Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
The Quest for the Next Billion-Dollar Color (bloomberg.com)
470 points by relham 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 138 comments

When I was a kid, I was remarkably incurious. Reasonably smart, I'd like to think, but it never really occurred to me that everything around me had to be invented by someone.

The thought that creating a safe, lasting red pigment could be sufficiently difficult as to be worth millions or billions of dollars is astonishing. To all the people who've made my world possible, I apologize for my apathy, and I'll do better.

One of the interesting ways I found out about this was in a history class that was talking about "royal" fabrics. These were fabrics that only royalty could own. And while there was the general "lets make a rule to distinguish us from the common people" there was also that challenge that some colors were so rare because the pigments were only available to make them in very small quantities. As a young man it amazed me that people had fights over what color clothes you could wear or that purple pants would be 10x the expense of white or grey pants.

This led me down a rabbit hole of ancient Roman pricing information! Turns out that a pair of purple silk pants (it seems purple dye was reserved only for silk) was actually closer to 2000x more expensive than standard (wool) pants. Also, the penalty for commoners wearing it was death, so there's that.

>Therefore, the dye can be collected either by "milking" the snails, which is more labour-intensive but is a renewable resource, or by collecting and destructively crushing the snails. David Jacoby remarks that "twelve thousand snails of Murex brandaris yield no more than 1.4 g of pure dye, enough to colour only the trim of a single garment."[14] (from Wikipedia, Tirian Purple //

It's my understanding that it was a badge of the senate, so wearing it would be like impersonation of a senator. Or worse, impersonation of the Emperor.

Snail Milker isn't a job one hears much of.

Many people will have heard of Lydia from the New Testament of the Holy Bible, who is referred to as a seller of purple, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lydia_of_Thyatira.

I am suspicious of the 12,000 snail number. I see that people nowadays who make a similar dye from snails called tekhelet need around 30 snails for each yarn they dye, which I would guess would extrapolate to the 12,000 being for an entire garment.

Let’s see, $10 is enough to pick from a few dresses at Walmart[1].

A haute couture gown might cost $100k[2]. It’s not apples to apples but that’s still a difference of 10,000X.

[1] https://www.walmart.com/browse/clothing/womens-dresses/5438_... [2] https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/fashion/who-wears-paris-hau...

But that pricing gap is almost entirely uncoupled from material cost.

They make them by hand (by choice), and of course use the best materials, but a cashmere shirt at H&M is very cheap. Brands are priced out of reach of common folk, but materials and types of clothing aren't.

It’s like being dropped back into my Latin classes. The history component is great, and by far the best part of taking 4 years of it in high school.

> the penalty for commoners wearing it was death

Is that right? I seem to think it was a myth and there was never such a law (at least enforced).

Maybe it was a heuristic for theft? As in, "as a commoner, there's no way in hell you could legally get your hands on a pair of these, so you must have stolen them from someone else".

There were actually laws, in many different times and places, know generally as "sumptuary laws". Wikipedia has what looks like a good overview: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumptuary_law

It doesn't seem to say much about actual enforcement, other than the lack of it for Louis XIII's decrees, and the repeated (and apparently ineffective) calls for stricter enforcement of the English laws.

Similar thing occurred in imperial China. You could get killed/imprisoned for wearing yellow.

Oh, I'd like to learn more about this. Do you have any good references?

It's easy to understand when you consider that the proverbial "rat race" isn't really about about money; it's about social status. Most people don't real care about money, they just need it to buy status symbols with.

Add to this that social status confers power and vice versa, so even if a rational king doesn't care for bling personally, he ought to wear something exclusive. Not just be cause displaying bling enhances his status and hence his power. But also because enforcing the sumptuary laws displays power, which confers status, which enhances his power etc.

"the proverbial "rat race" isn't really about about money; it's about social status. Most people don't real care about money, they just need it to buy status symbols with."

My thought is that money helps covering the Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Social status is present only in the upper half of it. This should mean that people may care about money but not yet about status. (And as a fun fact, the causes that leads to a "rat race" are harder to ignore as one climbs down on the same Maslow's pyramid, which at least in theory means that it should happen less for social status than for other things.)

