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Prussian blue

Prussian blue
Sample of prussian blue
IUPAC name
Iron(II,III) hexacyanoferrate(II,III)
Other names
Berlin blue

Ferric ferrocyanide
Ferric hexacyanoferrate
Iron(III) ferrocyanide
Iron(III) hexacyanoferrate(II)

Parisian blue
ATC code V03
ChemSpider  YesY
EC number 237-875-5
Jmol-3D images Image
Molar mass 859.24 g·mol−1
Appearance Blue opaque crystals
Safety data sheet MSDS prussian blue
Related compounds
Other cations
Potassium ferrocyanide

Sodium ferrocyanide

Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
 N  (: YesY/N?)

Prussian blue is a dark blue pigment with the idealized chemical formula Fe7(CN)18. To better understand the binding situation in this complex compound the formula can also be written as Fe4[Fe(CN)6]3· x H2O. Another name for the color is Berlin blue or, in painting, Parisian or Paris blue. Turnbull's blue is the same substance, but is made from different reagents, and its slightly different color stems from different impurities.

Prussian blue was the first modern synthetic pigment. It is employed as a very fine colloidal dispersion, as the compound itself is not soluble in water. It is famously complex,[1] owing to the presence of variable amounts of other ions and the sensitive dependence of its appearance on the size of the colloidal particles formed when it is made. The pigment is used in paints, and it is the traditional "blue" in blueprints.

In medicine, Prussian blue is used as an antidote for certain kinds of heavy metal poisoning, e.g., by thallium and radioactive isotopes of caesium. In particular it was used to absorb 137Cs+ from those poisoned in the Goiânia accident.[1] Prussian blue is orally administered. The therapy exploits Prussian blue's ion exchange properties and high affinity for certain "soft" metal cations.

It is on the health system.[2] Prussian blue lent its name to prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide), which was derived from it. In Germany, hydrogen cyanide is called Blausäure ("blue acid"), and Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac gave cyanide its name, from the Greek word κυανός (kyanos, "blue"), because of the color of Prussian blue.


  • Uses 1
    • Pigment 1.1
    • Medicine 1.2
    • Laboratory histopathology stain for iron 1.3
    • By machinists and toolmakers 1.4
    • Analytical chemistry 1.5
  • Adverse effects 2
  • Production 3
    • Turnbull's blue 3.1
  • Properties 4
    • Crystal structure 4.1
    • Color 4.2
  • History 5
    • Production 5.1
    • Use 5.2
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8



Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night uses Prussian and Cerulean blue pigments.

Because it is easily made, cheap, nontoxic, and intensely colored, Prussian blue has attracted many applications. It was adopted as a pigment very soon after its invention and was almost immediately widely used in oil, watercolor, and dyeing.[3] The dominant uses are for pigments: about 12,000 tonnes of Prussian blue are produced annually for use in black and bluish inks. A variety of other pigments also contain the material.[4] Engineer's blue and the pigment formed on cyanotypes—giving them their common name blueprints. Certain crayons were once colored with Prussian blue (later relabeled midnight blue). It is also a popular pigment in paints. Similarly, Prussian blue is the basis for laundry bluing.


Prussian blue's ability to incorporate monocations makes it useful as a sequestering agent for certain heavy metal poisons. Pharmaceutical-grade Prussian blue in particular is used for patients who have ingested thallium or radioactive caesium. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, an adult male can eat at least 10 g of Prussian blue per day without serious harm. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has determined the "500-mg Prussian blue capsules, when manufactured under the conditions of an approved New Drug Application, can be found safe and effective therapy" in certain poisoning cases.[5] Radiogardase (Prussian blue in soluble capsules [6]) is a commercial product for the removal of caesium-137 from the intestine, so indirectly from the bloodstream by intervening in the enterohepatic circulation of caesium-137,[7] reducing the internal residency time (and exposure) by about two-thirds. It has been withdrawn from the US market because safer alternatives are available.

