Spotlight on: Permanent Carmine

Permanent carmine is a pigment with a rich red masstone and a blueish undertone. It is transparent, permanent and available in the Artists’ Oil and Professional Watercolour ranges.

Carmine and crimson colours were first lake colours. Originally they were made by extracting the dye from the kermes insect (one hypothesis of the origin of the word carmine or crimson). But during the Renaissance a new source was found in the Mexican cochineal beetle. It took around 70,000 of these tiny insects to create a pound of cochineal pigment. Thus, for a long time carmine lakes were the strongest and most expensive lake pigment (crimson lake being the weaker alternative). The pigment was highly prized and difficult to obtain, as until the 19th century Spain controlled the Mexican cochineal trade. In the 19th century, to create a more reliable supply, other countries, including Britain, started to develop their own cochineal sources, and the dye was used for the distinctive British army coats. But though it created a beautiful transparent red, the colour was highly fugitive and impermanent. It has, therefore, mostly been used as a source of food colouring in the 20th century.

Crimson remained in the painter’s palette as alizarin crimson was discovered and developed. But a match for carmine was not found until the 1990s, when quinacridone pigments had been further developed. In 1996, Winsor & Newton proudly launched its Permanent Carmine, which is the closest match to the original carmine and has the additional properties of being stable and permanent. It has a bluer undertone than alizarin crimson and its transparency makes it an ideal colour for glazing.