6 May 2019

The Newer New Dark Red?

LEGO® colour 154 has had a bit of a bumpy history, and it seems it might not be over yet... now Sven Franic has noted a change for 2019, and is wondering what's going on! [Editors note: This article has been updated to incorporate The LEGO Group's comments on changes to Dark Red in late 2018.]

Somewhere around 2009 - 2010 there was a secret switch from “old” Dark Red to New Dark Red. During the transition period, when 10182 Café Corner was still occupying store shelves, you might apparently get a mixed batch of old and new Dark Red pieces in the same set. Judging by the backlash of the AFOL community after the big 2004 colour changes (when TLG transitioned from BASF’s pre-coloured ABS pellets to in-house pigment mixing) it is not surprising they would avoid attracting attention to subtle changes in the tone and texture of elements if it was not clearly noticeable or did not affect the build experience. BrickLink never differentiated between the two shades of Dark Red – and neither did TLG externally. Internally they retained its colour ID – 154 – although they changed its name from Dark Red to New Dark Red.




According to the personal experiences of LEGO fans, shared within various LUGs and forums, there was also a period around 2014 when the colour had quality issues, particularly with small plates and tiles splitting in half. It was the newer shade that was affected; Mould no. 18 for 1x1 Tiles is mentioned as a particular offender.
Image © Michael Jasper, used with permission
These issues seem to have since been resolved, indeed The LEGO Group made the following statement late in 2018:
“The LEGO Group has been working hard to address reported issues with reddish-brown bricks becoming brittle and breaking under use. The issues have been identified and we are happy to announce that they have been fixed. The fixes were put in place earlier this year for the LEGO colors #154 (new-dark-red), #192 (reddish-brown) and #308 (dark-brown). We waited until now to make the announcement, as we wanted to be 100% certain all issues had been addressed and fixed. If you, at any time, have a LEGO element which doesn’t live up to the standard you’d expect from us – then please don’t hesitate to contact LEGO Customer Service and we will send you replacement parts. We are terribly sorry for the inconveniences this has caused our loyal LEGO Fans across the World.”

A new day dawns for Dark Red

In 2019, 154 New Dark Red seems to have changed again. If the slightly duller shine didn’t grab your attention, try looking at the pieces against a light source. Similar to the older pre-2010 Dark Red, the new pieces allow considerably more light through. Might this change be the publicly visible results of The LEGO Group's 2018 statement, or is this a further change in 2019?


Due to the lower colour opacity, the newer pieces may show a slight “glow” around the edges where the plastic is thicker and reflects more light. Another difference compared to the earlier shade is that the 2019 Dark Red pieces show very subtle flow lines - an inevitable aesthetic defect in injection moulding also known as “weld lines”. We are used to seeing this side-effect in Silver Metallic [TLG] / Flat Silver [BL] and Warm Gold [TLG] / Pearl Gold [BL] elements. The updated Dark Red however, shows much subtler, almost unnoticeable lines. (Click image to enlarge.) My pre-2010 Dark Red parts do not show weld lines, however other builders have reported them in some of theirs. Let us know in the comments if you see weld lines in your pre-2010 Dark Red parts.


When I got a chance to tour the Kornmarken LEGO Factory in Billund last year, I saw huge shelves of stacked bags with pre-coloured ABS pellets that they still use for some of the colours. Our tour guide was trained to answer questions from children, not nosy AFOL spies questioning every process to shreds, but this didn’t discourage me from trying. I wanted to know if the pre-coloured pellets we see on the shelves were used just for specific elements in that colour or if all of the elements in those colours used pre-coloured pellets. I got an almost suspiciously quick response that all of the colours I see on the shelf use pre-coloured pellets for all of their elements. There were a lot of different coloured bags on those shelves, including all of the Earth and Dark tones like Dark Red, the shade-inconsistent Sand Green, and the occasionally brittle Reddish Brown. This could suggest that the factory only mixes approximately half of its pigments in-house.

If this is true, it means any quality control issues with certain colours can be blamed on whoever is the supplier of the pre-coloured ABS, although it doesn’t necessarily mean the supply is outsourced at all. It could just mean that a central LEGO factory produces the coloured pellets in one place to avoid pigment mixture inconsistency between different production lines.



Apart from personal observations, I couldn’t get any substantial information which would shine more light on these mysterious changes. Hopefully the rigorous LEGO team working on maintaining the world’s top quality standard for injection-moulded plastic had a good reason for the update. If you haven’t noticed the change, it can be considered a job well done.

