Meaning of the color black

The black color is the dark tone that we perceive in the total or partial absence of light, that is, it is darkness. Black is not a color in the strict sense of the word, but an achromatic color, as it does not reflect any spectrum of light.

Black has different psychological and cultural meanings, which can be negative, positive or neutral. As for the negative, the black color represents darkness, mystery, death, evil, sin, illegality and the undesirable. As for the positive or neutral, black is a symbol of elegance, prestige and authority.

Darkness and mystery

The color black can symbolize spiritual darkness, mystery and fear, since in a metaphorical sense, in its presence it is not possible to distinguish neither forms nor paths. The belief in hidden forces or beings is closely related to darkness.

Death and mourning

Black also symbolizes death, as it is opposed to light as a symbol of life. It is also the color we use to represent mourning. Due to the association of black with death, the bubonic plague that struck Europe in the 14th century was called the Black Death.

Evil and sin

Particularly in Judeo-Christian culture, the color black represents evil and sin by association with darkness. This includes low instincts, dangerous passions, conspiracy to commit crimes, bad thoughts and feelings, lack of love, etc.


Pirate flag. Although it was used by pirates to instill fear in their enemies, today we associate it with anything illegal.

Because of its relationship with the idea of ‚Äč‚Äčevil and conspiracy to commit a crime, the black also represents illegality, that is, all activities that are outside the law. Hence, in our daily expressions, phrases such as:

  • Black market: buying and selling of illegal products and services.
  • Black money: bad money.
  • Black work: undeclared irregular work in order to avoid taxes and labor liabilities.

The tragic and the undesirable

When you want to express that an event, person or thing represents negative, tragic, undesirable, incorrect or uncomfortable aspects, black is used as a metaphorical adjective. For instance:

  • Black Thursday (USA, 1929): is the name by which the stock market crash in New York is known, which generated a world economic crisis.
  • Black list: list of undesirable people.
  • Black sheep: originally, the expression black sheep was used to refer to people who dishonored a family group.
  • Black humor: one who laughs at tragic or unfortunate aspects of reality.
  • Black comedy: a type of comedy based on black humor.

In this same sense, black is associated with bad omens. For example, many believe that the presence of a black cat portends bad fortune. The same is thought of vultures or crows.

Power, elegance and prestige

Black can express power, elegance and prestige. This is due first to his sobriety, which conveys a strong and influential presence by focusing the attention of others on himself. Second, black stylizes the figure, which has an aesthetic appeal.

We see this use frequently in men's ball gowns, in limousines and other luxury vehicles. We also see it in the most iconic outfits of the great Hollywood stars, such as the legendary Audrey Hepburn. Even black and white photography is associated with visual refinement.


Black also represents authority, which is why it is present in the clothing typical of certain trades, either as a uniform or as an attire for certain ceremonies.

Some priests and reverends wear a black shirt or cassock with white clergymen (collars), in order to identify themselves as such in secular settings. Likewise, certain monastic orders wear black elements in their habit. In both cases, black also symbolizes conversion and austerity.

Judges often wear black robes or black suits during trials. Also, college-level graduates wear black caps and gowns. In all the cases mentioned, the Negro expresses the authority of professional practice.

Shades of black

Black objects in nature: 1. Jet. 2. Coal. 3. Black piano keys carved from ebony. 4. Graphite pencil. 5. Black olives. 6. Black beans. 7. Panther.

The perception of black occurs when there is no light in the environment or objects absorb it and do not bounce it. According to the degree of absorption of light from objects, black can acquire different shades. In fact, there are dozens of shades of black. Let's see the main ones in the following image as an example.

  1. Absolute black
  2. Black
  3. Jet
  4. Coal
  5. Deep black
  6. Graphite
  7. Ebony
  8. Black spark plug
  9. Smoke black

The darkest shade of black

From left to right: Color Vantablack. Color Black 3.0. Construction site The redemption of vanityby Diemut Strebe.

There are three darkest shades of black that exist to date:

  1. Vantablack (created in 2014). Absorbs light by 99.965%. The prefix Vanta is an acronym for Vertically Aligned NanoTube Arrays (group of nanotubes vertically aligned). Artist Anish Kapoor bought the artistic exploitation rights.
  2. Black 2.0 and 3.0 (created in 2017). Acrylic paints with 99.7% light absorption. Developed by artist Stuart Semple as an accessible alternative to Vantablack.
  3. Ultra-black material from MIT (created in 2019). Absorbs 99.995% of light. It was developed in joint research between MIT scientist Brian Wardle and artist Diemut Strebe. He was released with the play The redemption of vanity. Uses the same technology as the original vantablack.

These shades are so dark that, when applied to surfaces, it is impossible for the human eye to capture the volume and texture of objects. Only its contours can be perceived.

How do you get black

In the additive synthesis of color or RGB system, the black color can only be created without light, that is, by bringing the main colors to zero intensity.

In the subtractive color synthesis or CMYK system, the mixture of cyan, magenta and yellow produces a blackish color. To achieve absolute black it is necessary to add pigments of this tonality.

You may be interested in reading:

  • What is the color?
  • Primary and secondary colors
  • Meaning of the color blue

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