Color Curriculum

Cadmium Yellow

By Carolyn Payzant

Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist – Volume 17, Issue 1


Whole books and maybe encyclopedias could be written on pigments having the word cadmium in their common name. I don’t recommend any cadmium paint because of the potential health hazard. Yes, I know: manufacturers say they are making safe cadmiums…but, in my opinion, who really knows. Therefore I don’t press my luck. But, as so many of you use these pigments you should be aware of their virtues and their drawbacks.  

If you are not using a single pigment PY35 cadmium yellow, be aware of the additional pigment(s). If the additional pigment is an orange pigment the bias of that particular cadmium yellow will be orange. As in the case of a cadmium yellow hue, if the pigments have nothing to do with cadmium pigments, check on the bias of the pigments used to manipulate to achieve a cadmium yellow hue. If cadmium yellow has the word “deep” in its name, again, be assured that the bias will be orange. All yellow cadmiums made of PY37 are orange biased. Are you confused yet? I know I am.  

Why should any of this information of any use to botanical artists? The answer is, for the greens you want to reproduce. Orange biased yellows make a drab green and green biased yellows make a clear spring green. 

Cadmiums are ASTM LFI, semi-opaque to opaque, staining, minimal drying shift and have various biases from green to deep orange. 

In the charts below I will list the pigment numbers, common name, and bias for yellow cadmium pigments that I have tested. 

Manufacturers’ codes: AJ – American Journey,  DR – Daler Rowney, DS – Daniel Smith, DV – Da Vinci, G – Grumbacher, H – Holbein, L – Lukas,  MG – M. Graham, MB – MaimeriBlu (Maimeri),  OH – Old Holland, P – Pebeo, SCH – Schmincke,  SEN – Sennelier 

PY35 Cadmium zinc sulfide (AJ) – Cad Y Lt – slight overtone of green 

Cad Y Med (AJ)  – slight overtone of orange 

Cad Y Pale (DR) – slight overtone of green 

Cad Y Lt (DS) – green bias 

Cad Y. Med. (DS) – slight overtone of orange 

Cad Y Lt. (DV) – orange bias 

Cad Y Med (DV) – orange bias 

Cad Y Pale (H) – slight orange bias 

Cad Y (MG) – orange bias 

Cad Y Lt (SEN) – orange bias 

Cad Y Med (SCH) – slight overtone of orange 

Cad Y Med (T) – orange bias 

Lt Cad Y (P) – orange bias 

Cad Y Lt (U) – orange bias 

Cad Y (W&N)  – orange bias 

Cad Lemon (W&N) – green Bias 

Recommended Substitutions 

Cadmium Yellow 

Green Bias PY3 Hansa yellow light 

Daniel Smith/M. Graham 

Middle Yellow  PY97 Hansa yellow med. 

Daniel Smith/M. Graham 

Orange Bias PY65 Hansa yellow Dp 

Daniel Smith     (or) 

PY153 Indian yellow  

Daler Rowney or M. Graham