Laboratory histopathology stain for iron

Prussian blue stain

Prussian blue is a common histopathology stain used by pathologists to detect the presence of iron in biopsy specimens, such as in bone marrow samples. The original stain formula, known historically (1867) as "Perls' Prussian blue" after its inventor, German pathologist Max Perls (1843–1881), used separate solutions of potassium ferrocyanide and acid to stain tissue (these are now used combined, just before staining). Iron deposits in tissue then form the purple Prussian blue dye in place, and are visualized as blue or purple deposits.[8] The formula is also known as Perls Prussian blue and (incorrectly) as Perl's Prussian blue.

By machinists and toolmakers

Engineer's blue—Prussian blue in an oily base—is the traditional material used for spotting metal surfaces such as surface plates and bearings for hand scraping. A thin layer of nondrying paste is applied to a reference surface and transfers to the high spots of the workpiece. The toolmaker then scrapes, stones, or otherwise removes the marked high spots. Prussian blue is preferable because it will not abrade the extremely precise reference surfaces as many ground pigments may.

Analytical chemistry

Prussian blue is formed in the Prussian blue assay for total phenols. Samples and phenolic standards are given acidic ferric chloride and ferricyanide, which is reduced to ferrocyanide by the phenols. The ferric chloride and ferrocyanide react to form Prussian blue. Comparing the absorbance at 700 nm of the samples to the standards allows for the determination of total phenols or polyphenols.[9][10]

Adverse effects

Despite the fact that it is prepared from cyanide salts, Prussian blue is not toxic because the cyanide groups are tightly bound to iron. Other polymeric cyanometalates are similarly stable with low toxicity.


Prussian blue is produced by oxidation of ferrous ferrocyanide salts. These white solids have the formula M2Fe[Fe(CN)6] where M+ = Na+ or K+. The iron in this material is all ferrous, hence the absence of deep color associated with the mixed valency. Oxidation of this white solid with hydrogen peroxide or sodium chlorate produces ferricyanide and affords Prussian blue.[4]

A "soluble" form, K[FeIIIFeII(CN)6], which is really colloidal, can be made from potassium ferrocyanide and iron(III):

K+ + Fe3+ + [FeII(CN)6]4− → KFeIII[FeII(CN)6]

The similar reaction of potassium ferricyanide and iron(II) results in the same colloidal solution, because [FeIII(CN)6]3− is converted into ferrocyanide.

"Insoluble" Prussian blue is produced if, in the reactions above, an excess of Fe3+ or Fe2+, respectively, is added.  In the first case:

4Fe3+ + 3[FeII(CN)6]4− → FeIII[FeIIIFeII(CN)6]3 [11]

Turnbull's blue

Ferricyanide ion, used to make Turnbull's blue

In former times, the addition of Fe(II) salts to a solution of ferricyanide was thought to afford a material different from Prussian blue. The product was traditionally named Turnbull's Blue (TB). It has been shown, however, by means of X-ray diffraction and electron diffraction methods, that the structures of PB and TB are identical.[12][13] The differences in the colors for TB and PB reflect subtle differences in the method of precipitation, which strongly affects particle size and impurity content.


Prussian blue is a microcrystalline blue powder. It is insoluble, but the crystallites tend to form a colloid. Such colloids can pass through fine filters.[1] Despite being one of the oldest known synthetic compounds, the composition of Prussian blue remained uncertain for many years. Its precise identification was complicated by three factors:

  1. Prussian blue is extremely insoluble, but also tends to form colloids.
  2. Traditional syntheses tend to afford impure compositions.
  3. Even pure Prussian blue is structurally complex, defying routine crystallographic analysis.

Crystal structure

The chemical formula of insoluble Prussian blue is Fe7(CN)18·xH2O, where x = 14–16. The structure was determined by using IR spectroscopy, Mössbauer spectroscopy, X-ray crystallography, and neutron crystallography. Since X-ray diffraction cannot distinguish carbon from nitrogen, the location of these lighter elements is deduced by spectroscopic means, as well as by observing the distances from the iron atom centers.

PB has a cubic lattice structure. Soluble PB crystals contain interstitial K+ ions; insoluble PB has interstitial water, instead.
In ideal insoluble PB crystals, the cubic framework is built from Fe(II)-C-N-Fe(III) sequences, with Fe(II)-carbon distances of 1.92 Å and Fe(III)-nitrogen distances of 2.03 Å. One-fourth of the sites of Fe(CN)6 subunits are vacant (empty), leaving three such groups. The empty nitrogen sites are filled with water molecules, instead, which are coordinated to Fe(III).

