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What is federal standard paint?

Federal standard paint refers to a color matching system used by the United States government for military and other federal applications. The federal standard system provides specific formulas for mixing paint colors to ensure consistency across different manufacturers and batches. This allows easy touch-up and uniformity across large projects, equipment, and facilities.

History of Federal Standard Paint

The federal standard paint system was developed by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) in 1956. Prior to this, each branch of the military used its own proprietary paint formulas, leading to problems with color matching. The GSA worked with leading paint manufacturers to create a standardized set of paint colors for use across all government agencies.

The original federal standard 595 colors consisted of 300+ specific formulas using pigments and binders available at the time. The colors were designed to meet the needs of the military for painting vehicles, equipment, and facilities. Many of the original colors were earth tones and camouflage greens, tans, and greys.

Over the years, the federal standard has expanded to nearly 1000 colors as pigments and binder technology has advanced. The system has also been adopted by state and local governments, nuclear power plants, mass transit systems, and other industries where color consistency is important.

Federal Standard Paint Specifications

Federal standard paints must meet stringent durability, quality, and consistency specifications as outlined in the GSA Federal Specification TT-P-1757. Key requirements include:

  • Lightfastness – Resistance to fading and color changes from sunlight/UV exposure
  • Weather resistance – Withstand outdoor exposure to rain, snow, heat, cold etc.
  • Corrosion resistance – Prevent corrosion when applied to metal surfaces
  • Abrasion resistance – Withstand rubbing, scuffing, handling etc. without losing color
  • Chemical resistance – Resist fuels, oils, cleaners and other chemicals
  • Flexibility – Ability to expand and contract with surfaces
  • Hide and coverage – Opaqueness and ability to cover underlying colors

The federal specification covers different types of paints including primers, topcoats, chemical agent resistant coatings (CARC), and camouflage colors. Performance criteria are provided for fluid and non-fluid (paste) paints. Testing methods are defined for evaluating properties like gloss, hardness, adhesion, and volatile organic compounds (VOC).

Federal Standard Paint Color Matching System

The key to the federal standard system is its color matching process. Each paint color has a five-digit code assigned to it known as the federal standard 595 color number. This allows consistent reproduction of each color formula by any approved manufacturer.

The first digit refers to the category of color:

  • 1xxxx – brown
  • 2xxxx – red
  • 3xxxx – orange
  • 4xxxx – yellow
  • 5xxxx – green
  • 6xxxx – blue
  • 7xxxx – purple
  • 8xxxx – grey
  • 9xxxx – white/black/metallics

The last four digits provide a unique identifier within the category. So 37030 would be an orange color, while 34064 is a specific yellow.

In addition to the color number, federal standard paint formulations specify proportions of pigments, binders, additives, and thinners needed to match the color precisely. Approved suppliers use lab color spectrophotometers and standards to ensure they achieve the correct calibrated color.

Types of Federal Standard Paint

Federal standard paints come in a variety of categories and types for different applications including:

Type Description Uses
Primers Provides adhesion, corrosion protection, and smooth base for topcoat Undercoats for metal, wood, concrete, and masonry
Topcoats Finish coat providing color, protection, and durability Exterior finish for vehicles, equipment, signs, road markings
CARC Chemical agent resistant coating for military vehicles Chemical warfare and decontamination resistance
Camouflage Special low reflectance coatings designed to conceal vehicles and equipment Concealment from visual, radar, infrared detection
Floor High abrasion and chemical resistant floor enamels Interior floors, maintenance facilities
Roof Elastomeric reflective roof coatings Metal roofs, energy efficiency
Marking Traffic and safety marking paints Streets, airfields, signs, hazards

These coatings are formulated to meet application needs like corrosion resistance, chemical exposure, abrasion, flexibility, temperature range, and specialized camouflage properties.

Qualification and Compliance Testing

In order for a manufacturer to produce federal standard paints, they must demonstrate their formulations meet all the performance requirements in TT-P-1757. This involves extensive testing of physical properties, accelerated weathering, abrasion resistance, flexibility, impact resistance and more.

Compliance testing requires calibrated lab equipment and seasoned technical personnel. Manufacturers must submit their test data to the GSA for review. Once approved, they are added as a Qualified Products List (QPL) supplier. They must continue re-qualifying their product formulations over time.

Being a certified federal standard paint supplier requires an ongoing commitment to quality control and testing. Manufacturers must follow strict procedures for inspecting incoming raw materials, pigment dispersion, maintaining formulation ratios, and verifying color match to federal standard lab samples.

