Idioms often aren’t particularly accurate: if someone does something “once in a blue moon” and another person is supposed to be “green behind the ears”, then it is up to the individual to decide which colours are meant. On the contrary, anyone who offers products in colours or is supposed to make something colourful wants to know exactly which colour is in question – either to compete with, say, a self-developed magenta or to avoid disputes with his client. The RAL colour systems provide transparency when dealing with colours: the RAL Classic, for example, a collection of currently 213 standardised colour hues, in which each colour is assigned a four-digit colour number.
Necessity is the mother of invention
The RAL scale saw the colourful light of day as early as 1927, two years before the “Reichs-Ausschuss für Lieferbedingungen (RAL)” was founded to promote rationalisation in German industry by simplifying and standardising technical delivery conditions. Furthermore, after the First World War, it was necessary to use pigments and binders sparingly, since they were only available in very limited quantities, while simultaneously, fuelled by the emerging mass production of civilian goods, there was a great demand for industrial coatings. In this plight the paint industry, consumers and the state agreed on the use of a few basic colour shades and mixed shades derived from them, which could be produced in good quality with the available pigments. RAL was entrusted with the first colour scale comprising 40 colour shades, which has since given the system its name.
Then as now, thanks to the RAL colour systems, suppliers and customers only need to exchange a RAL number and do not need a colour sample on defined material. Since not everyone can imagine the natural colour that belongs to a certain RAL number and to avoid confusion caused by transposed numbers, each colour tone has an additional descriptive name, e.g. RAL 1000 Green beige, the first entry in our RAL list.
The standardisation of RAL colours simplifies communication about shades of colour considerably. Suppliers and customers can use colour numbers to clearly specify the colour in which a product is to be delivered. Simultaneously, the clear definition of colour tones makes it possible to reproduce them exactly anywhere. Re-painting and touch-up coatings are also made easier.
In order to be included in the RAL catalogue, colour shades must meet various criteria. According to RAL gGmbH – a subsidiary of RAL Deutsches Institut für Gütesicherung und Kennzeichnung (German Institute for Quality Assurance and Labelling) – they must be “timeless and subject to an overriding public interest. Furthermore, the colour must be environmentally friendly and weather-resistant, have a high opacity and there must be a visible difference to existing colours”. The company writes about the development: “Mostly, new colour shades were added by large German companies. In 1992, for example, the Telekom colours “Telemagenta”, “Telegrau 1” and “Telegrau 2” were added.
Ecological, economical and digital
In addition to the original RAL Classic colour collection, the RAL Effect colour catalogue has been available since 2007. With 420 solid and 70 metallic shades, it contains significantly more colours than the traditional catalogue of RAL colours and also takes ecological aspects into account. Pigments containing heavy metals such as lead chromate or cadmium sulphide are taboo in the formulation.
For the plastics processing industry, RAL has been making the RAL PLASTICS system available since 2010. This is an independent colour standard for plastics that considerably simplifies colour design for designers and manufacturers and makes the time-consuming and cost-intensive process of adjusting RAL colours from paint samples to plastics unnecessary.
The RAL Digital software also provides the binding colour catalogues digitally. At regular intervals RAL gGmbH also publishes the colour trend book “RAL Colour Feeling” and issues publications such as “Das Farbwörterbuch” (The Colour Dictionary), “Farben der Gesundheit” (The Colours of Health) or “Farben der Hotels” (The Colours of Hotels).
Transparency and quality
The “RAL German Institute for Quality Assurance” has long since developed into a global player. With sales partners in 42 countries and product availability in more than 85 countries, it is at home on all continents. It is about much more than standardised, reproducible colours. In the meantime, there are over 170 RAL Quality Marks from all sectors of the economy. Currently, RAL has approximately 130 manufacturers and service providers with about 9,000 member companies that have joined together to form “RAL Quality Assurance Associations”.
As an organisation recognised by RAL, they are responsible for quality assurance and a transparent grant procedure. The quality assurance associations grant the right to use RAL quality marks, regularly check the quality and testing regulations, monitor strict compliance, and ensure transparency and quality far beyond Germany. After all, consistent quality isn’t something that happens once in a blue moon …
This is how the designations of the RAL Classic colours originate
All RAL Classic colours have a four-digit number in connection with the “RAL” brand (e.g. RAL 2011). The first digit is systematic (1: yellow, 2: orange, 3: red, 4: violet, 5: blue, 6: green, 7: grey, 8: brown and 9: white and black shades), the remaining three digits are chosen consecutively. In addition, an auxiliary designation (e.g. Deep orange for RAL 2011) is associated with each colour shade to reduce the risk of confusion.
To become a member of the RAL Classic family, a colour shade must:
• be of overriding public interest and must not be subject to short-term fashion influences
• have a specific minimum differentiation to already existing colours
• be able to be tinted with commercially available pigments that have been found not to be harmful to the environment
• with few exceptions, have a high covering opacity over “black and white”
• be able to be manufactured weatherproof
Some colours of the RAL palette are omnipresent today. Examples include the colour Broom yellow (RAL 1032), which Deutsche Post uses as its corporate colour, or the Claret violet of EU passports (RAL 4004).