Did you notice the change to Dark Red? If yes – do you care? The LEGO Group are always reviewing and altering the more than 20 types of plastic they use across various elements, and indeed they also recently changed some of the transparent materials too, which has resulted in visible differences. Have you noticed other changes to even more colours or materials this year? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.



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26 comments:

  1. I had noticed that this year's dark red - seen in Overwatch and CMF's - seems to fluoresce under UV Light... I don't know when the change occurred though.

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    1. Fluorescence in non-fluorescent parts comes and goes in an extremely random manner. I've got four CMF S1 Spacemen on my fridge. I opened the packs myself. One of them has a torso that fluoresces under UV light. The other torsos, and all of the other body parts, do not. I got the same sort of thing with the first wave of Bionicle sets to hit the US. Brown parts that had only been in production for less than a year could be neatly divided into two groups based on how they looked under UV.

      I've never seen a solid explanation for how this happens, but it's been going on for at least two decades now. My best guess is that it comes down to sourcing their ABS pellets from multiple suppliers. If one mixes in an additive that reacts to UV light and another does not, it would explain how a given color can keep bouncing back and forth between fluorescence and no reaction.

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  2. I never considered the change from dark red to new dark red subtle. I just hate dark red. It looks cheap. And I love new dark red. The new pieces beeing more transparent is bad news - good luck I have more pieces wew rark red than I will ever need :-)

    I really appreciate that you also do critical articles! Great stuff!
    Cudos

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  3. This article has me thinking, so I must ask: do some builders use this color inconsistency to their advantage? I.e., has a MOCer used the several shades of dark red (or brown or bley or yellow) to create a faded or "paneled" look that is subtler than standardized colors would allow?

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    1. Sure builders use it as an advantage, mostly in the same way as with mixing old and new Gray to get a "demolished" look.
      And as Bricklink doesn't differ between the Dark Reds you can't really get lot of pieces only in one shade.
      Here is an example where it gets used:https://www.flickr.com/photos/modestolus/24786852798/in/dateposted/

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    2. On a related note. A trick I haven't seen myself, but being told about by a friend was using variously yellowed white parts to create a weathered look or possibly even gradients. (Some old white parts I have, have been yellowed nearly to tan.)

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    3. I've done it. I made a beater pickup truck some years back. The main body color is a mix of new white parts (stuff that had only been made in the few years before I built the truck) and really old ones. The hood, front right quarter panel, and front end clip are all different colors like they were pulled from other cars in a scrap yard. The front bumper is a 1x6 tan tile w/ woodgrain pattern (got the idea from my brother, who knocked the rear bumper of his first car off on someone's Cadillac and had to replace it with a pair of 2x8's). The off-color fender had been chewed by a cat, and all the trans parts were really old and frosted with some bad scratches. The rocker panels are all rusty, thanks to some Q elements (reddish-brown 1x1 plate w/ type 3 clip, though the type 4 clip is now a regular production part).

      No parts were actually harmed for the purpose of making this truck, but I did go out of my way to use parts that had seen some abuse.

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  4. There's also this to consider:
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/111441268@N03/32234668116/
    Translucency can change from time to time.

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    1. Yes, we weren't suggesting the translucency was a cost cutting exercise. Thanks for that link though, I get bored of saying that to people!

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  5. New Dark Red looks more like rust to me

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  6. I abandoned a project I was working on because of the inconsistent appearance of Dark Red/New Dark Red. I don't want splotchy walls in my buildings.

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  7. As a former MMB at LEGOLAND California I can shed some light on these "brittle bricks."

    A huge quantity of elements were produced in 2012-2013 (and it has happened sporadically since) where the ABS formula was wrong. Most of the ones we ran into were Bright Blue (23), Reddish Brown (192), Dark Brown (308) and (to a lesser degree) New Dark Red (154).

    Lego realized this and we sent back all our suspect brick (actually we were just credited for it and destroyed it). The trouble was you could not identify the elements easily except for the blue ones. The faulty bricks had a brown cast to them which, therefore, made blue easy to identify. Of course, how do you recognize a brown cast in a brown brick?

    Up until my last day we were still finding bad elements in the brown range of colors! These faulty elements would shatter at the slightest tension, or even a gentle twist.

