The different types of black paint

You may have read our blog post about the different types of white oil paint a while back and this post follows on from that, except it’s about the different types of black paint! In this post we will cover five black paints that are found in both acrylic and oil paint ranges.

Ivory Black

Historically Ivory Black was made from carbonising boiled ivory wastes, but today it is made from the dry distillation of degreased animal bones. Ivory Black is opaque, and a good general-use black which has a brownish tone to it.

Lamp Black

Lamp Black used to be made from the soot that would accumulate on old oil lamps. Nowadays it is produced in a more efficient way and contains pure carbon which is gained from an incomplete burning of oil and gas. It is the most transparent of the blacks and appears quite blue. Both Ivory Black and Lamp Black are considered a type of “carbon black” because of how the pigment is made.

Mars black (or Black Iron Oxide)

Mars Black is made using a synthetic and inorganic pigment. It is considered the most non-toxic black paint and is opaque and fast drying.  It is more of a neutral black which means it is good for mixing and does not appear too blue or too brown. Here’s a fun fact – apparently Mars Black is slightly magnetic!

Payne’s Grey

Payne’s Grey is a very dark blue grey that is more subtle than most blacks. A good option for those who want a dark paint but do not like to work with true black in their work (black can be a bit of a controversial colour! – here’s an interesting article on that matter.)

For those who don’t want to use a true black paint in their work, it is also possible to mix very dark, black-like hues using a combination of various colours such as: Burnt Umber & Prussian Blue, Quinacridone Crimson & Pthalo Green, Ultramarine & Alizarin Crimson and many more.


Gilsonite (asphaltum) pigment is otherwise known as bitumen. It’s a transparent, brown-black brown mineral pigment that was very popular in the 18th Century. This pigment is mainly sourced from the Uintah Basin of Utah and Colorado, United States. The transparent colour is typically used in glazes to achieve depth and warmth in shadows. Interestingly, Gamblin has recreated Asphaltum using Transparent Mars Red and Bone Black to create a lightfast, permanent paint true to the historic colour.


  1. Andre van WykReply

    Nice info thanks. I love Payne’s Grey. Especially for monochrome paintings. But don’t you shade using black and tint using white?

    • MeganReply

      Thanks Andre. We see your point! We were using ‘tint’ in quite a loose sense referring to mixing in general, but we’ll amend the wording so it’s more exact.

  2. DanaReply

    I’m writing a paper on Girl with a Pearl Earring for my art history class and found her background was made from bone black, which I figured out quickly what it meant, but then remembered one of my acrylics at home was called lamp black, and wondered where that originated. I had no idea there were so many different blacks! Thanks!

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