Procurement of Federal Standard Paint

Federal agencies must follow certain procedures when procuring standard paints as outlined in the FED-STD-313 material specification:

  • Specify the federal standard color number and product type required
  • Purchase from a QPL supplier listed as approved for that product type
  • Request certification the product meets FED-STD-313 requirements
  • For custom mixed colors, ask for formulation ratios and test results
  • Inspect incoming paint closely for proper labeling, color match, and condition

These safeguards help ensure agencies obtain paint that conforms to federal specifications. Having valid QPL certificates for each shipment simplifies quality assurance.

Maintenance and Touch-up of Federal Standard Paint

One of the key benefits of the federal standard system is easy maintenance and touch-up over the life of painted assets. Using the original color number, new paint can be purchased from a QPL supplier years later for minor repairs or refreshes.

However, some precautions should be observed:

  • Preparation – Sand, solvent wipe, and prime any bare substrate to ensure adhesion
  • Feathering – Lightly sand paint edges to feather in touch-ups
  • Topcoat – Reapply all original primer and topcoat layers to maintain system integrity
  • Batch Checking – Verify batch numbers match on multi-container orders to avoid variance
  • Storage – Store paint per manufacturer recommendations and re-mix before use

Proper surface prep and application technique will minimize color variance between new and aged coatings. With care, federal standard paint allows infinite re-application over decades of service.

Sources for Federal Standard Paint

Several major paint companies produce federal standard coatings including Sherwin-Williams, PPG Aerospace, AkzoNobel, and others. Paint can be purchased through various distributors that supply government buyers.

Online retailers may also carry certain federal standard colors in smaller quantities for hobbyists. Surplus military paint is sometimes available through government liquidators.

Buyers should always request the manufacturer QPL certificate to ensure recently produced batches. Outdated inventory may no longer meet specifications.

Advantages of Federal Standard Paint

Some key benefits of the federal standard paint system include:

  • Consistent, precise color matching across manufacturers and batches
  • Meets stringent durability and performance requirements
  • Allows easy maintenance and touch-up over decades
  • Wide range of colors and coating types for many applications
  • Strict quality control and compliance testing ensures performance

The federal standard provides government agencies, contractors, and other users with a reliable, proven method for achieving uniform, reproducible results for painting projects large and small.

Disadvantages of Federal Standard Paint

Potential downsides of federal standard paint include:

  • More expensive than commercial grade paint
  • Limited to standard color set, custom colors incur upcharges
  • Extra QA requirements for procurement
  • Older formulas contain hazardous ingredients like lead and chromium
  • Surplus paint may degrade if stored improperly over time

While compliant federal standard paint performs well, buyers sacrifice some convenience and flexibility versus commercial options. Some legacy formulations also contain hazardous substances now banned in consumer paints.

Evolution of Federal Standard Paint

Since its inception in 1956, the federal standard paint system has evolved in several ways:

  • Expanded number of color formulas – Now nearly 1000 standard colors vs. 300 originally
  • New coating types – Specialty products like CARC, primers, camouflage, floor coatings added
  • Safer ingredients – Legacy hazardous ingredients like lead and chromates phased out
  • Water-based paints – Solvent-based changed to lower VOC waterborne coatings
  • Gloss reduction – Shift from glossy to lusterless, low reflective finishes
  • Increased durability – Longer lasting binders, crosslinking, and urethane films

These changes align the federal standard with newer technologies while maintaining rigorous performance. Many agencies now default to safer water-based paints wherever feasible.

Future of Federal Standard Paint

Looking ahead, federal standard paint will likely continue adapting to reflect trends like:

  • Nanotechnology – Nano-structured pigments and binders to improve durability
  • Smart coatings – Sensors to indicate corrosion, wear, and need for refinishing
  • Non-toxic – Elimination of all hazardous ingredients
  • Anti-fouling – Resistance to mold, algae, and dirt pickup
  • Enhanced camouflage – Optimized multi-spectral signature reduction
  • Simplified procurement – Online color verification and compliance documentation

Implementation will depend on funding, research priorities, and mission needs. The federal standard paint system looks poised to provide proven, adaptable solutions well into the future.


For over 60 years, federal standard paint has delivered specialized coating solutions tailored to meet government agency requirements. Its emphasis on rigorous testing, strict specifications, and color standardization benefits large painting projects where consistency, maintainability, and performance are paramount.

While initially developed for military use, federal standard paint has grown beyond its roots. Today it serves diverse government and civilian applications where quality and reproducibility are critical. Continued development will incorporate newer technologies while preserving the system’s core benefits.

For buyers needing reliable, proven coatings that can be easily sustained for decades, federal standard paint remains an attractive option. Its unique color standards and qualified sourcing network offer capabilities beyond those of commercial grade paints. With informed procurement practices, users can be assured of getting high quality paint that lives up to federal specifications.