This assumes Maslov's hierarchy is correct, which there isn't actually any evidence for.

And yet if you look at your own behavior and that of others you know, I bet you will find you are motivated at least considerably by the sorts of needs that Maslow described. And when you have to choose between them, I bet you tend to do so roughly according to the set of priorities that his hierarchy presents. Unless, of course, you are a really odd person.

Adam Smith said that when people want to earn more money than needed for a physically-comfortable existence, it is to achieve esteem over others.

Note, by the way, that there is also esteem from being similar to others who like you, and esteem from meeting an absolute standard that others might or might not match too.

That's an interesting point of view from my perspective. Most people I know are trying to pay bills and save for a house deposit.

The one's purchasing for social status are regarded as wasting their time generally (and speaking from personal experience).

> Most people I know are trying to pay bills and save for a house deposit.

Is the house what they actually need or what they think they should have based on their social status?

Agreed. If one thinks about it broadly (not just the clichéd look-I-made-it cars) and one might see it more often: having a considered socially desirable spouse/partner, going to certain places on vacation, signalling/posting on SNS. It's really broad, and there is a whole meta. Take a simple thing such as the tech hoodie or t-shirt for instance. Behind the I just like to wear comfortable garments, there is often an attempt to signal that I am making money thanks to my skills, not my look, my company is less boring than yours, etc. I am not saying that there are no true anti-social status people, just that they are likely contrarians and minorities (at least in circles that have escaped the survival mindset).

Being actively anti-social-status is itself countersignalling - you signal that you're not the kind of person like everyone else out there. I think the only way to escape this is to honestly not care - e.g. choose clothes based purely on utility.

I used to feel like that, but as I grew up I realized that social landscape is also part of the environment, so there's utility to be gained by being mindful of what you signal with your clothes or other status symbols. A suit, for example, might not be the most comfortable thing to wear, but can help you navigate the job market and acquire support of other people - in the same way a good pair of mountain shoes can help you navigate rough terrain.

There's also a sending a "non-signal" aspect to it - as in "I don't care, but I'm choosing wear what everyone else is wearing because I don't want to be asked about it/stand out" (which in some ways is a utility because you don't waste time being asked about thing you don't care about).

How do you untangle need and want though? Strictly speaking, I only _need_ about one room (room to sleep, a bathroom, and room to prepare food), but I wouldn't be particularly happy with that, but obviously a large part of the latter derives from social status and what others around you have.

It depends to what extent the house, relative to their means, exceeds their practical needs—which would include a reasonable degree of comfort.

Yep. Status-seeking is definitely not the only reason people need money. And people who have it together don't piss it away on mere status symbols.

But to the extent that people are caught in a rat race, then I say it is rarely about money itself except as a means to social status. And as in my example of the rational king, even people who do have it together, need to play the status game in some form.

Power and status are the ends. Money is the means, or at least a score keeper.

Sounds silly when you type it out.

Doesn't sound silly when you realize that status makes you feel good (and also adds to power), and power is literally your ability to shape the world around you to your whims. The more power you have, the more problems you can make go away.

Helping others makes everyone one feel good.

I think I can argue that the level of fondness for power that we're talking about does not bring comfort, as it is the result of paranoia. It's from the inabilty to be comfortable with the world; not from a want to change it (which is a symptom).

To believe that more and more power (and money) is going to somwhow finally fix things is clearly a fool's errand of Sisyphean proportions.

I think that's generally the case, but if we flip it then "being comfortable with the world" becomes "complacent", which in turn is abused by someone less keen to relinquish control.

I want to live in a world without rat race, corruption, power hunger, etc, but being old enough to realize that it just takes a few to abuse everyone else, I don't know what safeguards need to be put in place first, for that to be possible.

You're right to be wary of abuse and corruption. But I think the parent had a slightly broader view of "power". It's not just imposing yourself on other people.

