Blue is one of the most popular colors used around the world. Known for evoking feelings of calmness, trust, and professionalism, the color blue plays an important role in graphic design, marketing, uniforms, and more. But with so many shades of blue, how do you determine the “official” blue color code? Let’s take a deep dive into the history and standards around blue colors.
A Brief History of Blue
For most of human history, blue pigments were very rare and difficult to produce. The ancient Egyptians and Mayans used a pigment called Egyptian blue which was made from sand, copper, and ash. This was a very prized pigment but was time consuming to make. During the Renaissance era, a new blue pigment called ultramarine was made from the gemstone lapis lazuli. It was incredibly expensive and was reserved for only the most important commissions.
In 1704, a Saxon miner and alchemist named Diesbach accidentally created a new blue pigment while working with potash and iron sulphate. This pigment, known as Prussian blue, was much cheaper and easier to produce than ultramarine. By the 1800s, synthetic dyes and pigments were able to produce bright shades of blue more efficiently. This allowed blue to become a much more accessible color for paintings, textiles, and other uses.
Early Blue Color Standards
In the early 20th century, there began to be efforts to standardize color names and specifications, especially for industrial uses like paints and textiles. In 1905, The RAL Colour Standard was established in Germany as a unified color standard for paints and coatings. Some of the early RAL blues included:
In the 1930s, Pantone was founded in the United States and began standardizing colors for printing inks. Some of Pantone’s early blue shades included PMS 286 (also known as PMS Process Blue) and PMS 293, a bright cyan blue.
The Pantone Color Matching System
Today, the most widely used and well-known color standard is the Pantone Color Matching System (PMS). First released in 1963, the Pantone system provides designers and manufacturers with a consistent language for color using numeric codes and physical swatch books. Each Pantone color has a unique number and name designation.
For example, Pantone Reflex Blue is designated as PMS 279. When this PMS number is specified in a design or print job, it removes all ambiguity and ensures the correct blue shade is used every time.
In 2000, Pantone released the Pantone Textile Color System to help standardize colors for the textile industry. This expanded their color matching system beyond printing and graphic design.
Pantone Color of the Year
In 2000, Pantone also began selecting an annual Pantone Color of the Year, which spotlighted a specific color predicted to be popular and influential in the upcoming year. Blue colors have been selected several times:
This annual selection draws widespread media attention and influences product development across industries like fashion, interiors, and graphic design.
Digital Color Systems
With the rise of digital design and media in the 1980s-90s, new methods were needed for specifying color in digital formats. In 1976, the development of the RGB color model allowed colors to be defined on electronic systems using mixtures of Red, Green, and Blue color channels. This became the standard model for specifying color on computer displays, TV screens, and digital interfaces.
In the 1990s, web colors were standardized with hex codes like #0000FF, #3F00FF, and #5F9F9F to specify RGB values for the web. Today, these hex codes and RGB values are commonly used in digital design applications like Photoshop and web development coding.
Official Blue Color Codes
With this history in mind, what exactly constitutes the “official” blue color code? There are a few common answers:
- PMS Process Blue (PMS 286) – The original Pantone Matching System blue used for printing inks.
- International Klein Blue (IKB) – A deep ultramarine blue trademarked by artist Yves Klein that is included in the Pantone Matching System.
- Reflex Blue (PMS 279) – Pantone’s Color of the Year in 2000 and now one of their signature blues.
- Classic Blue (PMS 19-4052) – Pantone’s 2020 Color of the Year, meant to evoke stability and calm.
- RGB Blue (R0 G0 B255) – The blue used for electronic displays in the RGB color model.
- Hex #0000FF – The web color blue used in coding and digital design.
So in summary, some of the most common and official sources to look for blue color codes include:
|Blue Color Code
|Pantone Matching System
|PMS 286, PMS 279, PMS 19-4052
|RGB Color Model
|R0 G0 B255
Using Official Blue Colors
Referencing official color codes like these ensures consistency across different mediums. Some examples include:
- A graphic designer creating a brand logo could use Pantone blues to ensure accurate color reproduction on print materials like business cards.
- A web developer could use the hex code #0000FF in CSS or image files to display a blue that matches the brand identity.
- An industrial designer could use a RAL blue when specifying the color for mass-produced products.
- A fashion designer could call out a Pantone Textile blue to ensure accurate dye colors are used on garments.
Relying on the color standards simplifies communication between designers, manufacturers, printers, and other roles to end up with the expected blue. This avoids issues with subjective color names or imprecise descriptions.
While there are many shades of blue, several standardized color systems provide official blue color codes for consistent use across industries. Pantone codes give precise blue colors for design and printing, RGB and hex codes define blue for digital media, and RAL blues are used for industrial paints and coatings. Using shared color standards ensures accuracy and effective communication. So when seeking the official blue, consult Pantone, RAL, RGB, or hex codes!