The Fe(II) centers, which are low spin, are surrounded by six carbon ligands in an octahedral configuration. The Fe(III) centers, which are high spin, are octahedrally surrounded on average by 4.5 nitrogen atoms and 1.5 oxygen atoms (the oxygen from the six coordinated water molecules). Additional eight (interstitial) water molecules are present in the unit cell, either as isolated molecules or hydrogen bonded to the coordinated water.

The composition is notoriously variable due to the presence of lattice defects, allowing it to be hydrated to various degrees as water molecules are incorporated into the structure to occupy cation vacancies. The variability of Prussian blue's composition is attributable to its low solubility, which leads to its rapid precipitation without the time to achieve full equilibrium between solid and liquid.[14][15]


Prussian blue pigment

Prussian blue is strongly colored and tends towards black and dark blue when mixed into oil paints. The exact hue depends on the method of preparation, which dictates the particle size. The intense blue color of Prussian blue is associated with the energy of the transfer of electrons from Fe(II) to Fe(III). Many such mixed-valence compounds absorb certain wavelengths of visible light resulting from intervalence charge transfer. In this case, orange-red light around 680 nanometers in wavelength is absorbed, and the reflected light appears blue as a result.

Like most high chroma pigments, Prussian blue cannot be accurately displayed on a computer display. PB is electrochromic—changing from blue to colorless upon reduction. This change is caused by reduction of the Fe(III) to Fe(II) eliminating the intervalence charge transfer that causes Prussian blue's color.


From the beginning of the 18th century, Prussian blue was the predominant uniform coat color worn by the infantry and artillery regiments of the Prussian Army.[16] As Dunkelblau, this shade achieved a symbolic importance and continued to be worn by German soldiers for ceremonial and off-duty occasions until the outbreak of World War I, when it was superseded by greenish-gray field gray (Feldgrau).[17]


Prussian blue [Fe4[Fe(CN)6]3] was probably synthesized for the first time by the paint maker Diesbach in Berlin around the year 1706.[18] Most historical sources do not mention a first name of Diesbach. Only Berger refers to him as Johann Jacob Diesbach.[19] It was named Preußisch blau and Berlinisch Blau in 1709 by its first trader.[20] The pigment replaced the expensive lapis lazuli and was an important topic in the letters exchanged between Johann Leonhard Frisch[21] and the president of the Royal Academy of Sciences, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, between 1708 and 1716.[20] It is first mentioned in a letter written by Frisch to Leibniz, from March 31, 1708. Not later than 1708, Frisch began to promote and sell the pigment across Europe. By August 1709, the pigment had been termed Preussisch blau; by November 1709, the German name Berlinisch Blau had been used for the first time by Frisch. Frisch himself is the author of the first known publication of Prussian blue in the paper Notitia Coerulei Berolinensis nuper inventi in 1710, as can be deduced from his letters. Diesbach had been working for Frisch since about 1701.

In 1731,

  • The FDA's page on prussian blue
  • The CDC's page on prussian blue
  • National Pollutant Inventory – Cyanide compounds fact sheet
  • Heyltex Corporation distributors of Radiogardase (Prussian blue insoluble capsules)
  • Columbia University Press, 2006The Creation of Color in Eighteenth Century EuropeSarah Lowengard, "Prussian Blue" in
  • Prussian blue, ColourLex
  • Alexander Kraft, On the discovery and history of Prussian blue, Bull. Hist. Chem. 33, Number 2 (2008)

