I made a trip to the art supply store the other day, and looked at the oil paints because my Cadmium Yellow Light was getting low. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw the price of Winsor & Newton – $47.95! That must be why I bought the student grade paint last time! I stopped at another store on my way home, and it was $28.55 – almost half, but still a lot. M Graham was less, but still nearly $20. Maybe, I thought, I should try a similar yellow instead.
That’s when I realized that I didn’t know what a “similar” yellow would be. I saw Hansa, Winsor, Lemon, Indian, Bismuth, Transparent, Chrome, & Azo; Pale, Deep, Light, Hue. What do all those names mean? What colours of yellow are they? Time to learn a bit about the pigments I’m using.
So instead of paint I bought 1/4″ and 1/2″ tape and some canvas paper. I dug out all the yellows I’ve accumulated and made this chart. Each colour is painted directly from the tube in the top square, and then mixed with increasing amounts of white. Then I headed out on Google to see what I could learn about each of them (most of the information came from Handprint.com, which is a watercolour site but has an amazing depth of information, and paintmaking.com). And finally, I summed up what I learned and where I will go from here:
PY35 – Cadmium Yellow
“[PY35] is close to being the perfect mixing yellow as it is very close to ‘primary yellow’.” ~ Paintmaking.com
My cadmiums are all student grade paints:
- Cadmium Lemon (Winton) PY35
- Cadmium Yellow Light (Winton) PY35
- Cadmium Yellow Medium (Winton) PY35
Cadmium is one of the major artists’ pigments. It’s a synthetic inorganic pigment, which means it is a manufactured chemical, as opposed to a ground mineral (organic) or based on petroleum or other carbon compounds (synthetic organic).
Depending on what other metals it’s mixed with (e.g., zinc for the lightest yellows, selenium for reds), cadmium can range from a bright yellow (PY35), to orange (PO20), to various reds (PR108). Cadmium produces saturated colours, and is semi-opaque to opaque. Its drying time is average to slow, it’s fairly flexible when dry, and it is extremely lightfast, although the zinc in PY35 may be slightly less so.
Cadmium is a carcinogen, and is toxic if ingested or inhaled, therefore is not used in pastels. (The reds, which also contain selenium, are more toxic than the yellows.)
The Azo group contains a large number of closely related synthetic organic pigments (i.e, carbon-based molecules, often manufactured from petroleum compounds). They often, confusingly, share the common names Azo, Hansa, & Arylide. There are several subgroups, probably of more interest to chemists than artists, but I’ve broken them out anyway:
Unlike cadmiums and benzemidazolones, the arylide family consists almost entirely of yellows, often marketed as Hansa Yellow. Their lightfastness is only considered moderate.
PY74 – Arylide Yellow 5GX
I have Azo Yellow (M Graham) PY151 & PY74 I ST
PY74 is also called Brilliant Yellow, Hansa Yellow, or Monoazo. Like other monazos, it is only moderately lightfast.
Other versions of PY74:
- Winsor Yellow (W&N) I ST
- Chrome Yellow Hue (with PO62) (W&N) I SO
PY3 – Hansa Yellow Light
- Hansa Yellow (M Graham) II T
- Winsor Lemon (W&N) PY3 II ST
PY3 is a marginally lightfast, semitransparent, light valued, green yellow pigment.
PY65 – Arylide Yellow or Hansa Yellow Deep
- Winsor Yellow Deep (W&N) I ST
PY65 is a lightfast, semitransparent, orange yellow pigment. Very similar to isoindoline yellow, PY110.
I have Transparent Yellow (W&N) — T
Google has failed me on this pigment, so I’ll just state the obvious: it’s transparent. Very transparent. In tints, it’s fairly close to my Cadmium lemon. It’s also the yellow that W&N recommends as their primary yellow. The Disazo Condensation group typically has very high lightfastness and high tinting strength.
Like cadmium, the Benzimidazolone family of pigments (there are about 20) produces a range of colours, ranging from yellow through orange and red to maroon and brown. All of them are saturated, semitransparent, and nontoxic. According to Handprint, they “provide beautifully clear if somewhat bland colors (on all counts, cadmium pigments provide a revealing standard for comparison).” Their lightfastness rating is better than that of the arylides or diarylides.