Helping other people itself requires a certain kind of power. If you have no time or resources to spare, your good cause isn't going to get very far. If you have no ability to influence other people with power to help, your impact is limited.

Same reason that cathedrals and courthouses were built as imposing stone buildings.

> Most people don't real care about money, they just need it to buy status symbols with.

I'm pretty sure you have the causality backwards here. Status symbols exist to show off that you have money. If someone shows off status symbols but everyone knows they don't actually have money, they'll be seen as a poser, not a clever social hacker.

You can have plenty of status without money. The headmaster at his martial arts studio has more status than a white belt, even if the white belt is loaded. Status is of course situational, ever-changing, and tremendous fun to watch.

In Impro, Keith Johnstone talks about status being the most important thing actors add to make their scenes instantly "life-like". Status is everywhere in our lives yet most of us ignore it--we know it happens but we don't like to think about it. It's only when you try to recreate life on the stage that you realize, oh shoot, people are all about status.

Another example would be the gulf between the landed gentry and the nouveau riche. You can buy a mansion and a fancy car, but you can't buy class. You'll be spotted as a moneyed prole the moment you open your mouth or pick up a fork.

Among the cosmopolitan elite, conspicuous consumption is considered utterly gauche; status in this subculture is demonstrated through knowledge of art and culture, through holding the right political opinions and being up on the right trends. Those same cultural status symbols would mark you as low-status in a conservative rural community.

A high-status advertising executive instantly becomes low-status if they're in a room full of hackers or conceptual artists, because their status is denominated in the wrong currency - they're just a sell-out. The symbols of their economic status actively undermine their cultural status. In certain circles, driving a Mercedes and wearing Armani are symbols of a life wasted in the corporate machine.

All status symbols are relative and context-dependent.

Can you please explain more about the actor’s job according to Intro? It looks very interesting.

> "Try to get your status just a little above or below your partner's," I said, and I insisted that the gap should be minimal. The actors seemed to know exactly what I meant and the work was transformed. The scenes became "authentic," and actors seemed marvellously observant. Suddenly we understood that every inflection and movement implies a status, and that no action is due to chance, or really "motiveless." It was hysterically funny, but at the same time very alarming. All our secret manouverings were exposed. If someone asked a question we didn't bother to answer it, we concentrated on why it had been asked. No one could make an "innocuous" remark without everyone instantly grasping what lay behind it. Normally we are "forbidden" to see status transactions except when there's a conflict. In reality status transactions continue all the time. In the park we'll notice the ducks squabbling, but not how carefully they keep their distances when they are not.

Thanks! This is really great. I will try to find more about this so if you have anything else to suggest apart from the original reference please share.

Mostly I would just recommend getting the book in the Kindle store or whereever! It's a very good read—people who've read it all seem to end up referencing it.

This has been posted here before but it seems relevant (about explaining the lower Japanese salaries vs US, https://www.kalzumeus.com/2014/11/07/doing-business-in-japan...): “Most people want to become wealthy so they can consume social status. Japanese employers believe this is inefficient, and simply award social status directly.” The best employees aren’t compensated with large option grants or eye popping bonuses — they’re simply anointed as “princes”, given their pick of projects to work on, receive plum assignments, and get their status acknowledged (in ways great and small) by the other employees.

Regarding the causality, I disagree with you andrewflnr. For instance, jewelry is older than money and there are even statuses in nonhuman circles. I admit that it's debatable, but I think the value of money comes from the power it gives (you buy other people's time and stuff) but status can do the same and has a more permanent feel (it doesn't deplete linearly, unlike money spent). That's why in some communities, the local priest / doctor teacher is still considered more important than wealthier merchants / land owners. That's why Trump is more powerful than many wealthier billionaires.

"New money" can rarely get the status of "old money" even if "old money" has no money.

That doesn't seem right to me? Status symbols exist to show off that you have status. If someone shows off status symbols they apparently couldn't afford, the key effect is dilution of the symbol's utility for signalling wealth.

(Hundreds of years ago, important signals would be clean skin, clothes and hair. Not to mention your accent, language proficiency and general knowledge. Today these are mostly affordable commodities.)