    As for changes in New Dark Red? Old and New are so similar TLG didn't even give it a new number. As for the variances and translucency of the newest batches? I'm not sure what to think -- we see the same inconsistencies with white elements and yellow elements -- the two colors with the widest variances in my experience!

    --Mr. Bill

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    1. Thanks Mr Bill! What's interesting to me is that I didn't hear afols complaining about blue at the time. Maybe it's just too unpopular ;)

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    2. In the early years of LUGBulk, I ended up getting a rather massive supply of dark-red 1x2 plates. I even built a few things with them. Recently I pulled out the bag to start working on something new and noticed that a significant percentage of them were snapping onto the studs a bit too easily. Turns out all of the "easy" ones had sheared off on one side of the plate before the part could be fully pressed down.

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    3. "Brittle Blue"! The famous (non actual) LEGO color! Read more about it here, in this post from Ryan (of course): https://www.flickr.com/photos/126975831@N07/15210784018/

      Also, great new info from this comment, thanks!

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    4. Ha, I love that Ryan gave it it's own page:D

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    5. @Francesco:
      So they're talking about these blue parts turning brittle over time, which is similar to what I've experienced with my 1x2 dark-red plates. I built stuff with them about 7 years ago and had zero problems, but when I started attaching them to a baseplate last year I probably had a 5-10% failure rate.

      I can think of four things that could cause a part to be brittle, but some of them can be ruled out. The most obvious one would be if the pellets were allowed to absorb moisture. ABS is porous, which means it's capable of absorbing moisture. Polycarbonate (modern trans colors) is non-porous and therefore won't absorb water. If you run soggy ABS, the water expands 1000x when it hits boiling temperature, and the plastic doesn't become moldable until it's quite a bit hotter than boiling. When this happens, the water vapor is no longer constricted and causes the material to honeycomb. You can see something that looks like pinpricks in the broken surface, and if it's allowed to get bad enough (say, marinating the pellets in water for a week) you can even spot the bubbles through the exterior surface.

      Next is if the plastic has been recycled too much. Plastic forms polymer chains, but every time you shred scrap plastic and feed it back into the process, you shorten up the polymer chains. The shorter the chains are, the better the material flows into the mold. However, the shorter the chains are, the more brittle the material gets. A certain percentage of regrind can actually be beneficial as long as you don't add too much (I think we ran about 3-4% regrind in our vacuum formed plastic, and I believe the ideal amount runs higher in injection molding). But, since mold design has improved to the point where they typically don't mold parts on sprues anymore, there's rarely anything to turn into regrind. (Fun Fact: the Kit-Kat might be the only candy bar to be made with regrind, as the creamy filling between the cookies is made of pulverized Kit Kat bars!)

      A third possibility is that it was just a bad batch of plastic. Like mixing too much water in concrete, if you get the formula for a particular type of plastic wrong, you won't get the qualities you want. In some cases it could seriously compromise the structural integrity.

      The first two can be ruled out. If it was wet plastic, you'd be able to see the bubbles in the broken surfaces. If it was really short polymer chains, it would _always_ be brittle (but there probably wouldn't be any visible sign). A bad mix of plastic could be brittle from day one, or it could present in a fourth manner:

      It could be some sort of reaction that takes place over a period of years. Whether caused by chemicals that don't belong, or exposure to too much UV light, something in the plastic is breaking down. Whatever went wrong, it's taking a while to show symptoms or they'd have most likely caught the problem right away in the factory. And even if they didn't, it would have been very obvious which sets were affected when people started building them. As time passes, sets get disassembled and mixed in with larger collections, making it harder to identify the source of any specific element.

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    6. I guess brittle blue often got sorted away before reaching the public, but brittle brown bricks weren't caught.

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    7. I know at least one person who had brittle brown parts (either plates or tiles), but mine were dark-red. And it took years for them to become a problem.

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  8. About flow lines, I already noticed that lasy year, when I was filling a PaB cup with 1x2 bright red plates for my Classic Town creations.
    As I was stacking all of them (a bit more than 1.000), I noticed this line on the shortest edge of these parts. I was wondering if it was a defedct, and thought about calling customer service, but I let it go, there are too much defective parts...

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    1. Flow lines aren't defects, so you made the right decision not to call. Brittle bricks are though!

