Notes on Colour

painters’ colour names

Other
people
Painters
cyan  
  • aquamarine
  • blue
  • cool blue
  • light blue
  • blue-green
  • cobalt teal
  • cobalt teal blue
  • cobalt turquoise
  • turquoise
  • turquoise blue
  • process cyan
  • PG.50
magenta  
  • crimson red
  • crimson
  • violet
  • red violet
  • red
  • cool red
  • mid red
  • process red
  • process magenta
  • cobalt violet
  • deep pink
  • pink red
  • rose
  • PV.49
yellow  
  • primary yellow
  • process yellow
  • cool yellow
  • mid yellow
  • cadmium lemon
  • cadmium yellow
  • PY.37
Other
people
Painters
red  
  • orange
  • red orange
  • warm red
  • cadmium red
  • scarlet red
  • scarlet
  • vermilion
green  
  • bright green
  • brilliant green
  • emerald green
  • light green
blue  
  • violet
  • blue-violet
  • basic blue
  • warm blue
  • navy blue
  • ultramarine
These notes Painters
green-blue  
  • blue-violet
  • blue
  • azure blue
  • bright blue
  • sky blue
  • turquoise blue
  • ultramarine
yellow-green  
  • lime green
orange  
  • yellow orange
purple-red  
  • scarlet
violet  
  • purple
A painters' colour wheel from the 1940s

Explanation

The language of painting has a very long and complicated history, and this history is reflected in the variety and fluidity of the words used to describe colours. The variety also provides an aura of mystery, poetry and romanticism for those who deal with paint. Like any other jargon, it can be used by practitioners to exclude outsiders with specious complications.

The colour wheel in the illustration is typical of those published during much of the twentieth century. It was published in black and white, as shown here, with its implied scientific precision. The precision was, of course, illusory. By the time it was published, the everyday English meaning of the colour names were already different from the meanings used by Newton or Munsell or the translators of Goethe and Itten or any of those who named the colours on the colour wheel. And each manufacturer of paint had settled into using their own idiosyncratic colour names.

The tables lists a few of the names used by painters and paint manufacturers. Most of them have been taken from current catalogues and colour charts. Many are mutually contradictory. Those in italics are claimed to be the closest watercolour approximations to the subtractive primaries.