Mark Golden on Paint

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Do I still need cadmium on my palette?

21 January, 2008 (10:17) | Paint Ideas

Can this pigment be replaced and should it be replaced? This topic continues to be on the minds of folks with passions running both ways. Amongst many artists this range of colors is irreplaceable. The opacity and brilliance of the Cadmium Yellows is not matched by any other pigment or combination of pigments. The Cadmium Reds also offer a level of opacity that is difficult to achieve in any other chemistry of colors. When these cadmium reds are let down with white, they retreat to a salmon or coral quality of pink versus the much brighter tints of other organic colors. For many artists the cadmiums offer brilliance and opacity in the masstone and as mixing colors, provide a subdued range of pastels with great coverage.

The cadmiums also provide an excellent level of lightfastness, at least indoors. They retain their color brilliance in both masstone and tint. Outdoors, they do not hold up well to the combination of ultraviolet radiation and moisture, making them less than perfect for mural applications.

It is possible to find alternatives to the cadmiums. Within the reds, the Pyrrole colors match the brilliance of the cadmium reds and maintain a much greater range of mixing capabilities then the cadmiums. It is necessary to let the tints down with some red oxide to achieve the coral or salmon quality of the cadmiums, as mixtures with white and pyrrole will be incredibly bright. The pyrrole colors will also provide a greater level of permanence in outdoor conditions. The Yellows require a different range of replacement options. Most likely the Hansa Yellow Opaque will provide a fair alternative to the opacity of the cadmium yellow medium, yet there are no similar range of yellows offering the opacity and brilliance of the lighter cadmium yellows. The trade off with the hansa and diarylide yellows is that they offer great mixing capability and their masstones are at least equivalent to the cadmium yellows, yet they can’t match even close to the opacity of the cadmium yellows. Again outdoors, the cadmium yellows are especially subject to severe color fade.

In terms of color space, it is very understandable that we continue to want cadmiums in our palette. In the work place it is a much different issue. Manufacturing with cadmium pigments requires significant industrial safety and protective measures. Staff working with these pigments are required to undergo yearly evaluation for exposure which requires an analysis of any retained levels of cadmiums in their systems. We close off all units in the factory when cadmiums are being run to avoid contamination with other areas. The levels of acceptable cadmium exposure are extremely low, which take significant engineering ventilation and personal protective equipment to achieve. We take these measures very seriously, which gives me great pause when I think of these same materials out in the public. I think many artists don’t think twice about their exposure when buying pigments to make their own colors. There continues to exist a certain mystique around grinding your own colors. Given that we have such little control in our lives of the materials we don’t know about that we are exposed to everyday, I can’t help but believe that when we are given the knowledge about potential danger of materials that we can’t at least find more appropriate alternatives that don’t compromise our aesthetic integrity or endanger us or the people surrounding us.

Without modern equipment, or at least a significant knowledge of using a glass muller and plate, no artist is going to be able to create the color development that would warrant using a cadmium pigment versus some other safer alternative. If you’re just tossing in your color like grinding some pepper into your food, use pigments that don’t have the same degree of danger. I promise you will not be compromising your artistic vision. I realize that artists working with tempera systems don’t have a good solution other then adding dried pigment. When choosing this traditional method to work in, it is critical that you also take the precautions of isolating your work place from others and using personal protective equipment when making your mixtures and finally making sure you do a thorough clean-up of waste, including finding a safe way to dispose of your cadmium dust.

When possible, use manufactured colors by a reputable manufacturer. Once these pigments are no longer going to be airborne, the danger from these colors is dramatically diminished. By adding these dried powders to a binder, they have taken out a good deal of the danger of exposure of these materials. You can always add some safer pigments to these products to give a feel of a coarser pigment grind. You do have choices, and I’d suggest some very good choices. But as long as you avoid creating an aerosol from these pigments, avoid creating a dusty condition from sanding and reduce the waste generation of the cadmiums, these products can be use safely, just not mindlessly.




Comment from C. L. Curole
Time: January 23, 2008, 6:33 pm

Glad to see you back on line!