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    2. @Evans & Tim:
      Yes...and no. Many parts (most?) have flow (or weld) lines, but they aren't always obvious. Some parts (regular 1x1 round plates) can completely avoid them if the gate is placed so the entire part is radially symmetrical. Other parts (minifig torsos) physically can't avoid them as molding stuff like the arm sockets means the plastic has to flow around both sides of a hole like water around an island, and the two flows will rejoin on the other side. 1x2 bricks and plates appear to fill in on the sides before the end opposite the pip, so the plastic flows into that end from both sides and above, resulting in a Y-shaped weld line (but if you could perfectly control the way the plastic flows into the mold cavity you could theoretically eliminate them). If it's something like a pearl color, where the pigment includes some sort of suspended flake, those flakes will orient themselves around the weld line like iron filings around magnetic field lines, and there's really nothing you can do to get rid of them. If it's a dyed color like regular opaque ABS, you an make the weld lines less obvious by tweaking the settings on the molding machine to run the plastic and/or mold hotter, and/or delay the cooling cycle a bit longer. This allows the plastic to blend together better. Where really obvious weld lines can be like letting two ice cubes fuse together, given enough time and heat you can get them to fuse together so well that you can't tell they were ever two separate ice cubes to begin with.

      Now, weld lines _can_ be defects. If the parts were run way too cold, you might be able to feel (or see) a groove running along the weld line, indicating that the plastic just barely touched before it cooled off too much to continue flowing into the mold. Not only is there an obvious stress point where a groove is present, but it means the two flows never really fused together well. In extreme cases, there might even be a visible notch at the bottom edge of the part, and you might be able to crack the part with your fingers like a pistachio shell. Somewhere between having an obvious groove and not even being able to identify where the weld lines exist is a point where you get some cosmetic effects that make the weld lines really obvious without actually weakening the material to the point where you'd be able to crack it open along the weld line without using a hammer. As they've worked to improve efficiency and help keep costs stagnant at that magic $0.10/pc mark that we've enjoyed for over four decades, the weld lines have become more noticeable, but very rarely will you run across a part where it would qualify as defective. Note that this _has_ happened in the past. These are usually referred to as "short shots", and there are people who collect them where they can find them (most end up getting tossed in the trash because most people assume _nobody_ would ever want them). One of the coolest short shots that I've seen was an incomplete spider web (_lots_ of really tiny weld lines in a part like that, BTW, as every hole that's completely surrounded by strands of web results in at least one weld line).

      Minifig torsos and weld lines can be especially problematic for AFOLs. Some of us rip arms out of the sockets and reattach them to other torsos. Between weld lines, a slightly tighter fit between one torso and the next, the way we remove and reattach the arms, and how _often_ we do so, it can overwhelm the weld line. And remember, I said that torsos will _always_ have weld lines under the arm sockets. The fact that they're unavoidable means they're probably a little weaker along those weld lines than parts that could theoretically be made without them. The longer it takes two flows to meet up, the less completely the weld lines will fuse together. So it should come as no surprise that minifig torsos have been known to split right below the arm socket. But on a 1x2 plate, that gap will barely have time to form before it closes up again.

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  9. I have also noticed an increased fluorescence in some of the tan coloured parts. I ordered 3x 12 tooth single bevel gears on bricklink. I held them up to the light and one of them is a lot more opaque than the other.

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  10. When talking injection molding and plastic material supply, the correct terminology should be used. See the resource material below can assist in understanding why Lego when from Plastic compounding supply to masterbatch, in terms of scale, cost and multiple production sites it's a dead winner when you come to economics, but the materials are very different, Plastic compounding has more dyes left over in the material then needs, as with masterbatch your using just them amount of dye you need with the rest being filler materials(powders)or wax,think back to need the first bricks come out that where masterbatch, the colour consistency was terrible, Lego had issues getting this mix right.


    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masterbatch

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic_compounding

    compounding


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  11. Thanks for this interesting article. I know the official line of New Elementary is that translucent bricks and more visible mould and flow lines are not defects or lowering in quality, but to me, it detracts quite strongly from the visual and physical quality of the bricks, and I think the glowy edges, and flow and mould lines make the bricks look and feel cheaper, and closer to Gudi/Enlighten bricks. They just don't feel as "solid", which is a psychological rather than physical distinction, but it is engendered by the qualities of the material. Bricks in the 80s/90s it seems to me reached a pinnacle of quality which has been gradually been subtly degraded over the past two decades, especially the last few years, while brick printing quality has certainly increased dramatically. The difference are subtle, but they are noticeable enough to effect my pleasure in handling the product.

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    1. I agree that they're not as nice, but we all 'accept' Pearl colours as not being defects.

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