Yes, that's why people hate posers.

And yet sometimes, having no status symbols shows you have more money and power than everyone in the room.

That's countersignalling. "I have so much wealth/power and feel so comfortable with it that I need not prove it to anyone, unlike those nouveau riche out there".

Speaking of color pigments, did you ever hear about “Mummy Brown”? Like the following article says, “it’s precisely what it sounds like”.


(The article only mentions mummy brown briefly so Ctrl+F for it if that’s the only part that interests you. Personally I think the whole article is worth reading.)

I've seen the world's pinkest pink :)


It blew my mind when I first realized why pigments were so valuable in the ancient world: before modern mass-production of countless different mixable pigments (and now, digital displays that can render almost any color the eye can see) a person would literally not be able to see a certain shade their entire life except on a certain material. The distinct color of royal purple would have been an experience to see, in the same way we react to rare colors like Vantablack or International Klein Blue today.

We still have arguments about fabric and color. White at a wedding? A scandal. Rainbow shirt at a rally? Could get you beat up.

Or embraced, depending on what the rally is about.

In that case you might appreciate this quote by Steve Jobs

"Everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you"

True if you are Steve Jobs I suppose.

Most brains have relatively equal number of neurons.

So ... most things were created by creatures with equal computing power as you.

This is pretty much all materials science. Vast amounts of work goes into developing new alloys, testing them, analyzing their properties. The consumer just knows his laptop casing is "aluminum."

Or that their backpack or travel kit is lighter or that their jacket keeps them drier. As someone who does (or at least aspires to) a fair bit of hiking and backpacking, and did more in the past, I'm very aware of the degree to which materials--including those based on traditional fabrics like wool--have really improved.

It’s the cumulative nature of progress that really propels humanity forward. Someone made 10% better tools, so I can make 10% better products - which are the 10% better tools for someone else.

When we made a 10% better linux I doubled my sales. There’s really a compounding effect. When someone improves Spring Boot or Node/Express, we can publish dozens of new websites to address tinier needs – problems that wouldn’t even be addressed in the past.

This feeling was the reason i started https://github.com/mikadosoftware/importantexperiments4kids

but it stalled (apathy/time). well kinda - i have recently worked out how the measuring the moons distance worked - aristarchus over 2000 years ago got heliocentric and distances - impressive.

Just working through how we got here, the technology and the inventions, and you do see the fragility of all we have.

I also recommend The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell, and How to defend your castle by William Gurstelle, and there is a youtube channel "primitive technology" which is kind of amazing if not wholly down this road

Primitive technology is pretty great, having a video format that shows everything step-by-step really reflects the "aha" moment that comes with interesting inventions.

This is a cool idea.

I don't remember having that realization, but I do remember realizing that whomever created a thing always had a particular purpose in mind when doing so.

That prompted me to spend more time considering the intentions behind something first, and as a result understanding came much quicker. This applies especially well in computer sciences, but it extends to all things man-made. Even beyond that if you're religious, I guess.

As a Christian, this is kind of the reason I'm so glad for Justification before God by faith in Christ alone and not by works.

I've never for a moment given God all the thanks he deserves for what He's given me. Color is one easy example - what a wonderful, beautiful gift that I've not thanked Him for, for the vast majority of my life. I constantly fall short of giving Him the honor he deserves.

I'm willing to take the downvotes for this, but this comment is a reason why religion is not useful. This reply could be used as a response to any comment and adds nothing useful at all.

>To all the people who've made my world possible, I apologize for my apathy, and I'll do better.

my comment is quite directly related to this expression by OP

>but this comment is a reason why religion is not useful. This reply could be used as a response to any comment and adds nothing useful at all.

this is fallacious reasoning. Particularly affirming the consequent to my eyes (If religion is useless, religious comments are useless. this religious comment is useless, therefore religion is useless)

Did you miss Silicon Valley season 5 episode 4? ;)

I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but generally when you reply to someone it's expected that your content has something to do with the parent comment (or the topic in general).

