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Thread: Color: why we'll never get it exactly right

  1. #1

    Default Color: why we'll never get it exactly right

    First let's establish that they're your planes and you can paint them any way you want. If you want a copper and violet Albatros with flames along the wing edges, go for it. It'll draw a lot of attention at conventions, it'll be fun to fly, and guess which plane the new-to-the-game pilots will fight over?

    If you're aiming to match historical colors (or "colours" for our Commonwealth friends), you'll never get the perfectly correct color either, and that's the topic of this post. But there's close and there's not-close: we may debate over the best match to the RFC's khaki brown-green PC10, but it's surely not a bright lime green color. So the goal is to get reasonably, plausibly close to historical colors (as best we can) without getting too pedantic about getting it "exactly right".

    There are many reasons we're not going to get it perfect. Some of them are driven by color science, others by logistics, others by statistics, others by lack of historical data.

    Variances in the Original Colors: Let's pretend we could somehow travel back to 1916 with a colorimeter. I'm sure if we went from plane to plane, we'd find variances even where colors are supposed to be consistent. There were variances in the factories where the paints were manufactured, either due to material shortages and substitutions to simply not being overly worried about being perfectly exact. Formulas changed mid-war, e.g. the British changed the red in their roundels in 1918. The colors were hand-painted or spray-painted onto the plane, and variations in thickness or texture can affect the paint's look. They were painted on different underlying materials, e.g. linen or plywood or metal (and if you've ever switched from black to white primer, you know how that can change things). Once the paints were dry, the were frequently varnished-over, and the varnish formula and thickness can change the surface color. Finally, they were weathered to various degrees, whether it's exposure to oxygen, sunlight, rain, engine oil, or wind-friction. So even in 1916 you're going to find plane-to-plane variances.

    Aging of our Samples: We modern historians don't have it that easy, though, we're left with a scattering of original fabric, and it's roughly 100 years old. If you've seen old flags or dresses in museums, you know how aging can affect color. So the surviving samples we have all have seen various (and unknown) levels of fading and color-shift.

    Metamers: Even if a color were 100% consistent and we had a sample stored in a time-vault, there are problems of color science itself. The color of a surface will change depending on the lighting conditions. Two paints can look exactly the same under one spectrum of lighting (e.g. noon sunlight) and very different under a different spectrum of lighting (metamerism). A white ball and a red ball will look exactly the same under a pure red monochromatic light. But if take that light just 5% toward yellow, it's very evident the difference. So even if we could find an *exact* match for a historical color under daylight conditions, it probably isn't an exact match under artificial lighting, and it probably even looks different under cloudy conditions or dawn/dusk sunlight. For an exact match, you'd probably have to formulate the paint using the exact same ingredients, e.g. 250 parts iron oxide to 1 part lamp-black by weight mixed in cellulose or oil varnish. (I doubt even museums go to that length.)

    Two balls look exactly the same under red monochromatic light. Take that 5% toward yellow, and a difference is evident; under white light it's obvious (this is just an oversimplified illustration of the point).
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    The color spectra of various "white" light sources (from olympusmicro.com):
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    Perception plays a role. Everyone's eyes and color perceptions are a little different, so what might be greenish-blue to me might be bluish-green to you. Hopefully we can minimize that problem by avoiding subjective, textual descriptions of colors such as "Sea Green".

    The Scale Effect: Furthermore, with scale models, to match the way you perceive full-scale models at a distance, some modellers recommend you reduce the contrast and add to the "whiteness" of the colors, increasing that effect the smaller the model is. One reference cites adding 23% white (or neutral gray) to a 1/144 model to simulate what you would perceive if the model were full size. Some model paint companies even formulate the colors to already compensate for the scale effect (at the most common scale for the paint in question). [Author's note: I'm a bit of a skeptic on this one.]



    Describing color to each other: But let's put all that aside and say I had, sitting at my desk, an exact, perfect, unaged copy of a paint from a 1918 SPAD 13. How do I communicate that color to you? A computer monitor makes a poor communication mechanism. For one thing, your monitor and my monitor would have to be precisely calibrated; otherwise what looks like bluish-green to me might look like yellowish-green to you. For another thing, your monitor and mine are both limited by the colors in the LEDs they use -- they can only show colors that are linear combinations of those three colors (the "gamut" of the monitor), and the gamut of monitors is much smaller than what a human can perceive. And -- even if we get the hue correct -- the brightness of the color probably varies depending on the monitor and the room lighting.

