  
    Since the Horadam line concentrates on single pigment color sources, watch out for potential toxicity - several colors use cobalt, cadmium, and/or nickel, and have California code 65 warning labels on the Dick Blick website.
    Also, every tube is individually labeled, so it's easy to see a color's lightfastness while shopping.
    (They've converted the Blue Wool scale into their own 5 star scale; 3 stars is equivalent to Blue Wool 5-6, and 4 or 5 stars are better.) 
  • Winsor & Newton (home page)
    Brand recommended by HL Iohannes on the MK Scribes mailing list
    (gouache; HTML file. Specific period colors have also been identified separately.)
    (watercolor; HTML file)
    (inks - All Winsor & Newton calligraphy inks are rated AA or A and are lightfast and permanent enough for SCA long-term use. The drawing inks aren't as lightfast, though black, white, and metallics may be longer-term.)


"Informal but empirical" lightfastness tests

Since Lady Sofya has a set of Reeves Gouache, and Lady Roana has a set of Lefranc and Bourgeois, and neither of those manufacturers provide formal colorfastness guidance, I'm running my own lightfastness check on them. Results to date are being maintained at Lightfastness Test Results.


(Generally speaking, the reds and the shades that depend on red aren't colorfast, but most others are.)


No official word on lightfastness

Manufacturers I haven't been able to get official lightfastness information from and would be interested in:

  • Reeves Gouache (unofficial test results at Lightfastness Test Results)
  • Lefranc & Bourgeois (unofficial test results at Lightfastness Test Results)
  • Letraset Aqua Pro watercolor markers
  • Holbein - brand recommended by HL Iohannes on the MK Scribes mailing list. Also recommended for paintable gold.
  • Pelikan "opaque watercolors" which are actually gouache - they're described as lightfast by someone who claimed to have contacted the company, but I can't find any corporate specifics on lightfastness and I'd be suspicious of that magenta. Still, for $15 for 24 colors in a small and convenient package that's easier to tote to sites than a bunch of tubes, they might be good for beginners who want a small financial investment while practicing and learning techniques?


Comments (1)

Anne McKinney said

at 8:14 am on Feb 28, 2011

Dena -- thanks for sharing your research! This is good information to have available. :-)

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