I hope you'll stay to discuss this topic (and others!) but I think you may get a better response from a more worship-oriented forum. Good luck!

Sure, a certain thing could be made by another human, but what made that other human?

All human cultures throughout history, humans have believed in some concept of God. The idea that the unexplained can be explained with an omnipotent, omniscient, infinitely-powerful being. Usually it’s based on some human form. It brings humility that there is still so much we can’t do and don’t know.

Just as numbers become so large that we can’t fit it in our heads, we attribute the symbol infinity for such numbers, God is a natural concept for the human mind.

I assume for most in HN, their idea of the infinity is the universe operating by the laws of physics, making the experiencable universe possible.

As Paul put it in Romans:

>For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Thank God for Christ, to redeem us from our lack of thanks and honor to God!

I fear this apathy was also someones invention.

Invented or discovered?

The world of colors (and who "owns" them) is both odd and fascinating. For instance, Vanta Black can only be used by one artist - Anish Kapoor:


In response to that rule, another artist created the pinkest pink and a competing black ... available for anyone in the world to use -- except Kapoor:



Related, and similarly interesting:

How a corporate spy swiped plans for DuPont’s billion-dollar color formula -- https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-stealing-dupont-whit...

Anish Kapoor seems like a huge scumbag

It's a bit of a gimmick. Vantablack is a highly specialised coating intended for use in precision optical equipment. It isn't really usable as an art material because it's prohibitively expensive, it needs to be applied under laboratory conditions and it's extremely fragile. It's considered a dual-use technology under arms control legislation and can only be exported under license.

Semple's feud with Kapoor is similarly gimmicky. He described his Pinkest Pink (and the ban on selling it to Kapoor) as "like a piece of performance art".

> Semple's feud with Kapoor is similarly gimmicky. He described his Pinkest Pink (and the ban on selling it to Kapoor) as "like a piece of performance art".

Yes. Kapoor eventually got his hands on some of the Pink, and he published a photo of him sticking his middle finger in the pigment.

Semple then created a new pigment called Diamond Dust which contains pieces of broken glass. The whole purpose of Diamond Dust was "I dare you to stick your finger in this!".

> For decades, red Lego bricks contained cadmium, a carcinogen.


From another article [1]

> One toy to watch out for? “Lego bricks from the ‘70s and ‘80s are the big fail,” Andrew Turner, the study’s lead researcher, told the BBC.

> Roar Rude Trangbæk, a spokesperson for Lego, told The Sun that in regards to hazardous elements, the company “phased that material out back in 1979 to 1981.”

Apparently its both yellow & red bricks. From a forum post [2] about the phase-out:

> Not much information has ever been given out by TLG in regards to the switch from LEGO "with" Cadmium to LEGO without it, except that TLG switched over to Cadmium free LEGO in 1973. However, that doesn't really say a lot. Just look at the switch from old gray to new gray that started in 2003. It took many years for the switch to be complete (old gray elements were still found in LEGO sets for many years). So a 1973 switchover likely only means that the Bayer Corporation stopped sending TLG red and yellow plastic pellets. As for what was still in the TLG inventory.... my guess would be that it continued to find its' way into LEGO sets for several years until the supply of old red/yellow pellets was finally depleted.

Makes me a bit wary to pass those down to my kids.

[1] https://offspring.lifehacker.com/your-old-legos-might-be-tox...

[2] https://www.eurobricks.com/forum/index.php?/forums/topic/773...

Heavy metals are bad but accumulative over a lifetime. Licking any one cadmium-tainted product isn't awful for you, as long as you don't work in a cadmium product factory and the general society at large makes an effort to not put cadmium in everything.


Not only is it fairly well encapsulated in plastic, the cadmium sulfide / cadmium selenide pigments are far less toxic when consumed orally than say the old lead carbonate pigment (known for being used as a white paint pigment) due to its poor solubility.


If the kids are old enough not to put legos in their mouth and choke on them and can be encouraged to wash their hands before meals, I wouldn't worry too much, personally.

I remember biting on my red LEGO bricks as a kid to remove those ones that would get stuck. Never knew that they contained cadmium 'til now.

