Do you understand the health standards of your art materials or know the meaning of ASTM 4236 on your tube of paint?

ASTM International, formerly known as The American Society for Testing and Materials, is a large body made of volunteers that gather together twice a year to create quality standards for numerous consumer products.
For the art material industry, the subcommittee, is notated as “ASTM D01.57” and is part of the paint and coatings committee, which was started in 1902; comprised of over 600 members.
The D01.57 Artist Materials Subcommittee, was started in the 1980s’ by a diverse group of researchers, conservators, scientists and artists who came together every year to discuss how to make materials safer and better for the art community.
The heart of their mission was to reduce the “buyer beware” effect so many markets have by educating consumers and manufacturers through standard writing. This committee works with no budget but what may be donated from manufacturers to create standards for artist materials.
Currently, there are fourteen standards for the artist materials subcommittee including topics as necessary labeling content, artist material performance, and health hazard labeling and product quality such as lightfastness.

Royal Talens Cobra oil paints
Royal Talens Cobra solvent free oil paints

Each standard is reviewed on a regular basis to make sure it is current, and new standards are created through the committee when someone finds a need and volunteers to do the necessary research and testing towards writing the new standard. The standards take several years to complete, as all of the committee work is done on a volunteer basis.
Another consideration for the length of time to complete a standard is that the committee only meets to discuss and review the work for the standards twice a year. However, the companies that are a part of ASTM are very dedicated to improving the quality of art materials and art durability. So far, out of every ASTM subcommittee that exists there is only one standard that has been adopted by the Federal Government and has become a federal requirement, which is ASTM 4236, the health labeling standard.

Following all (except ASTM 4236) standards is voluntary by the material manufacturers. The only way to confirm whether or not a product conforms to the standard is on the label of that product. Each ASTM standard followed will be on the product label, followed by the number of that standard.

Also note worthy is that the conformance is considered on a product-by-product basis by the manufacturer. A single manufacturer will likely have a handful of products that may not comply. That doesn’t mean those products aren’t good or high quality however the manufacturer may have important reasons to not comply that you as the artist might also value (such as the use of a particular pigment that does not comply with standards).
The standards currently written are listed below. These standards suggest that the product has undergone considerable testing and thorough development to make it the best it can be. Consider also that since standard testing is very expensive and time consuming, not all good brands can afford to be tested.

  • ASTM 4303: Standard Test Method for Lightfastness of Colorants Used in Artists’ Coloring Materials
  • ASTM 4302: Standard Specification for Artists’ Oil, Resin Oil and Alkyd Paints
  • ASTM 4236: Standard Practice for Labeling Art Materials for Chronic Health Hazards
  • ASMT 5067: Standard Specification for Artists’ Watercolor Paints
  • ASTM 5098: Standard Specification for Artists’ Acrylic Dispersion Paints
  • ASTM 4838: Standard Test Method for Determining the Relative Tinting Strength of Chromatic Paints”
  • ASTM 4941: Standard Practice for Preparing Drawdowns of Artists’ Paste Paints
  • ASTM 5383: Standard Practice for the Visual Determination of the Lightfastness of Art Materials by Art Technologists
  • ASTM 5398: Standard Practice for the Visual Evaluation of the Lightfastness of Art Materials by the User
  • ASTM 5517: Standard Test Method for Determining Extractability of Metals from Art Materials
  • ASTM 5724: Standard Specification for Artists’ Gouache Paints
  • ASTM 6801: Standard Test Method for Measuring Maximum Spontaneous Heating Temperature of Art and Other Materials
  • ASTM 6901: Standard Specification for Artists’ Colored Pencils
  • ASTM 7355: Standard Guide for Artists’ Paint Waste Disposal in Smaller Commercial or Educational Settings

If you have an interest in learning more about ASTM D01.57, you can check out the ASTM website and purchase the standards for your own reading. You can also learn more about these standards and the D01.57 committee by downloading the PDF document on the Subcommittee on Artists’ Paints and Related Materials written by the current chair, Michael Skalka.
Guest author/artist: Karyn Meyer-Berthel  is an artist and art material blogger as well as social media consultant.  She was previously the online editor at American Artist and the lead administrator at WetCanvas!, as well as a DVD producer and director for artist painting DVDs.  Karyn can be found around the internet, on Twitter!/KarynMeyer and on the Dynasty Brush and Ampersand Art Supply Blogs
*Thanks for visiting this blog, I hope we can also meet on Twitterand Google Plus, Pinterestand join in the fun at Fine Art Tips Facebook Fan Page! Please checkout my art too, or find me on Instagram lorimcneeartist. ~Lori

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