As a beginner, I steer away from the pigments with the highest toxicity – mostly the cadmiums, lead, maybe some others I don’t recall right offhand. I figure it’s easier to not get attached to them in the first place than to try them and have to balance their pro’s versus the known negatives.

I would imagine that as alternative pigments are developed, and as new artists start out choosing less-toxic pigments (because the alternatives are often cheaper, and lower toxicity is important when your art space is also your living space), that demand for the older high-toxicity pigments will taper off. Whether they will ever be considered obsolete, who knows?

Comment from Mark
Time: January 25, 2008, 4:13 pm

Dear C.L., Thanks for being here! I’m not confident that these materials will always be available. I do understand why some artists are so attached to them and the nuance of these colors, but I also love finding new and different alternatives, that offer even greater options. The cads remain a very important product for many artists and I think change will be slow. For us, it takes quite a bit of work to assure the safe production of these materials considering the frequency and volumes that are produced. Truly within an industrial setting these materials have become more and more difficult to support, especially as our greatest responsibility is the safety of the folks making these products. We are confident of our safety measures within the factory, but if I could speak for all the employees required to suit up from head to toe to make these products, they wouldn’t mind it a bit if they were discontinued.

Comment from Cheryl McClure
Time: January 26, 2008, 9:09 pm

I still love the cadmiums……..will buy them as long as they are made and I can afford them. They just ‘work’ for me. I’m cognizant of the safety factor and would try to make my own paints. I think that the industrial workers making these paints know and do make sure of their own safety…or I would hope they do.

Comment from Cheryl McClure
Time: January 26, 2008, 9:11 pm

sorry but a typo …….was I ‘ wouldn’t ‘ try to make my own paints…not would.

Comment from Mark Gottsegen
Time: January 27, 2008, 4:58 am

Mark et alia,

Just back last week from a rollicking ASTM D01.57 meeting, where cadmiums did not make an appearance. However, the Global Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, a feature of the European Union, did show up in the form of recommended changes to ASTM D4236. Also, the EU’s REACH program will have an affect on D4236.

As a result of all this EU activity, cadmium colorants are soon going to have “Danger” and “Warning” labels on them. This will have a significant impact on indstrial users of the colorant, and BTW, artist users, too.

Cadmiums (red and yellow) are important industrial colorants, primarily for coloring plastics. In my view, this is the only reason they are still in the marketplace. Once the EU labeling reforms are enacted, and if viable alternatives are found, I predict the demise of the cadmiums. Industry is working hard to find the substitutes, so the cadmiums may disappear sooner rather than later. As long as there are subsitutes that duplicate the attributes of the genuine colorants, I see nothing wrong with the chane.

Visit for the only unbiased source of information about art materials. Guaranteed!

Comment from Mark Gottsegen
Time: January 27, 2008, 5:00 am

Uhhh. ” … nothing wrong with the change.”


Comment from dennis marshall
Time: January 29, 2008, 6:06 pm

Hi Mark- Happy New Year ! A few years ago Sherry French Gallery had an exhibition that featured paintings w/o cadmiums. There was concern that these colors were about to be banned. I have heard from Daniel Smith customer service reps that Cadmiums are going to be n/a . I really do not care if they are toxic-I do not eat them. I love the new replacements but there is nothing like cad red light . When you open a jar of Golden Cad yellow it is like opening a jar of sunshine. I do not like using the cadfs in watercolor because of the posibility of making mud. I will miss them when they are gone which will probably be soon. It seems that it is the political correct thing to do. Also do not forget the global market- many companies look for the less costly alternative especially if the price of the cad pigments keeps going up.

Comment from Mike R.
Time: January 31, 2008, 10:46 pm

I’ve had the impression for at least a few years now that cadmiums were on their way out, mostly because of environmental concerns. I made the switch to alternative pigments a while ago, but I still use cadmiums from time to time. I emphatically agree with Dennis, ” jar of sunshine” – that’s Cad Yellow! The one I’ll miss the most though is Cad Orange PO20. None of the substitutes quite match the cadmium hues most of us have grown used to, but there are some excellent paints among them, in their own right. For yellows there are the benzimidazolones for example. These are brilliant and very lightfast paints in watercolors. I don’t see them in Golden’s line up however. Perhaps they don’t mix up well as acrylics?

