RAL Color System Briefing
The classic RAL system is the most popular Central European color standard in use today. The charts you see online at different websites match as closely as possible, however, they’re not ideal for use when you’re relying those chips for RAL color projects. It’s always best to download the original chart with the approximated colors according to the classic RAL system when you’re coloration choices are mission critical.
The RAL color system actually came into being in 1927, when Reichs’a’usschuß für Lieferbedingungen und Gütesicherung (Germany’s State Commission for Delivery Terms and Quality Assurance) decided that a standard for color use was necessary. The agency released 40 colors in the under the name, “RAL 840.” These standardized colors made it easier for manufacturers and their customers, who once had to rely on exchanging samples to describe tints. RAL system numbers made describing color a lot simpler for people in the entire country of Germany.
By the 1930s, the numbers that described the RAL system colors were further standardized. A new collection, named “RAL 840 R,” contained a revision of the first color system. This new collection simplified the numerical system by restricting color descriptors to only four digits. In 1961, the RAL color system was revised again to include a total of 210 colors in a collection titled, “RAL 840-HR.” Supplemental names were also added to the four digit numerical identifier to eliminate the potential for confusion resulting from transposed numbers.
In the 1980s, the RAL color system was expanded beyond its original matte paint color collection to include colors suitable for glossy surfaces. This collection was named “RAL 841-GL” and consisted of 193 total colors. By 1984, a new collection, titled “RAL F9,” came into being. This system only consists of three colors that the Bundeswehr uses for military camouflage coatings: bronze, leather and tar.
The only colors that end up added to the RAL color system are those considered to have “paramount interest,” which is the equivalent of colors with a high value to the society that relies on the color system. Consequently, you’ll find that most of the colors in this system appear on warning signs, traffic signage, and other signs dedicated to government agency use as well as public service agencies such as the Swiss Postal Service.
It wasn’t until 1993 that the RAL color system began to accommodate the needs of architects, designers and advertisers with a color system titled, “RAL Design.” The RAL Design collection originally contained a whopping 1688 colors. Later that number was reduced to just 1625, which is still a lot of colors to choose from. What makes this color system collection different from RAL’s prior color collection releases is that there’s no names assigned to the numerical numbers. It also follows a scheme based on the CIELAB color space. For example, each color is represented by seven digits instead of four. These digits are grouped to represent hue, brightness and saturation.
The RAL Design collection was later integrated into RAL Digital for use by architects, interior decorators and other creatives that rely on graphics and CAD programs.
Aside from the numbers assigned to the RAL Design collection, when you evaluate the numerical sequence within the rest of the RAL color systems, such as RAL 841-GL and RAL 840, you’ll find that the first digit of each color number sequence always reflects the shade of the color it is describing. For example, the first digits within a classic RAL color number will always describe either yellow, orange, red, violet, blue, green, grey, brown, black or white. This standardization makes it easier to visualize a RAL color shade when necessary because there’s no intersecting numerical descriptions for colors within any of the existing RAL color systems.
RAL color collections have evolved in a similar way as America’s Pantone color system has. There’s two more RAL color collections you should be aware of. They’re known as RAL Effect and RAL Colour Feeling. Choose a color from RAL Effect collection when you need to specify any of its 420 metallic colors. Use RAL Colour Feeling as a trend-inspired color number source when you need to specify colors while planning projects with European designers, architects, interior designers, painters or interior decorators. Consumers also find inspiration from the colors presented in RAL Colour Feeling sets.