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The LEGO color palette remains a mystery. Yes, there are many AFOLs who tried to identify all the colors and even TLG provided some information. The problem is that they all disagree with each other on the exact color definitions. I wrote a blog entry on my analysis.

Have you found a precise definition of the LEGO color palette?


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In your blog post, you mention that you seem to be looking for consistent RGB/CMYK values, which, as you note, don't exist. The colors of the bricks themselves were probably determined initially without Pantone, since Pantone was fairly new when LEGO was switching to ABS back in the 1960s. But at some point (maybe the 70s, 80s, or 90s?), LEGO used Pantone for matching the colors of their physical bricks-- or, such is my understanding. It's possible that the Pantone given in the LEGO color palette was used explicitly for printed media that's printed using Pantone rather than intending to actually match the bricks themselves. As such, it COULD be that the colors of the bricks are actually a completely DIFFERENT value, although I don't actually know-- I would assume the Pantone would be for printing things like stickers, where it's intended to match the brick color exactly.

However, CMYK for printing and RGB for viewing on monitors are different, so ... it's a little bit arbitrary as to what mechanism has been used to generate those values. But at some point, LEGO had to determine a standard for how they would print brick colors in instruction books, catalogs, magazines, etc, as well as how to show them on a customer's monitor. If I had to guess, I expect that this was done "properly" by one group printing instructions, and with a "best-guess" effort being done by other groups, like those printing (say) some LEGO stickers to be handed out at LEGOLAND. The same was probably true for RGB values-- the group developing the website probably did it differently than the group making the LEGO Island video game.

So at some point, LEGO started putting together an "official" document for their color chart. And since the color palette changed every year, so did the official chart. But there was a group who was tasked with maintaining it, and establishing official values to use when printing in CMYK, when using Pantone, and when using RGB. In 2003, Jake McKee worked with LEGO's legal team and FINALLY (after many months of arguing) got them to agree to release the official document to the fan community. Hence, what you see on Peeron's "official" color chart is the chart that was given to Peeron in 2003. They used that as a basis for the rest of their Peeron color chart, which they attempted to map to BrickLink colors, LDraw colors, and Peeron colors, which often disagreed, because they were determined by hobbyists working independently. And (obviously), there have been a lot of colors introduced in later years, which Peeron has retro-fitted into their color chart (although the "Official" one still only lists the 2003 colors).

However! Since that time, LEGO has changed how they print and display elements. I actually had a discussion about this with a LEGO designer, and passed on a couple documents to him (which went on to the print department, apparently). Some months later, I found out that this had stirred the pot a bit for a long-running disagreement between various parties within LEGO regarding things like whether or not to shade elements in instructions, and what color outlines should be used for various elements. Apparently, they've done a lot of research into how to print colors for various ages of kids. For example, here's an oddity:

Take a look at the black elements. The Technic pins are printed in "true black" with white splines, while the plates and bricks are printed in very-dark-gray with black splines, even though they're both black! Why not print them both the same way? Well, LEGO did some research, and found that younger kids were confused when seeing black parts with lighter-colored splines. Hence, "bricks and plates" were made such that young kids could understand them, whereas technic parts got white splines because they were easier to distinguish, and older kids didn't have a problem with them.

But stepping back for a second, that means that LEGO used two DIFFERENT values of Pantone and/or CMYK (however they printed the instructions) for black, even within the SAME instruction booklet! (Actually, it's even more, because they did shading on the different faces of the bricks, and there are occasional lighter splines on bricks for certain circumstances). But this isn't really surprising. The instruction booklets are printed so that they're readable, not so that they match the colors of the bricks. You don't want kids confused about which colors go where, so it's all about perception of the reader.

Suffice to say, LEGO's changed methods over time as well as even within the same year! So the "official" chart that we got in 2003 is no longer the same official chart that's used today. And these days, when LEGO releases its color chart, they seem to give us a PDF version, rather than the explicit values-- and I'm not sure what it's generated with. Is that a PDF for RGB colors, or CMYK? (Do they make PDFs for Pantone? I guess that might be a possibility too). So it all depends on what time in history you're looking at. Since there's no definitive way of establishing CMYK and RGB, there's never going to be a precise solution.


Edited by davee123

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