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Is Imperial red a color?

Is Imperial red a color?

Imperial red is a deep, rich shade of red that has been used throughout history as a color to convey luxury, power, and prestige. But is Imperial red truly a distinct color, and if so, what defines this shade? In this article, we’ll explore the origins and definitions of Imperial red, examine its use over time, and try to determine whether it can rightly be considered its own distinct color.

Origins and Definitions

Imperial red as a color name dates back to at least the 19th century, though the vivid crimson shade it describes has been in use for far longer. It is linked to the red dye produced from the cochineal insect, which was used by the Aztec and Maya civilizations to color fabrics. The Spanish conquerors exported large quantities of this dyestuff back to Europe, where its saturated red tones became associated with wealth and status.

In modern color nomenclature, Imperial red is considered a warm, pure hue of crimson. On the color wheel, it sits between primary red and purple. The RGB values for Imperial red are 178, 23, 46. The Hex color code is #B2172E. It is a similar shade to cardinal, candy apple red, or fire engine red, though somewhat darker and more muted than these bright, primary reds.

Use Throughout History

The rich, luxurious red shade we know as Imperial red has been utilized by rulers and societies for thousands of years. In China, scarlet lacquerware and crimson silks were reserved for royalty. Imperial red appears in ancient Greek and Roman murals, textiles, and painted pottery. The Byzantine emperors wore purple and red ceremonial robes dyed with Tyrian purple and kermes.

In 18th century Europe, vivid crimsons and scarlets became trendy; they were expensive dyes requiring large amounts of cochineal insects from the New World. Napoleon Bonaparte adopted dark red as the official color of his imperial court. British Empire officers wore red coats to imply power and control. The use of red in national flags and heraldry also ties it to ideas of strength, courage, and authority.

Century Use of Imperial Red
16th century Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church wore red robes and hats
17th century British nobility and aristocracy favored crimson clothing
18th century Dark red uniforms of Napoleon’s imperial guard
19th century Queen Victoria wore the crimson Robe of State at her coronation

In modern times, Imperial red retains regal and luxurious associations, though it is also seen in more everyday contexts. It is used for power, speed, and danger on traffic signs and emergency vehicles. Imperial red conveys intensity and passion in fashion, graphics, and product marketing. It stands out on flags, logos, furniture, and sports team uniforms. This classic red shade remains bold, commanding, and impossible to ignore.

A Distinct Color?

Given its long history and cultural symbolism, can Imperial red rightly be considered a color in its own right with defined boundaries? Or is it simply a non-specific dark, warm red without precise specifications? There are several factors that suggest Imperial red has enough distinct qualities to be a separate color:

– It has its own established name dating back centuries, setting it apart from generic “red.”

– Authoritative sources like Pantone have precise formulations for Imperial red as a paint or digital color with set RGB, CMYK, and Hex values.

– While close to other reds, Imperial red sits apart on the color wheel due to its hints of blue and slight purple undertone.

– It has strong cultural associations not shared by tomato red, fire engine red, cherry red, and other nearby shades.

– Native speakers recognize Imperial red as referring to a specific deep crimson rather than red in general.

At the same time, the boundaries between Imperial red and other similar shades of red are not firmly delineated. There are no objective measures for where one red stops and another begins on the color spectrum. The characterization of Imperial red relies largely on historical tradition and cultural understandings rather than technical specifications. Overall, while Imperial red exhibits its own distinct identity, there remains some subjectivity and imprecision in classifying it as a separate color.


Imperial red has a rich history and cultural significance as a shade associated with luxury, prestige, and authority. While difficult to define with precision, it can reasonably be described as a deep, pure crimson hue between primary red and purple. Imperial red possesses its own recognized name and symbolic associations that set it apart from other reds and give it a distinct identity. Based on its enduring differentiation in human culture over centuries, classifying Imperial red as its own distinct color appears justified, though there is no definitive line marking its boundaries. More a color defined by culture than science, Imperial red remains one of the most regal and commanding shades across societies.