Closes May 31st:

Competition: make a LEGO font

1 March 2015

LEGO® colour chart reference

I have wanted to discuss LEGO® colours more often on this blog but it's a horribly complicated subject. Happily there are those more qualified than I; one is Ryan Howerter, who has produced several valuable resources for AFOLs, which he explains for us today. But for the ease of your future reference, I'll list them up front:

There are always more LEGO colors than you expect.

With the help of a few other AFOLs, I’ve been attempting to catalogue every color that LEGO has produced. I’m not the first to do this (see Peeron, Isodomos, BrickLink, Brickset, LDraw…), but in combining the existing lists and frequent updates I hope to have a reference for the AFOL community that is as complete as possible.

ryanhowerter.net/colors

One aim is to help buyers and sellers on BrickLink better identify part colors. I don’t know how many notifications I’ve gotten for 2x4 bricks listed as Light Blue that turn out to be Medium Blue (a much more common color). It’s nice to have a single reference to show people when the question “What is this color?” comes up. I prefer to use TLG’s ID system, since it is the most complete/authoritative. BrickLink, BrickOwl, and Peeron all seem to conflate certain colors, in an effort to be more buyer/seller friendly.

The main color list links to individual photos of each color, on my “Brick Colorstream” page. I’ve tried to keep the lighting/editing consistent, since it’s difficult to compare physical bricks with colors on a monitor. The photos are sorted by TLG’s color ID, with unnumbered/unidentified colors at the end.

For me, this project is an interesting look at the history of LEGO. When most people think of LEGO, they tend to think of the original basic colors: red, blue, yellow, green, and maybe white and black. In the early '50s, though, the first LEGO bricks came in many bright colors, with innumerable variations in shade and hue:

Courtesy G Istok. Used with permission

Once the slots disappeared, so did the wild colors, and it was mostly primary colors/grayscale for a while. In 1980, the Fabuland theme introduced many browns and tans, most of which are still around today. Starting around the mid-90s, TLG rapidly expanded their color palette, to a point where there were some 100+ different colors in active production. There were single-use colors, only used in one part in one short-run Duplo set. Slight variations of blues and transparent colors were treated as separate colors (Clikits!). At the same time, the number of different active parts was getting ridiculously large, and LEGO was headed for bankruptcy.

Between 2003 and 2005, TLG switched out several colors for brighter, more saturated versions that kids seemed to prefer in focus groups. 2 Grey / Light Gray, which had a bit of a yellowish tint and tended to age poorly, was replaced by the bluer 194 Medium Stone Grey / Light Bluish Gray. 27 Dark Grey / Dark Gray became 199 Dark Stone Grey / Dark Bluish Gray. These changes alone sparked an uproar among AFOLs, but that seems to have died down now. Several less-apparent replacements happened at the same time:

© R Howarter. Used with permission

Around 2005, TLG condensed its bloated offerings, reducing its colors and parts by about half. In the early 2010s, TLG has added a few new colors to the palette, but these are much less redundant and more widely-used than colors from the early 2000s.

Click image to view a zoomable version of Ryan's LEGO Color Timeline showing years of production for all known colors.

Cataloguing these colors is an ongoing process, one that may never be complete. Just this month, WoutR (from BrickLink) found some old brown colors that were used before what BrickLink calls Brown (“old brown”, 25 Earth Orange) came into the picture. This was probably before TLG started numbering their colors. It’s surprising how many new-found colors came from parts we already had, but didn’t think anything of until we actually compared them.

©WoutR. Used with permission

Most of the #51-99 range is still missing, and elsewhere there are little pockets of unknown colors that may have never even been put into production. There are colors with known names (from internal colors charts or LEGO Digital Designer data), but no known parts: 8 Cobalt Blue, 193 Flame Reddish Orange, and 209 Dark Curry, to name a few. But the search is the fun part!

17 comments:

  1. Many thanks for this - getting your head around the numerous LEGO colour variations is really tricky and I'm always grateful to those who provide the community with resources to help us make sense of it. I've always defaulted to the Peeron Colour Chart (http://www.peeron.com/inv/colors) but it's great to have access to these new tools.

    ReplyDelete
  2. With all these new colors coming out, and seeing old ones go, I was wondering if there was a data base of when colors were put into and phased out of production. Thanks so much for everyone involved in making these resources available to us regular not super well knowledged AFOL's.

    ReplyDelete
  3. BrickLink's colour page lists years, but obvs that's BL colour names not TLG. The only TLG list I know is Ryan's beautiful Color Timeline shown above, but you're after a database. Maybe Ryan can help further... not sure if he's following these comments but I'm sure if you commented on the Flickr page of his LEGO Color Timeline image (click image above or link near top) he would reply.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Now, I'm not sure if it was a mistake in color mixing, but I definitely have found a color that was not listed here. According to Brickset, it's design 55236 and element number 4294147. I obtained it in set 7772, but it's also in sets 8893 and 8894. Anyway, it's listed as earth blue, but it's actually a very dark blue, sort of a mix between earth blue and black. I don't know if you've ever seen anything like this, so please get back to me on this. Thanks.

      Delete
    2. Brickset's data comes from TLG directly so what you have is not a new colour and therefore seemingly an error as you suggest.

      Delete
  4. Hi Dave -- the introduced/retired dates are included on the main spreadsheet (I used these to make the timeline infographic). If you're looking for something else, let me know, and maybe I can make something for you :)

    You can message me on flickr, or send an email (my email is on the Notes page in the color list).

