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Paint Colour Chart Guide

Paint Colour Chart Guide – Using An Industrial Sized Palette

Until recently, the names of paint colours had gone under the rainbow radar and had merely been a curiosity to people simply wanting a nice shade of green. Then, however, the choice of shades could become overwhelming and not knowing how exactly to colour match it to what was previously used, they’d take colour chart cards home. In the same way that Eskimos have 50 different names for snow, paint manufacturers have different names for 50 shades of grey green. This was the norm until a shade of yellow recently hit the headlines across the UK for its name and many people started imagining having a career naming paint colours. Could it really be so hard?

The answer is yes.



What would you call these shades of green?

It is not simply a case of generating names for those who are picking a shade of lipstick to match their new outfit. So many industries across the world are dependent on having names that represent visually and conceptually what is required of the product. There are many different coloured apples on the shelves at a local supermarket, but there’s only one shade of apple green. Perusing red paints, you could say that if the jam preservative in the kitchen cupboard looked the same as the tin of jam red paint you’re about to buy, you would throw it away.

So, how do paint colours get named? What needs to be considered when picking a name for a shade of blue and how does it tie in with paint colour codes? Why are they different? Is the contractor who is painting a school swimming pool likely to pick the same shade of cerulean blue that the secretary in the school office uses as eye shadow? Were Dorothy’s shoes really ruby red or more a shade of scarlet?

Rawlins Paints look at how colours get their names and how it influences everything from paint used on tarmac, to barn paint and how when a customer asks for a suitable colour to meet health and safety requirements for stair edge markings, it can be a different recommendation internally than externally.

How do paint colours get named?

To a large degree naming paint colours does rely on Mother Nature, food and artistic evolution. If a name doesn’t visually match what a person would imagine it to match – sky blue looking more like stormy sky dark blue – then it is not suitable.

Interactive time – Print off a random set of colours and gather some friends around for a game of charades. If you are good at naming colours, then the colour description you’ve acted out should match the chorus of approval when you reveal the colour for all to see. If not, don’t give up your day job.

The name also needs to be unique and memorable, making its association with natural elements vital. Colours will commonly be grouped in themes, where they collectively complement each other. This is frequently seen in fashion trends. Communal spaces – like offices, schools and train stations – rely heavily on uniformed and internationally recognised colour codes. Some are neutral, others are warming. Some are monochromatic and others are based around primary colours. Therefore, one could ask for colours based on places and buildings, road signs or landmarks and the retailer would be able to closely colour match this for you – London bus red for example would give a clear indication of the shade required.

Over generations, colour names are only used once. What was in vogue during the 70s as a shade of orange, is still that shade today. This allows crews building film and theatre sets to be able to match precisely historic settings simply by the name of the shade that was popular at the time. Painting a wall, the same colour yellow as translucent socks in the 80s would not be as accurate as a canary yellow shade when replicating a specific era.


What would you call these shades of yellow?

Of course some are easier to name than others. Many colours are frequently recurrent in nature in differing shades – blue and its aquatic associations – whereas there are not that many shades of white in nature that could be inspiration for new paint colour names.

What would you imagine these names looked like as colours? Azure blue, mid Brunswick green, eau de nil, pale roundel blue, olive drab, light buff or light aircraft grey.

Interestingly, some people name colours after sounds or taste. This is called Synesthesia.

Unusual Colours and Funny Colour Names

Imagine if you can what colour elephant’s breath would look like. Dead salmon? How about arsenic paint colour? Due to the high volume of new colour names required every year, naming them does get extremely creative. Taking into consideration the need of new HTML colour names, hair dye colours, Crayola and crayon colours, as well of course as paint colours, some of these names may not seem quite so extreme:

Cotton candy, flesh, cosmic dust, fish bowl, cupcake pink, California dreaming, calm air, cotton tail, cracked wheat, bagel, almond toast, brown rabbit, bicycle yellow, outer space, frosted lemon, enchanting ginger, razzmatazz, June day, leapfrog, melted butter, moondance, raked leaves and social butterfly.

What are colour codes?

Different colours have different colour code identification. For example, colours on Adobe Photoshop would have different colour codes to luminous spray paints.

Different brands can have different colour codes for their products too so that the user buys from them again to get an exact colour match. Manually mixing colours to get the same result can depend on many factors, including their base coat colours. Different sized volumes of paint can also produce marginally different (often un-noticeable to the human eye on most colours) shades due to the measured mixes of colourants.

Manufacturers producing colours with similar colour codes can yield different results – this is noticeable when trying to match up car paint colours from different manufacturers. For advice on colour matching brand codes used on this site, please contact Rawlins Paints or see the colour code charts, RAL, BS 4800 and BS 381C here.


A draw-down is when a sample of mixed paint is dried out on a neutral piece of card to compare it to the colour code on a chart or paint chip – this procedure is standard at Rawlins Paints to check all orders before they are dispatched to the customer.

How does paint colour matching work?

Using a spectrophotometer, paint retailers can measure colour electronically. Reading the wavelength of light which is reflected off a sample colour or object, the exact amount of varying pigments that go into making a colour can be matched. Automated measures of colour are then mixed together.

This process is very accurate and it is then down to the human eye to lighten or darken the final miss if it is not 100% correct. However, this does not work very well on metallic objects, due to its finish/sheen or reflective qualities.

Colour matching is most frequently requested for touch-up work and if an exact colour cannot be found, or if the surface that needs touching up has been exposed to light, smoke or moisture, it is often recommended to do a fresh repaint.

If there are any subjects or questions you would like answered about paint colours, please leave a comment or contact Rawlins Paints directly.

One comment

  1. Always wondered how paints got named, thanks!

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