It's no biggy. Plenty of artists consumed way more heavy metals, 10000x more than kids licking legos. And most didn't become mad hatters or suffer any real issues. The limits we set in medicine are much lower than what may manifest as biological damage. Better safe than sorry, right?

Or they didn't realize they were ever exposed to toxins, and they just think they got moody over time or that poor memory they have is normal aging.

Same could be said for asbestos as well as the undiscovered but numerous carcinogens and toxins we currently use in mass quantities. Every century has some type of widely used, but toxic, chemical discoveries. This century won't be any different.

Somewhat-related... I just found out about "structural" coloration[1], which is "production of color by microscopically structured surfaces fine enough to interfere with visible light".

It took Lexus ~15 years to develop "structural blue", a colorless paint that creates blue light using this structural interference. The making-of video[2] is pretty amazing, and definitely worth watching.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Structural_coloration

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9JU541_zm2w

After learning about light interference creating the iridescence of butterflies and of CDs, I wondered whether you could burn a CD to control the structure of the CD to change that interference enough to, say, draw an iridescent image. However, it looks like the writeable elements of a CD are a too large. With a Bluray though, it might be possible... I haven't tried and I'm not entirely sure how you'd go about doing it.

LightScribe kind of does this though it's not iridescent. You can also find some free code to achieve a similar effect on the data side of a disk.


For anyone who was curious: I found this instructable that includes MATLAB code to generate the data for the image to be burned to the data side of a CD. http://www.instructables.com/id/Burning-visible-images-onto-...

This was all I could really find, unfortunately...

Came here looking to see if someone had already posted about this. Not surprised someone else was aware of it.

This is absolutely worth a read, and the less than 5 minutes to watch the video.


I'm not sure what the "Structural Blue Edition" cost (my guess is the range of $10K - $30K premium), but it's still far from the most expensive car paint jobs -- Porsche's "Liquid Metal Silver" for the 918 Spyder (created by BASF) was a $64,000 option (where the aluminum flakes arrange themselves in a specific way during application), yet there's been crazier stuff offered than that.

Makes you wonder if a structural red could be created. I would guess not, otherwise it would exist in nature. Here's the first search result of structural red: https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/mystery-of-why-structura...

"Makes you wonder if a structural red could be created. I would guess not, otherwise it would exist in nature"

Moonstone sometimes exhibits red-orange coloration due to its structure of alternating layers of different types of feldspar. Opals do the same thing but by water-filled fractures inside a group of quartz spheres. We can synthesize both so making a structural red should not be difficult.

Quite amazing that such bright color "appears" from colorless ingredients!

One interesting aspect of red pigment usage that I feel this article could have explained better is why it fares poorest under the sun: of all the color pigments, it absorbs the most of the short-wavelength (high energy) light. Now, you'll naturally think, "but what about black?" Well, most of the black pigments we use are very chemically stable materials, like powdered carbon or some iron oxide compounds.

(Once you know this you'll suddenly start to see how a disproportionate share of red cars have failing paint -- particularly after sometime around the early 1980s when the use of Cadmium pigments started to fall out of favor for most uses.)

> (Once you know this you'll suddenly start to see how a disproportionate share of red cars have failing paint -- particularly after sometime around the early 1980s when the use of Cadmium pigments started to fall out of favor for most uses.)

I believe this has largely been remediated by using a clear coat over solid colors. Older cars had single-stage paint for non-metallic colors, so there would be nothing on top of your nice red paint to protect it. Modern clear coats typically block UV light, so the color should last much longer (long enough that your car will be all scratched and swirled well before the color fades).

The auto industry also pushed for development of new red pigments - Pyrrole Red is considered quite lightfast, but only became available starting in the late 80s. I regularly see 90s era red cars on the road with good looking paint these days. (Yes, the clear coat I'm sure is a factor as well.)


