Color Spotlight: Neutral Tint

Daniel Smith – Neutral Tint

Neutral Tint is a transparent gray (black in masstone) that is specifically designed to be neutral: not warm, not cool, not leaning toward any other color.

Typically, Neutral Tint is made from a mix of three pigments: PBk6 (Lamp Black), PV19 (any number of quinacridone magenta/pink/rose/purple/crimson shades), and PB15 (Phthalo Blue of some sort).

Experiment Results

Gradient: Black in masstone, through shades of neutral gray. Pretty much the hugest possibly range of values, since it gets infinitely dark.

Opacity: Transparent (but it’s hard to tell because it’s black!)

Granulation: Non-granulating.

Glaze: Glazes to pure black.

Color Mixes: It’s designed to darken without changing the hue. In my opinion, it makes all the colors look somewhat muddy/dirty. For a nicer dark, I would use a complementary color.

Comparison to Other Brands

Da Vinci – Neutral Tint

Da Vinci Neutral Tint (left) vs Daniel Smith Neutral Tint (right)

Da Vinci’s Neutral Tint uses the same pigments as Daniel Smith’s, but I found it didn’t grade as nicely. It is also more warm-toned.

What Others Say

Neutral tint was developed by 18th century English watercolorists as a mixture of light red (red iron oxide) and indigo (or iron blue) with a touch of yellow, such as gamboge or yellow ochre. It was preferred to sepia ink as a neutralizing (desaturating) mixer or a foundation tint because it did not dull either warm or cool paints… The mixture is typically used to dull and darken paints, and to provide a shadow color, without changing the apparent hue of mixtures; it also makes an effective stormy sky color, modulated by added blue or violet.

Bruce MacEvoy

This hard-working color can instantly expand the value range of colors you can create with your palette.  So if you want to create rich darks, tone down a color, or create colorful neutrals this is the tool for you… Neutral Tint can darken most any specific color while keeping it in the same color family.  Whereas, if you try mixing other colors in to make a darker or more neutral version, you end up with a different muddier color altogether.

Cindy Briggs

Jane Blundell doesn’t like it, in part because it contains black. She prefers her own ‘Jane’s Grey,’ which is a complementary mix that results in a granulating blue-gray.

Jane’s Grey is a mixture of Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine – colours already in the palette – to make a convenience dark that is just on the cool (blue) side of a neutral grey. Alternatives are DS Neutral Tint but this adds black into your palette which I prefer not to do. Schmincke Neutral Grey is a three-pigment grey made without black so is a better pre-made option, though Jane’s Grey was released commercially in 2019 by Daniel Smith.

Jane Blundell

My Overall Review

Despite the bold claims that Neutral Tint will “double your palette” by creating darker versions of your existing colors, I don’t really like to use it that way since I find its carbon-y darks more lifeless than the dimensional darks you can create with complementaries, or simply by choosing colors that go very dark. But I do find Neutral Tint to be very useful as a convenience gray or black, especially as a flat black to make silhouettes. Making silhouettes in front of a sunset sky is one of my very favorite easy painting types.

“Desert Sunset” from a tutorial in Kolbie Blume’s Wilderness Watercolor Landscapes. I painted this on December 4, 2021. The flat black silhouettes use DS Neutral Tint.

It’s also useful for painting things that are black. I just have to remember for three-dimensionality to use the masstone black only for the darkest darks, and to use gray or another color for the midtones and highlights. In the crow below, I used DV Neutral Tint for the darkest parts of the crow’s feathers, and Indanthrone and Ultramarine blues for the highlights. I also mixed Neutral Tint with Pyrrol Scarlet to make intentionally muddy, acrid, gray-brown smoke.

Fiery Crow, for Kal Anderson’s Creative Joy class. Jan 27, 2022

It’s possible to mix up a black from complementary colors, of course. For example, I like a black made from Indanthrone Blue and Transparent Pyrrol Orange. It’s even easier when you use a trio where at least one of the colors is quite dark. This is a great way to make blacks that are harmonious with the other colors in the painting.

“Fall Lake.” September 10, 2022. The sky is made from a gradient of Deep Scarlet and Green Gold (Nickel Azo Yellow). The black silhouette color is the same pair plus Prussian Blue.

But Neutral Tint is just… easy. No mixing, no fuss. You know your blacks will be flat and won’t become too blue or green or purple or brown.

Summer nightscape with the Summer Palette, on Saunders Waterford 300gsm/140lb Rough Press High White paper. The palm trees use MaimeriBlu Neutral Tint.

If you just want some flat black down and get on with your life, Neutral Tint gets the job done with no fuss.

On my palette? B-team currently. I had it on the A-team, but I found I was using it as a crutch and I’d rather mix blacks more often. I only use it now for the silhouette purposes.

Favorite version: MaimeriBlu’s single pigment PBk26 Neutral Tint is my favorite: it gets so dark!