External links

  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^
  3. ^ Berrie, Barbara H. 1997. Prussian Blue. In Artists' Pigments. A Handbook of their History and Characteristics, edited by E. W. FitzHugh. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art.
  4. ^ a b Völz, Hans G. et al. "Pigments, Inorganic" in Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, 2006 Wiley-VCH, Weinheim. doi:10.1002/14356007.a20_243.pub2.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Radiogardase: Package insert with formula
  7. ^ Heyltex Corporation – Toxicology
  8. ^ Formula for Perls' Prussian blue stain. Accessed April 2, 2009.
  9. ^ Tannin Chemistry PDF (1.41 MB)Accessed December 19, 2009
  10. ^ Stabilization of the Prussian blue color in the determination of polyphenols. Horace D. Graham, J. Agric. Food Chem., 1992, volume 40, issue 5, pages 801–805, doi:10.1021/jf00017a018
  11. ^ Egon Wiberg,Nils Wiberg,Arnold Frederick Holleman: Inorganic chemistry, p.1444. Academic Press, 2001; Google books
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ Philip Haythornthwaite, page 14 "Frederick the Great's Army – Infantry, ISBN 1855321602
  17. ^ Stephen Bull, pages 8–10 "World War One German Army", ISBN 1-85753-271-6
  18. ^
  19. ^ J. E. Berger: Kerrn aller Fridrichs=Städtschen Begebenheiten Manuskript, Berlin, ca.1730 (Berlin, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Handschriftenabteilung, Ms. Boruss. quart. 124)
  20. ^ a b J. L. Frisch: Briefwechsel mit Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz L. H. Fischer (ed.), Berlin, Stankiewicz Buchdruck, 1896, reprint Hildesheim/New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1976
  21. ^ There is a WorldHeritage article in German
  22. ^ G. E. Stahl: Experimenta, Observationes, Animadversiones CCC Numero, Chymicae et Physicae, (Berlin, 1731), pp. 281–283.
  23. ^
  24. ^ . The recipe was subsequently published in [Étienne-François] Geoffroy, "Observations sur la Preparation de Bleu de Prusse ou Bleu de Berlin," Mémoires de l'Académie royale des Sciences année 1725 (Paris, 1727), pp. 153–172.
  25. ^ Sarah Lowengard, The Creation of Color in Eighteenth-Century Europe (New York, New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), Chapter 23: Prussian Blue.
  26. ^ Pierre-Joseph Macquer (1752) "Éxamen chymique de bleu de Prusse," Mémoires de l'Académie royale des Sciences année 1752 . . . (Paris, 1756), pp. 60–77. This article was reviewed in "Sur le bleu de Prusse," Histoire de l'Académie royale des Sciences... (1752), (Paris, 1756), pp. 79–85.
  27. ^ J.Bartoll, B. Jackisch, M. Most, E. Wenders de Calisse, C. M. Vogtherr: Early Prussian Blue. Blue and green pigments in the paintings by Watteau, Lancret and Pater in the collection of Frederick II of Prussia In: TECHNE 25, 2007, pp. 39–46


See also

To date, the Entombment of Christ, dated 1709 by Pieter van der Werff (Picture Gallery, Sanssouci, Potsdam) is the oldest known painting where Prussian blue was used. Around 1710, painters at the Prussian court were already using the pigment. At around the same time, Prussian blue arrived in Paris, where Antoine Watteau and later his successors Nicolas Lancret and Jean-Baptiste Pater used it in their paintings.[27]

This Prussian blue pigment is significant since it was the first stable and relatively lightfast blue pigment to be widely used following the loss of knowledge regarding the synthesis of Egyptian blue. European painters had previously used a number of pigments such as indigo dye, smalt, and Tyrian purple, which tend to fade, and the extremely expensive ultramarine made from lapis lazuli. Japanese painters and woodblock print artists likewise did not have access to a long-lasting blue pigment until they began to import Prussian blue from Europe.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai, a famous artwork which makes extensive use of Prussian blue


In 1752, French chemist Pierre J. Macquer made the important step of showing Prussian blue could be reduced to a salt of iron and a new acid, which could be used to reconstitute the dye.[26] The new acid, hydrogen cyanide, first isolated from Prussian blue in pure form and characterized about 1783 by Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele, was eventually given the name Blausäure (literally "blue acid") because of its derivation from Prussian blue, and in English became known popularly as Prussic acid. Cyanide, a colorless anion that forms in the process of making Prussian blue, derives its name from the Greek word for dark blue.

[25][24][23] he was using. He borrowed the potash from Dippel, who had used it to produce his "animal oil". No other known historical source mentions Dippel in this context. It is therefore difficult to judge the reliability of this story today. In 1724, the recipe was finally published by John Woodward.potash, but obtained the blue instead as a result of the contaminated cochineal from lake pigment. Diesbach was attempting to create a red Johann Konrad Dippel The story involves not only Diesbach, but also [22]

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