The pigments we painters use have almost always been hand-me-downs. Availability depends on the pigment being useful in some other, larger and more profitable, industry. It’ll probably always be that way. But today we have a greater selection of quality pigments, and alternatives to choose from, than our illustrious forbearers. I wonder what Leonardo would have made of Quinacridone Magenta or Pyrrole Orange? Not to mention Phthalo Green!

Comment from Sharon A. Blair
Time: February 1, 2008, 12:48 am

Make no mistake about this; I am very green working with Acrylics by returning to them again after an almost 30 year gap. During this last year I have had the opportunity to try Golden’s in an introductory class at our store. I went by Golden’s color mixing guide with superb results utilizing Hansa Yellow, Quinacridone Magenta and Petal Blue (green shade) as primaries.

My students were very impressed with the luminosity of these colors. Having a watercolor background, I was drawn the brilliance and transparency as we developed our color wheels. Had we used the cad’s we may not have liked the opaqueness. Don’t get me wrong, Cadmiums do have their place, but I think it nice the new artists at our store have an alternative in using your palette colors and from what I read that are healthier choices to boot! I love the results of the Quinacridone colors because they can show off so many different levels of color and my students agree.

My boss likes it because your color mixing wheel has deepened our sales with your color spectrum.

Comment from C. L. Curole
Time: February 1, 2008, 6:52 pm

Who knows, maybe somday artists will ask why the Cadmium Yellow Hue and Cadmium Red Hue paints aren’t part of the Historical line…. ?

Comment from Mark
Time: February 5, 2008, 2:14 pm

Mark Got, we’ve been putting on the warning label on our cads for over 8 years. It seemed a more appropriate decision then suggesting, as many manufacturers still do, non-toxic! It hasn’t stopped many artists from using them, just hopefully cautioned and informed. They can be used safely! It is certainly true as Mike and Dennis point out, the Cads are brilliant. Watching them come off the roller mills in huge swaths is extraordinary. We do have Benzimidazalone Yellows in our Experimental grouping. They are amazingly bright, just not as opaque.

Comment from andrea
Time: February 10, 2008, 9:40 pm

I’m trying to choose my colors more carefully. My local store will order Golden colors for me if I give them the names. I want to choose acording to pigment number. The pigment number is listed on the tube, but not on the colour chart or website. Sometimes the name of the tube color is also the pigment name, but it’s not always true, and makes it hard to make good choices.

Comment from dan
Time: February 17, 2008, 3:27 am

i love the cadmiums. One, because they are so reliable as an opaque pigment. I thin they are great to work with, as of now, the cadmiums seem to be the capstone of paints, and i dont think there can be a replacement for them. As long as you keep the stuff away from your skin, and from being airborne, they are great to have on your pallete

Comment from Mark
Time: February 18, 2008, 12:26 pm

Dear Andrea, sorry it was so difficult to find the color information.
On the website it’s in several different areas providing different levels of depth. The most simple chart can be found at:

If you’d like more information just look at the Heavy Body color chart and click on a color. You’ll see all the color information there in detail. Hope this helps. Mark

Comment from madrigle
Time: March 4, 2008, 3:31 pm

In general I use alternatives to the cadmiums as I have a huge bias towards pigments with translucence, but I do LOVE the lighter cadmium yellows. They come in especially handy for adding punctuations of vibrancy to fields of yellow produced with the hansas. Love that cadmium yellow primrose.

Comment from Brian Firth
Time: May 20, 2008, 12:38 pm

This issue of the inevitable decline of cadmium pigments brings up another question that has been bugging me for awhile.

It is accepted that world supplies of petroleum will be exhausted within 100-150 years. With so many organic pigments based on petroleum, and the acrylic binder itself a petroleum based product, what will become of this? Will organic pigments become a thing of the past? Will acrylics themselves become a footnote in art history? Has Golden taken the inevitable rise in cost of petroleum products, along with their eventual extinction, into consideration? Are their other means of producing these pigments and binders that do not rely on petroleum? It probably wont affect our lifetime, but we will certainly witness the dramatic rise in prices and reduced availability of petroleum. I would be very interested to hear what you think on this subject. Thanks!

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