Quick Notes

  • The darkest of dark colors exists, but you probably wouldn’t even know you were looking at it

  • Vantablack is so dark it absorbs almost all light that comes into contact with it, rendering detail impossible

  • It’s a relatively new creation, which means the possibilities for the future are endless and exciting

When you think of the color black you probably think of a variety of things. The dark abyss, Gothic clothing, the ever expanse of space. Or maybe you just think of black as the darkest color, which is definitely fair enough, but what if I told you there was a black so black it was even darker than black? Don’t worry, I’ll explain.

Vantablack is the name given to a brand of super-black colored coating. It’s the darkest shade of black known to the world today, and holds the current record as the darkest man-made product in existence. It is so dark, in fact, that it renders 3D objects almost entirely imperceptible due to how flattened it makes them in appearance.

This is because of the dramatic amount of light it absorbs without reflecting any of it, meaning our eyes can’t pick up any of the detail necessary to distinguish its features. Anything Vantablack is painted on is rendered flat and formless, meaning it can be pretty jarring to stare into.

Lights out with this photon-absorbing material

The science behind it is in its molecular structure. It is made up from carbon nanotubes, which in simpler terms are tiny carbon cylinders that are so thin their walls are nearly the same size as a singular atom. This unique structure means that any light that comes into contact with a Vantablack surface is absorbed entirely, to the point that the photons are almost completely absorbed.

In the image below, both of the materials shown are equally as wrinkled as one another, but you would never know that the material on the left had even been touched. In fact, it looks little more than an expansive hole. The reason? The one on the left has been covered in Vantablack.

Imgur

Our eyes work through the reflection of light. When that reflection isn’t present, it tricks us into thinking we’re staring into an endless black hole. That’s where the magic of Vantablack really takes form, but this astonishing color isn’t just an aesthetic wonder, it has some practical applications too.

Vantablack also possesses extraordinary electrical conductivity and great mechanical strength, but many of these more practical uses haven’t been tapped into just yet due to the sheer expense of the material. With it being a relatively newly discovered material, its value is high, meaning experimentation has been fairly minimal so far.

The car so dark, it almost had no perceivable shape whatsoever

One such experimentation that did catch a significant amount of attention, however, was the partnership between BMW and Vantablack in the production of a Vantablack car. We all know how sleek a black BMW can look, but a Vantablack BMW takes it to a whole new level.

In fact, the original Vantablack is so black it couldn’t be used in the spray painting of the Vantablack car. Instead, a reduced formula had to be used. This is because the original Vantablack is so dark, if you used it to paint a car, the car would flatten entirely to the human eye. For the effect to be optimized, the partnership were forced to use a lesser Vantablack.

The invention is making waves throughout both the scientific and the design communities

While the result looked undoubtedly cool, and definitely looked like it should belong to one Bruce Wayne, it isn’t a car you’re going to see on the roads any time soon. The Vantablack car’s weakness to direct impact or abrasion would cause a loss of appeal fairly quickly, not to mention the sky-high price tag attached to this particular coat of paint.

Still, the invention is making waves throughout both the scientific and the design communities. Fashion in particular is rearing its head to the possibilities of black-hole-esque clothing. Whatever the future may hold for this product, we can honestly say we’re excited for what we’re going to see. Or…not see, depending on your point of view.

A deeper dive – Related reading on the 101

From light-defying blackest black cars to flying cars, the automobile industry is constantly revolutionizing

Second only to flying cars, the self-driving car is perhaps the coolest innovation headed to modern roads

Innovation requires failure, and this list of thirty proves that not all automobile inventions are great