Ameritone Paint Color Key System

by admin on September 1, 2012

Text: Colorist Robin Daly discusses the innovative Color Key System from AMERITONE.
Our friend and mentor Leatrice Eisenman, director of the Pantone Institute, was first introduced to paint color palettes with these colors.
Learn & enjoy,
John Shearer,

Robin Daly: My name is Robin Daly.
John Shearer: And what do you have in your hand?
Robin: I have the color key fan deck from the Ameritone paint company. This was a fan deck that I used in the 1980s and the early 90s until the company was bought out and then this brand was dissolved. And what we’ve got here is a fan deck that’s broken into two sections. This is known as Color Key 1, or the “cool” section, and this is Color Key 2, also the “warm” colors. And the Ameritone color key system was really interesting because they have what we call a let-down system. This color is exactly the same color as the one on the top. But what we’ve got here: this is half strength of this, this is half strength of this, and on up the line. So it’s mth – it’s mathematically broken down and you can tell that it – they make good friends because it’s just the same color, different versions of the color. So all the way through the fan deck you’ve got that.
I took this fan deck around literally to thousands and thousands of homes here in the Pacific Northwest. And it’s kind of a fun little trip down memory lane for me looking at this again.
John: Tell us about some colors that you recall were –
Robin: Okay. This one’s called Gobi. I would say when we “beiged” Bellevue in the 1980s, this was the go-to color –
Text: We “Beiged” Bellevue in the 80’s. #lulz
Robin: – on the interior of the walls: Gobi. And for exterior… wow. For exterior colors, all of these just mid-value, not too red, just nice sort of grayed but beige-y tones: Casino Tan; Ginger Tone; Amherst; Bighorn – here’s the Gobi. Triply Tan was the safe color when Gobi was too dark. And –
John: How come, how come there are no merges in the first part of the deck?
Robin: Okay so. So when you’re looking at the fan deck, it’s broken into two sections: cool colors and warm colors. You’ll find in the cool colors, every color is basically represented except orange, because apparently that was too warm of a color. So you’ll find pinks, but they’ll be blue-based pinks; you’ll find blues. They’ll be what we call cooler blues, even though we think of blue as a cool color, you can have a warm blue or a cool blue.
John: Like periwinkle.
Robin: Like periwinkle. Y’know, aq – here’s the aquas. Then we get into the greens, the leafy greens, yellow, taupey tones, and then the more muted versions of those colors. And then the accent colors you’ll see fuchsia. But you won’t find fuchsia in the warm colors. So in the warm colors, your pinks are more orange-based pinks, and I’ll show you the –
John: How come you won’t find fuchsia in the, in the warm?
Robin: Cause it’s too icy blue of a color. So you can see when I sort of fan these out: cool pink; warm pink. I don’t know if you can pick that up, but this definitely has little bit of a warm, yellowy, orangey undercast.
So this is the color that you won’t find in the cool side, is orange.
John: Let me get a close up of that real quick here. You will not find any of the oranges?
Robin: You won’t find oranges in the Color Key 1 deck, and you won’t find fuchsias in the Color Key 2. So-
John: So, so at the time, Robin –
Robin: At the time, this – this tool was incredibly easy to use. Because of the let-down system here, I knew that I could do different percentages and show people what a color would look like lighter or darker. And the whole theory being, if you stay within one key, those colors worked well together. But if you jumped across keys, then you were creating maybe a little dissonance. Sometimes you want that but often times in our home we want it to be calm and soothing.
In the back are the off whites. This color, to this day, it has been a good 15+ years since this fan deck was active, this color right here is called Cloversweet. We still have a formula memorized to make this color in different paints. This color is the go-to trim color: Cloversweet.
John: How would you describe Cloversweet?
Robin: Well, what I – the way I think of it is, miles and miles of trim throughout the Pacific Northwest are painted this color. And it has a little drop of umber in it, so it takes the white and cuts the edge of ice off of it. So it feels white, but it’s not icy white.
John: It’s, it’s in the warm. It’s in the warm.
Robin: It’s in the warm, and I would cheat all the time and use it with my cool colors. Just because, in the Pacific Northwest we have so many days that are gray and overcast and having an icy white just doesn’t feel right. So – so warming up the white a little bit makes a lot of sense.
John: At the time that you were using this, what are – how would you compare the other color systems? The other fan decks?
Robin: This one basically made it so simple. It’s not – they’re not simple colors, but the, the – the logical nature of the layout of the fan deck made it [snaps fingers] instant – instantly easy for me to just go in and figure out what colors needed to be done. Y’know, I could fan it out, and I could look at it, I could lay it on somebody’s carpet and different undertones of the carpet would come out, and I’d know immediately what color range to take them in. So things like that just made it a very useful tool.
I will say our tastes have probably gotten a little more sophisticated than some of the colors in this deck. There’s a lot of very clear colors, but our world is a little more complex, a little more moody, like these colors in the back of each of these sections. And we’re finding that, y’know, we prefer this. These I think is the 1970s colors.
John: So I think Robin, what you’re saying is now, in 2012, people’s expectation for color is more sophisticated.
Robin: We are so much more aware of color. We have – y’know, we have the internet, we have cable TV with design shows, there’s all kinds of publications that, that – our knowledge about color is so much more accessible. So if we had a tool like this it would be really neat, but it probably would be populated with different colors. The other thing too, is I think as a society our own sense of color is different, and we’re a little more comfortable mixing cool colors and warm colors together to – to create visual interest. So. Y’know. Things change. But – I, I will always love this fan deck. It’s kinda awesome.

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