    Thanks again for posting this, Tim! :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. I love articles with this level of history and detail. Great work!

    Excluding the grey > bley singularity which is well documented and explained, I haven't seen a particularly good reason why colors continue to come and go from time to time.

    The excellent ColorTimeline.jpg graph shows a number of idiosyncracies and brand new colors which I recently noticed in the Lugbulk forms and other sources. Some of the most baffling changes are when the retire a color ( ex: Dove Blue) and replace it just a few years later with a nearly identical color (ex: Medium Azur).

    I know LEGO is experiencing record breaking success in recent years, but it is hard not to wonder if they will reach yet another breaking point of too many unique parts and colors, and too little... LEGO. (I hope not)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think the reason for the decline in color options has to do with Lego's brush with bankruptcy. You can see from the graph that in the early 2000's there was a big influx of colors around the same time they were going down the tubes. They flooded their own market with too many single use parts and colors. In the last 5 years I think they learned from their mistake, found some grounding, and "standardized" their color palette, and are doing some very thorough thinking on introducing new colors that work well with their current ones.

      Delete
    2. Thank you :)

      I agree with Jonathan; they had to scale their colors (and parts) down considerably due to the threat of bankruptcy. Now that they are on steadier financial footing, they can reintroduce colors more carefully (even if similar ones had been taken out). The modern colors seem to work together better than the pre-purge ones. I think TLG has realized that the "Lego look" demands bright, saturated colors that don't have a tendency to look faded or yellowed.

      One thing I like about Medium Azure is that it feels like the opaque version of Trans-Light Blue (which is probably why they're included together in sets so frequently. See water features in Friends sets, for example).

      Delete
    3. Yes, I love that trait of Medium Azur as well! Some of the Hero Factory sets last year used that similarity to great effect.

      In general, I am quite happy with the current color palette. There are colors I miss sometimes, though, namely Transparent Fluorescent Red and Transparent Fluorescent Yellow, two colors chiefly used as eye colors in 2001–2003 LEGO BIONICLE sets. They were probably discontinued for looking too similar to Transparent Medium Reddish Violet (Trans-Dark Pink) and Transparent Yellow, but they sure looked great under a UV light! Fluorescence is a valuable trait for BIONICLE eye colors because they have to be able to stand out even when there's a mask or helmet minimizing the amount of light hitting them.

      Sand Red is another color I sometimes miss. It was an ugly, dingy-looking color for sure, but there are times when I want to match a color like from media or real life and realize there aren't a lot of colors on the current palette that look quite so accurate (often Medium Nougat comes closest).

      Delete
  6. P.S. how did you determine RGB and/or pantone colors? I've seen peeron and other lists, but they aren't especially consistent. (I wish LEGO would share their color calibrated CMYK and RGB for bloggers and authors to get consistent results.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great question! I have a lot of work to do on those; at some point I'd like to get with a professional printer, and try to figure out the best possible CMYK and Pantone match for every color. That might not happen for a while though.

      As for the current values on my sheet, the RGB codes come directly from Lego Digital Designer, which (at least at one point) held data for a surprising number of both current and retired colors. Peeron gives CMYK and Pantone codes for some colors; these came to them directly from TLG, I believe.

      Interestingly, Peeron's RGB values (from TLG) and Lego Digital Designer's RGB values differ most of the time, so I stuck with the more recent values (LDD).

      Delete
  7. #13 red orange is in a few Star Wars sets, right?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, Red Orange is too old for that. It's actually a perfect match for Modulex Red. BrickLink usually calls it either Rust or Red:
      http://www.bricklink.com/catalogItem.asp?M=fab8c (the head)
      http://www.bricklink.com/catalogItem.asp?P=4010px1
      http://www.bricklink.com/catalogItemIn.asp?P=685px1&colorID=5&in=A

      Delete
  8. It is interesting to see the overall shift in Lego colors over the years, in particular from basic primaries to more naturalistic colors. I actually wish they would go back to focusing on "Lego colors" (i.e., blue, green, red, yellow, black, white, grey) with just a few of the more natural colors (like brown—it's just too useful) in basic town, castle, space sets, as well as more of the non-licensed themes. To me, those colors just look more "Lego".

    Plus, as much as I love the new colors, I sorta miss having everything in matching colors. When your entire palette is 7-8 colors, everything goes together, whatever set it's from. Now that they routinely use 40+ colors, it leads to less of any given color in a collection.

    It was particularly striking when I collected my childhood Legos from my parents a few years back, and combined them with my adult collection. I even took a couple photos to document: the old collection was really distinctly 6 colors (green and brown were both pretty rare when I was a kid, mostly used for things like plants), while the new one was just a sea of colors with no color easy to pick out.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thank you so much for all this information! However, the first link (LEGO Color reference spreadsheet, with cross-references to BrickLink and more) is no longer working. It was an amazing worksheet. Does anyone know if it has been uploaded somewhere else, please?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Courtney! I'll mention to Ryan, looks like the web address needs re-registering so he's hopefully already on it.
      An alternative (which Ryan partly based his spreadsheet on) is this Excel download by Scott Barnick, a New E regular. Maybe it will meet your needs. Not sure how up to date he keeps it though so maybe recent colours are missing.
      Aanchir Color Values Excel download

      Delete