    The yellow triangle might represent colors colors your monitor can produce; the whole colored area represents colors a human eye can perceive.
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    Probably the best we can do is to communicate via commercially-available paint and ink colors. There are a lot of different color books and standards and fan decks and web sites with paint and ink chips (though the most popular one for WWI colors, the Methuen Handbook of Colour, has been out of print for a long time). Some of the hobby paint manufacturers are kind enough to include more detailed color information and/or translation tables (though they frequently change their formulations). But even Pantone (a big commercial color firm) recommends replacing their color-chip books every two years to avoid aging. (Which is no doubt lucrative for them as well as scientific). And most commercial paint companies change their paint selection and/or formulation every few years.

    My hope is to describe a color and where it was used, tell the source of that color description (e.g. "Windsock Datafile 39, Junkers J.I, says the Purple/Mauve used on the upper surfaces was Methuen 15D4/15E2/15E3/17F8/18D4/18D6 or FS595 37100/37144") and translate that into various other forms, e.g. closest commercial paints (both hobby [e.g. Humbrol & Vallejo] and house paints [which come with handy, free chips from the store]), closest RGB values, standards (RAL Standard, British Standard, Federal Standard 595, CIELab), etc. I'll be using sources such as Windsock, a copy of Methuen, and a Nix color sensor to try to put together some of this data. (And of course any help is appreciated.)

    Again, when it comes to historical paint color, there is no perfectly-correct match -- the goal is to just get close and say, "good enough!"
    Last edited by ReducedAirFact; 09-03-2016 at 22:46.

  2. #2

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    Great post Daryl!

    When I have talked to friends about adjusting color to scale they look at me like I'm from the moon. A nice 1/144 and 1/200 scale guide would be wonderful. I usually paint by picking what my eye feels is close but a guide would help for more closer historical matching.

  3. #3

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    Daryl, for unadjusted comparing various systems, at least WWII and modern, you might take a look at Paint4Models.net --their chart does have RGB's too.
    Wings of Glory WWI Checklist | WGF Nexus Ser. 1-4 and Ares Ser. 1-2 + 5-9 COMPLETE, RDS 4/4, Specials COMPLETE
    Wings of Glory WWII Checklist | WGS Nexus Ser. 1-2 and Ares Ser. 3-6 COMPLETE, DS 4/4, SS 4/4, Specials COMPLETE

  4. #4

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    very interesting article dealing with perception!!!

  5. #5

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    Really excellent & informative post Daryl!

    My only comment is the colour on this SE 5a is definitely way too Green!

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    "Its a fine line indeed between going out in a Blaze of Glory or having Crashed & Burnt!"
    Member Australian Society of WW1 Aero Historians

  6. #6

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    Yeah, maybe it's just my eyes but I think the color of the grASS is off.

  7. #7

    Guntruck's Avatar Central England Command Squadron Leader & Librarian
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    Quote Originally Posted by gully_raker View Post
    Really excellent & informative post Daryl!

    My only comment is the colour on this SE 5a is definitely way too Green!

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    What SE5a?
    Run for your life - there are stupid people everywhere!

  8. #8

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    Sorry - there is a plane in the photo?
    Now, in an effort to sort all this colour matching issue out, I am more than happy to volunteer to match the fleshtones..

    Never knowingly under gunned !

  9. #9

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    Plausibility is the best we can hope for when it comes to historical accuracy.

    I'm lucky that I live next to a museum that has original aircraft with original paint jobs, plus some restored using original paints. I try to make the models look "about the same". The thing that I most notice is just how slapdash combat schemes are. Lines are rarely neat, colours vary from front to back, finish at the finest level can vary quite a bit, enough to be visible on a 1/200 or 1/144 model.

  10. #10

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    So I ask all you avid re-painters out there... what in your opinion is the closest commercially available colour for the RFC green paint scheme, also what about underwing?
    As someone who has never repainted neither used anything other than 'official' miniatures but is looking to go down the Valom route with some SE5a kits (do they come with the naked mechanic?) I would appreciate peoples thoughts.