I first learned about Yttrium blue from the new AMD Radeon Pro GPUs that are painted with them. They're really remarkably saturated (Google image search Radeon Pro WX 7100 for an example)

Just keep in mind your monitor really cannot accurately display the colour.

a bit ironic, considering your monitor may very well be powered by that impossibly-blue GPU :)

Wow those are beautiful! Every day I find a new reason to like AMD a bit more.

Clearly you're not a shareholder.

Is the missing stable red pigment the reason why red clothes give off their color in the laundry much easier than the other colors?

Clothing is usually dyed, rather than inked or painted. Some dyes are better at attaching to fibers than others, and some synthetic polymer fibers are notoriously hard to dye.

But on the other hand, some dyes diffuse into certain plastics very easily, and then never come out. It depends on the chemistry.

The only pigmented clothes I am aware of are "dirt shirts" that are infused with strongly colored soil. The reddish orange color is undoubtedly iron oxide, and they will fade with every washing, because there is no binder to keep the pigment attached to the fiber.

One exception is Japanese kakishibu/kaki-shibu: fermented unripe persimmons, creates a sort of rusty brown red which darkens over time, heavily used in traditional Japanese clothing for water-resistance and fire protection. People still like to use it for paper, shirts, and home-made or high-end jeans (eg https://www.weargustin.com/store/6683 )

I had a friend in school whose father would work at a local chemical plant. He used to say: “Did you know that red as a color isn’t stable? Just look at all the old red cars, they are so pale”. I’m ashamed to say, that I thought that was total BS. Now, years later, I know better and will remember this every time I see an old red car. You should too.

PS: I think I’ll call him up tomorrow

Also look at hair salons with all of their old pictures of hair styles on the front window and notice how blue they all are.

Is there a museum for these extreme colors? (Like the blue in the article or the pink in this video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NzVmtbPOrM)

There is the Forbes pigment collection at Harvard's art museum.


This reminds me of the 15+ years of work Lexus put into their new 'structural blue' color. It was designed to mimic the American Morpho butterfly. Color comes from the assembly of structures rather than pigment (there is no blue material used during the creation of the paint) Pretty wild stuff. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYu1ruSakRg

Very cool how the search for a material for use in computing led to a better blue pigment. Reminds me of all the technologies developed during the space race or for the military that wound up being use in every day applications.

colors are a fascinating subspecialty of the coatings industry.

YInMin blue is stupid expensive. A typical oil paint sells for between 13 and $60. One company trialed YInMn, and asked for $200 per tube to use up their samples, as I recall.


Take a look at their review.

I'm surprised nobody picked up on this mistake about colors: "Modern computers can display about 16.8 million of them, far more than people can see or printers can reproduce."

No, that's far more than people can DISTINGUISH, but we can certainly see them all, and printers can reproduce them. In fact, monitors (even the new higher-gamut monitors) can't cover the full range of human vision, so there are plenty of hues we can see that monitors can't make.

Speaking of red... In Sweden we have a color called "Falu red" that's the icon red that long has been put on many cottages and houses. The pigment is based on the copper in the copper mines of Falun. The metal helps against fungal infestion and absorbs UV rays helping the paint last longer. There are some areas where it's the only color allowed to help preserve their heritage.


As a bonus or most famous sausage is called "Falukorv", it's also red.

The pigment in Falu rödfärg is not based on copper, it's iron oxide, a byproduct from the copper mine.

I'm a little confused at the safety claims. Manganese is a cumulative poison:


I'm not really qualified to quantify the toxicity of metals, but the chemists I've known are usually very careful when they have to work with manganese.

Typically, the toxicity of metals depend on how they're structured within molecules. For example, inorganic copper is cytotoxic, while organic copper is necessary for survival. In this case, the yttrium blue has a unique chemical structure. More so, I believe they use Manganese oxide to create the color. Manganese oxide is not dangerous, as far as we know, at least. It's a somewhat common food additive. According to [wikipedia](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manganese(II)_oxide), we consume tons of it per year.

Ultimately, what typically matters is how a molecule interacts with the body, not necessarily how each component interacts. By that measure, Cyanide (which is just carbon + nitrogen) ought to have no ill effect, while cuprous oxide ought to be poisonous.

