People have long made the choice between writing in blue ink or black ink. But now, we have another: Black ink . . . or super black ink?
Artist Stuart Semple has developed what he believes to be the world’s blackest black ink. He calls it Blink, and you can buy it for $16 a bottle. Intended for calligraphy, pen art, or just a very impressive handwritten letters, Blink brings a super high contrast pigment to a medium anyone can handle.
If you haven’t been following the long-running soap opera behind the world’s blackest black—and specifically, who is allowed to wield it—now is a perfect time to catch up.
In 2016, the world-renowned artist Anish Kapoor licensed exclusive artistic rights to the world’s blackest black paint, known as Vantablack. Absorbing 99.96% of light that hits it, Vantablack looks impossibly black. Developed for technical applications, like satellites, Vantablack is so dark that when you paint a 3D sculpture in it, that sculpture can look like a 2D hole. (I’ve seen a swatch with my own eyes, and truly, it will make your stomach churn with confusion.)
Kapoor was right to understand the value of Vantablack. Just painting a circle on the floor turns a concrete block into an endless abyss. And when the architect Asif Khan was the first to use Vantablack for a Hyundai building in the 2018 Olympics (Vantablack’s use in architecture holds separate rights from art), Khan transformed the equivalent of a 13,000-square-foot sponsored warehouse into an otherworldly wonder.
Specifically because the pigment was so powerful, Kapoor garnered a lot of criticism from the art community for hoarding it. The artist Stuart Semple mocked Kapoor by launching the “world’s pinkest pink” paint. Kapoor got a bottle and flipped Semple the bird. Then Semple and his team began developing their own version of Vantablack. In 2019, they launched Black 3.0, which anyone can buy, and captures nearly as much light as Vantablack.
Black 3.0 is a wild tool for crafting and art projects, but it’s a thick acrylic paint, which limits its use to certain applications because it’s not free flowing. Semple saw an opportunity in creating the same effect, but with ink—something you could use with a calligraphy brush or fill a pen with.
But developing Blink wasn’t as simple as thinning out some Black 3.0 paint. To develop all of its formulas, Semple’s team uses trial and error, figuring out a basic approach that can work and honing it over time. (Its special method for creating such black pigments is the company’s trade secret.)
“Chemically there are similarities, but the acrylic resin [in Black 3.0] is fundamentally different in Blink because we needed much more flow whilst keeping the stability of the pigment binding,” says Semple via email. “It’s very much a different potion than Black 3.0.”
Furthermore, no one is really complaining that their black ink isn’t black enough. “The benchmark for black ink is really high, and there are some amazing inks out there,” Semple says. So the team tested over 1,000 beta versions of the ink with artists to collect feedback during development.
The final product is a very deep, matte black. It’s hard to tell just how black it is in photos, until you see it alongside other popular black inks on the market. By comparison to Blink, they look charcoal or even gray.
As for its reality bending effects, Semple says you should expect a bit less out of Blink than you would from any super black paint, because the 2D surfaces on which you use an ink, like paper, simply don’t capture the same illusion that you can create painting a 3D object in a super black. However, as you can see in the example of a Blink skull the company provided, the black can definitely pull your eyes in like it’s some endless pit. (An illusion that only reads better in person, we’re told.)
Semple is most excited about Blink simply because it’s a very versatile, very black ink. And it’s waterproof, too. “Anything you’d ordinarily use black ink for, like outlining, will be better now,” says Semple. “I think anything on paper that needs a good nonreflective super black will look great.”