    Never knowingly under gunned !

  11. #11

    Skafloc's Avatar Northern Command Squadron Leader.
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    But it's not a Bristol Chris.

    Quote Originally Posted by Hedeby View Post
    Sorry - there is a plane in the photo?
    Now, in an effort to sort all this colour matching issue out, I am more than happy to volunteer to match the fleshtones..
    See you on the Dark Side......

  12. #12

    Skafloc's Avatar Northern Command Squadron Leader.
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    Pardon my ignorance and laziness, but do we have a paint comparison chart on the forum showing for example......
    RFC pc10 by games workshop/Vallejo/rec
    ME109 green/grey rec

    I'm always struggling to get a colour match.
    See you on the Dark Side......

  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by Skafloc View Post
    Pardon my ignorance and laziness, but do we have a paint comparison chart on the forum showing for example......
    RFC pc10 by games workshop/Vallejo/rec
    ME109 green/grey rec

    I'm always struggling to get a colour match.
    ooh where is it?

    Never knowingly under gunned !

  14. #14

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    I enjoyed your post above, Daryl - a nice explanation of the vagaries of our perceptions surrounding colors...

    Like Zoe mentioned, it helps to have a museum 'around the corner' to be able to consult, especially if they're doing a good job on their restoration work. But not all have that luxury, unfortunately. That's why it's so nice folks share so many pictures here on the forum.

    I've always been lucky (so I've been told by others) to have a 'good eye for color' - but I really look forward to this thread's development. Hopefully this will get to the point where, as Neil mentions, we have a 'chart' of some sort that gives us parameters for 'matching' acceptable commercially available modeling colors to our paint schemes. The closer we can get to out-of-the-bottle paint choices, the easier it will be for those hesitant to attempt a repaint to do so.

    All the best,
    Matt

  15. #15

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    Hi Chris

    re: my 85 Squadron SE5as

    I used Vallejo "Brown Violet" for PC10, and Games Workshop "Bleached Bone" for the underside of the wings.

    Recently, though, I have started to substitute a range of "authentic" WW1 colours from Italy (sorry, I can't make out the company logo on the pots!).
    I have
    "NIVO RFC/RAF" (late war green, a greener shade than the Vallejo)
    "FOKKER OLIVE GREEN"
    "ALBATROS PALE BLUE"
    "CLEAR DOPED LINEN RFC/RAF"
    "GERMAN CLEAR DOPED LINEN"
    "GERMAN JASTA 10 YELLOW"
    "GERMAN SKY BLUE"
    "GERMAN PFALZ SILBERGRAU"

    I'm really happy with them.
    Steve (Guntruck) put me onto these - they come from a metal rod factory in Dorset "Albion Alloys", which does a side line in radio-controlled Biplanes!
    I'll try to find the link if you're interested.

  16. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hedeby View Post
    So I ask all you avid re-painters out there... what in your opinion is the closest commercially available colour for the RFC green paint scheme, also what about underwing?
    o produce 100 gallons of PC 10 this was required:

    Nitro-cellulose syrup * * 260 pounds
    Pigments (*) * * * * * * * * 74 pounds
    Castor oil * * * * * * * * * * *50 pounds

    * pigments for the 74 *lb was made of:

    Yellow Ochre * 640 ounces
    Umber * * * * * *480 ounces
    Red ochre * * * *40 ounces
    Chinese blue * * 24 ounces

    The piments were ground with the castor oil to which was added :

    Acetone or Methyl ethyl ketone * 20 gallons
    Amyl acetate or butyl * * * * * * * *15 gallons
    Benzol * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *15 gallons
    Methylated spirit * * * * * * * * * * *15 gallons

    Source:

    *" W.W.I British Aeroplane Colours and Markings"
    by Bruce Robertson. Published by Albatros Productions 1996.

    the following recipe for PC10 manufactured by the Ripolin Paint Company:

    Nitro-Cellulose syrup * * *232 lbs
    Butyl or Amyl Acetate * *15 gallons
    Alcohol * * * * * * * * * * * *15 gallons
    Benzol * * * * * * * * * * * * 15 gallons
    Acetone * * * * * * * * * * * 20 *gallons
    Caster oil * * * * * * * * * * 52 lbs
    Pigment * * * * * * * * * * * 150 lbs

    the pigment comprised:

    Yellow Ochre (natural yellow iron oxide) * * 142 lbs
    Lampblack * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 8 lbs

    The yellow ochre and lampblack conform to the original patents.

    Now, the iron oxide, depending upon its purity could vary in colour from yellow to well past orange. In fact the patent specified the purity to use to be not less than 30% Fe2O3. The higher the percentage of Fe2O3, the darker brown the final colour.


    If upon mixing the PC10, the colour was found not to match the ministry colour chart, it was customary at Ripolin to add a small quantity of *red or brown pigment until the match was made.

    The Ripolin research was carried out by Ian Huntley whilst he was leader of the Specifications Committee of the Historic Aircraft Maintenance Group.

    There were apparently about 5 or 6 different recipes for PC10 depending upon manufacturer, and the pigment was mixed into shrinking and non-shrinking dope of various types, and also mixed with varnish. The patent however, specified natural iron oxide and lampblack.

    --
    See http://www.theaerodrome.com/forum/showthread.php?t=2689

    So... commercially, get some yellow ochre, add a touch of black. Then a hint of some light green to simulate the green shift, or a bit more yellow ochre.

    Or use yellow ochre. some umber, a hit of red and a smidgin of blue.

  17. #17

    Dom S's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flying Helmut View Post
    Recently, though, I have started to substitute a range of "authentic" WW1 colours from Italy (sorry, I can't make out the company logo on the pots)
    I'll try to find the link if you're interested.
    That sounds like Mister Kit - I haven't gotten any yet, but their reputation is excellent indeed - I seem to recall their French colours were formulated with extensive referral to Alan Toelle's research, which makes them about as good as you can get....

    Dom.

    PS - For my take on PC10, I've long been a fan of 2 parts Vallejo Russian Uniform to 1 Part Burnt Umber.

  18. #18

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    Great thread! Thanks for the insight.

  19. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by gully_raker View Post
    Really excellent & informative post Daryl!

    My only comment is the colour on this SE 5a is definitely way too Green!

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    they totally nailed the pilot though !!!!!!!

  20. #20

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    but do we have a paint comparison chart on the forum showing for example
    Well, I did this chart up showing different hobby paint colours to the currently accepted best RLM paint chips (Merrick) (it's stickied just four topics above this one):
    http://www.wingsofwar.org/forums/sho...mparison-chart

    AND if you look on my links page you will find a number of useful links to resources about colour (WW2 only) and a Excel spread sheet that gives hobby paint mixes for various WW2 nations:
    http://www.petersplanes.com/links.htm

  21. #21

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    So very much with the idea behind this post.

  22. #22

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    in printed materials they use something called the pantone index to reproduce colours perfectly.
    each colour is reduced to a number representing the content of each primary colour; yellow cyan and magenta
    and this way a perfect match to the original can be achieved.

    thing is every piece of printed materials is made with the exact same ink.
    the problem here seems to be having to compare colours from different colour index conventions.

    what is needed here is convention.

    maybe it could help to instead of using 'gaming paints' like vallejo etc. to use paints intended for model kits.
    model kits tend to be real world historical objects and that hobby has been going on for so long that some of the
    older companies must have achieved a high degree of accuracy in reproducing those colours seen on commercial and military
    vehicles.
    whereas gaming paints have been designed to make look realistic all kinds of fantasy elements like orc skin and stuff like that.

    revell comes to mind.
    they have been around for ages and their colours are even named after the paints used originally i think
    and they produce models of all kinds from all kinds of time periods. and like all model companies do they have a
    strong emphasis on ww2 stuff.

  23. #23

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    Daryl,

    Your the man.

    One lesson I learned in the Navy. Give a 30 guys a new uniform and in two weeks they will be 30 different colors.
    When painting bulkheads always use the same batch number because even though it is the same color its not if using different batch number.

    There is no one color for PC10.

    What color was that SE5a?

  24. #24

    Boney10's Avatar South Western Command Squadron Leader.
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    I use Revel paints for my WW2 planes and Revel Beige for doped linen for WW1. Get them from a local Hobby craft

  25. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by john snelling View Post
    What color was that SE5a?
    At least some of it was "Buff"!

  26. #26

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    I use MrKit 90% of the time . I figure it's as close as anything else



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