PY151 – Benzimidazolone Yellow
I have Azo Yellow (M Graham) PY151 & PY74
Benzimidazolone yellow PY151 is very lightfast, semitransparent, light valued. Handprint says, “M. Graham azo yellow (aureolin) is a very good “primary” yellow, leaning neither to red nor to green, with a bright, clear appearance”. (Note – this refers to the watercolour Azo yellow, which does not include PY74 as the oil does.)
Isoindoline & Isoindolinone
These are extremely lightfast pigments, even in pale tints and thin layers.
PY110 – Isoindoline Yellow
- Indian Yellow (M Graham) I T
PY110 is an extremely lightfast, transparent, non-toxic yellow orange pigment, available from 6 pigment manufacturers worldwide. Handprint says, “PY110 may be the optimal choice for a deep yellow paint, superior even to nickel dioxine yellow PY153.”
PY139- Isoindoline Yellow
- Indian Yellow PR101, PY139 (W&N) I T
Other Yellow Pigments
PY53 – Nickel Titanate
- Lemon Yellow Hue (W&N) I O
PY53 is a very lightfast, semiopaque, moderately dull yellow pigment that a pale middle or lemon yellow that appears slightly gray when viewed obliquely under strong light. Average to slow drying and makes a hard and fairly flexible oil paint film. Nickel is considered toxic if inhaled.
PY150 – Nickel azomethine yellow
- Indian Yellow Deep (W&N) I T
A very greenish yellow of excellent light fastness but is not suitable for water based media. Nickel can sensitize the skin and may be considered toxic
PY184 – Bismuth Yellow
- Bismuth Yellow (W&N) – O
PY184 is a lightfast, semiopaque, very light valued green yellow. Similar in color to Cadmium Yellow Light but without the toxicity issues of the Cadmiums.
PY 42 – Yellow Oxide (or Mars Yellow)
I have Yellow Ochre Pale (W&N) I O
PY 42 is an inorganic synthetic iron oxide, properly called Yellow Oxide but often used as a synthetic yellow ochre, although it is more yellow than the natural ochre (PY43). Very lightfast, opaque
Not considered toxic. Do not breath dust.
- Gold Ochre (W&N) I O
- Transparent Yellow Oxide (M Graham) I T
PY43 – Yellow Ochre
- Yellow Ochre (W&N) I ST
- Yellow Ochre Light (W&N) I ST
Inorganic natural (sometimes synthetic) iron oxide. Duller and browner than Yellow Oxide. Very lightfast, semi-opaque to semi-transparent.
Well, first, to answer my original question – what (if anything) should I substitute for my nearly empty tube of Cadmium Yellow Light? On my chart (thumbnail at left, so you don’t have to scroll to the top of the post), M Graham’s Azo Yellow (PY 151 & PY74) looks like a nearly perfect match. I did a side-by-side test, and they’re almost identical. So for now, I’m going to use the Azo in place of the Cad Yellow Light. And in doing this research, I’ve realized that most split primary palette recommendations call for Cad Yellow Medium, not Light, so I’ll redo that chart.
Next, it occurred to me that if Azo Yellow is such a good match for the student CYL, I’d like to see how it compares to the real thing. So I’m going to keep an eye out for sales, and splurge on a tube of artist quality cad yellow sometime – either Light or Medium, whichever I decide I use more by that time. Or both, if I’m feeling extravagant!
I’d also like to try PY110, M Graham’s Indian Yellow. On the colour chart it looks quite close to their cad yellow deep, but it’s transparent. Handprint’s glowing recommendation for this pigment seems to suggest it’s worth a try. Or perhaps W&N’s Winsor Yellow Deep, PY65, which is supposed to be very similar. Perhaps also PY184, W&N’s Bismuth Yellow or PY53 W&N’s Lemon Yellow Hue (both series 4, same as the cadmiums), as a good green-yellow. Hansa Yellow is not lightfast enough, and unfortunately M Graham’s Bismuth Yellow is only available in watercolour.