Manganese isn't that toxic of a metal.

Water purification tablets often contain potassium permangante. And that's safe to drink!

Not to nitpick,

> Raised in Chennai, on the southeastern coast of India

> After getting his doctorate in chemistry at the Indian Institute of Technology at Madras

Madras is just the colonial name for Chennai, which is currently the name of the city and the capital of the sate - Tamilnadu.

Wonderful article, we've taken the colors for granted; Subramanian didn't and I'm glad that it has rewarded him.

The article is right. It is Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (1) and not Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai.

"Madras" above is part of the institute's name and it would take an amendment of the IIT act to rename it but I don't think it will happen.

1. https://www.iitm.ac.in/

IIT Madras is the name of the institute, regardless of the name change of the city it is located in.

Where can I view these brilliant colors in person? Apparently these colors are so vibrant, they cannot be accurately displayed on monitors: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NzVmtbPOrM

One of the most unique blues I've seen is 'Baystate Blue' it's a fountain pen ink [1], cameras and screen doesn't capture how beautiful this ink is. This ink is also highly controversial in fountain pen community because it is accused of destroying fountain pens. (Also you drop it on plastic, and you'd need to use bleach to get it off), but man I love this ink.

1. http://www.inksandpens.com/content/images/2015/09/IMG_5211.j...

Request a sample of Blue 10G513 from Shepherd Color Co or purchase a Radeon Pro WX. https://www.tomshardware.com/news/amd-radeon-pro-wx-series,3...

Supposedly Crayola's "Bluetiful" color was inspired by YInMn but it's not made with the material.

So, is there more to YInMn blue than mixing proportions of these elements and kiln-firing them in a crucible?

Because if that's all there is to it, then what's to stop me from experimenting to find the best proportions and personally violating any patents, for my own DIY projects?

I first heard of the fading red problem on a luxury yacht show, where the clients' new cushions kept fading in the sun, which was a bit of a problem for the outfitting company.

It's amazing what random facts you pick up wherever.

> Modern computers can display about 16.8 million of them, far more than people can see

Not quite true. The colour gamut of most (in not all) displays is much smaller than the gamut we can see.

This is always misreported. It's true that we can't distinguish between two adjacent rgb values (in most cases, on most displays...), which is where this comes from. But as you say, displays only cover a portion of the space.

The easiest example I usually give is with blacks-- computer monitors just can't reproduce the absence of light well.

What amazes and dumbfounds me is that there are still colors we haven't discovered. A perfect example of: we don't know what we don't know.

Cool article. The title made me think this was going to be an article from 2011 about Color the company [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_Labs

Could use a snappier name. How about Hooloovoo?

They could invent it, but to most of us men, it's just going to look like a pre-existing red. We don't do color distinctions very well. We've got bright red, pale red, and in-between.

You'd probably notice if your five year old Ferrari faded to a pink.

> Red 254, aka Ferrari red, for example, is safe and popular, but it’s also carbon-based, leaving it susceptible to fading in the rain or the heat.

For something like this though, your Ferrari owner would probably not mind paying to give it a repainting every few years.

Actually, exotic car owners/buyers tend to be obsessed about keeping the original paint. It's a rare Ferrari owner who would be willing to have his car repainted at all.

Indeed. Tetrachromacy is real, and men are unlikely to enjoy the superpower:


Tetrachromacy is real but vanishingly rare. However, I've read before that women have more bars and cones in their eyes than men & therefore better color reception, without being tetrachromatic.

I suspected my wife was a tetrachromat when we started debating what color something was. There are the "standard" arguments about is that blue or green or is that red or purple. But these were around yellow. Where she clearly saw two different yellows I could not distinguish them. She is unwilling to get the genetic test though, no matter how much I encourage her.

Is this something CRISPR could "fix"?

I mean, there's still a whole 50% of humans to market to in that case. Nevertheless, while men's color perception is typically worse, it's still good enough that a man with full color vision can see colors that humans can't reproduce faithfully.

it's about the pigment, not the color.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact