JARS v58n1 - Purplish Pink, Pink, the Oft-scorned Yellowish Pink, and Other Color-name Issues

Purplish Pink, Pink, the Oft-scorned Yellowish Pink, and Other Color-name Issues
Donald H. Voss
Vienna, Virginia

The reader interested in communicating perceptions of color is invited to refer to the December 1985 issue of The Azalean (Voss, 1985). The present article adds some detail on the origin of the Inter-Society Color Council - National Bureau of Standards (ISCC-NBS) Method of Designating Colors, provides illustrative common color names and RHS color-chart equivalents in the "pinks," and briefly addresses the color-name issues raised by a comparison of the four editions of the RHS Colour Chart.

At almost any meeting or encounter in which rhododendron azalea colors are discussed, one will hear dark and not-so-muted objections to names from the ISCC-NBS Method of Designating Colors. Foremost among the challenged terms is "yellowish Pink." How did this color name and others in the ISCC-NBS system come into being?

"Common" or vernacular color names are often not informative - indeed they are often completely baffling unless you know already what they designate. Consider, for example, the following names picked as horrible examples from among the 7,500 names in the Dictionary of Color Names in National Bureau of Standards Special Publication 440 (Kelly & Judd, 1976):
Cuisse de Nymphe
Intimate Mood
Lover's Knot
Because so many color names make so little sense, color specialists in the 1930s and 1940s devoted considerable effort to development of the ISCC-NBS system. The work originated in the need for systematizing names used in describing pharmaceuticals. The gauntlet was thrown down in 1921 when E.N. Gathercoal, a member of the U.S. Pharmacopoeial Revision Committee, protested the selection of certain color names, particularly "blackish White."

A decade later, Gathercoal became chairman of the newly founded Inter-Society Color Council. This group included representatives from industrial and professional groups concerned with textiles, ceramics, paints, psychology, illumination, paper and printing, graphic arts, optics, industrial design, and tanning. By 1949, the ISCC-NBS system was approved. Though many may raise their eyebrows at the suggestion, I believe that the system achieves the goal set by Gathercoal at the beginning of the quest:

"...a means of designating colors in the United States Pharmacopoeia...and in the general literature...such designation to be sufficiently standardized as to be acceptable and usable by science, sufficiently broad to be appreciated and used by science, art and industry, and sufficiently commonplace to be understood, at least in a general way, by the whole public."

In developing the ISCC-NBS system, modifications were made to the original scheme for division of the hue circle to factor in usage of the pharmaceutical industry, the textile industry, and the general public. According to National Bureau of Standards Special Publication 440, "Most of these improvements were achieved by introducing the terms pink, orange, brown, and olive...As a further concession to common usages, there is also included the following series of hue names applicable to very light colors only: purplish pink, pink, and yellowish pink."

The Pinks

In brief, pinks are the lighter colors in the hue range from reddish Purple though purplish Red, Red, and reddish Orange. A recent crossword puzzle suggested a way of looking at this. The clue was "starting to blush" and the answer was "pink." Think for a moment about blushing - it begins with a slight additional redness (Pink) suffusing one's skin tone, progressing to a deep Pink or Red depending on the degree of provocation. This progression (without the provocation) is reflected in the ISCC-NBS system. Once the outlines of the system are understood, the names are highly informative.

In the ISCC-NBS system, hue designations in the Yellow - Green - Blue - Violet - Purple range do not change as a color varies from dark to light or pale. Thus a certain Blue of medium chroma will vary from deep Blue through moderate Blue and light Blue to very light Blue as its lightness increases (see Figure 1). In the reddish Purple, purplish Red, Red, and reddish Orange hues, however, the hue component of the color name changes to one of the "pinks" above the "moderate" lightness level of the basic hue.

Some common color names that may assist in visualizing the relation of the various pinks and their basic hues are shown in Table 1. Drawn from the Dictionary of Color Names in Special Publication 440, the common color names are included only to suggest in a general way the nature of the color described by ISCC-NBS color names in the pinks. But note that while deep yellowish Pink may be described as Shrimp Pink, not all Shrimp Pink references found in the literature can be assigned to deep yellowish Pink!

Different color charts and color-name systems may use a given common name for different colors - or for more than one color in the ISCC-NBS system. For example, in Ridgway's color chart "La France Pink" is vivid Pink but in the Maerz and Paul color chart "La France Pink" is a moderate Pink in ISCC-NBS terms. This is one of the reasons for using names (from the ISCC-NBS method, for example) that are explicitly defined in a widely recognized system of color-space coordinates such as Munsell notation.

Table 1. Selected ISCC-NBS Color Names in the Purple - Red - Orange Hue Range
For each hue (for example, reddish Purple) in the tabulations below, color names are arranged as follows:
• Colors in the top row are the lightest, those in the bottom row the darkest of those shown here for illustrative purposes.
• Colors in the left-hand column are lowest in chroma, those in the right-hand column highest in chroma of those shown.
• Vernacular color names associated with listed colors are shown in smaller type.
(---> Increasing Chroma (color saturation) ---> )
very light purple brilliant purple
light purple brilliant purple vivid purple
moderate purple strong purple vivid purple
reddish Purple
light purplish pink
Rose Pink, Lilac Rose
brilliant purplish pink
Cameo Pink, Pink Carnation
moderate purplish pink
Orchid Pink
strong purplish pink
Deep Rose Pink
light reddish purple
Orchid, Crocus
deep purplish pink
Fuchsia Pink, Phlox Pink
moderate reddish purple
Mauve, Heliotrope
strong reddish purple
vivid reddish purple
Mallow Purple, True Purple
purplish Pink - purplish Red
light purplish pink
Rose Pink, Lilac Rose
brilliant purplish pink
Cameo Pink, Pink Carnation
moderate purplish pink
Orchid Pink
strong purplish pink
Deep Rose Pink
dark purplish pink
Clover Pink, Claret
deep purplish pink
Fuchsia Pink, Phlox Pink
grayish purplish red - moderate purplish red
Dusty Rose, Dull Lilac, American Beauty, Raspberry
strong purplish red
Bright Rose, Cherry
vivid purplish red
Fuchsia, Crimson
Pink - Red
light pink
Baby Pink, Almond Blossom
strong pink
Flamingo Pink
vivid pink
moderate pink
Flesh Color, Arbutus Pink
strong pink
Flamingo Pink
vivid pink
dark pink
Old Rose
deep pink
Eosine Pink
deep pink
Geranium Pink
grayish red
Ash Rose, Carmine Rose
moderate red
Blood Red, Cherry Red
strong red - vivid red
Scarlet, Flame Red - Tomato Red, Pimento
yellowish Pink - reddish Orange
light yellowish pink
Flesh Pink, Shell Pink
strong yellowish pink
Salmon, Peach
vivid yellowish pink
Melon Pink, Red Orange
moderate yellowish pink
Coral Pink, Peach Pink
strong yellowish pink
Salmon, Peach
vivid yellowish pink
Melon Pink, Red Orange
dark yellowish pink
Dusty Coral
deep yellowish pink
Shrimp Pink
deep yellowish pink
Shrimp Pink
grayish reddish orange
Ash Rose, Carmine Rose
moderate reddish orange
Burnt Orange
strong reddish orange - vivid reddish orange
Bright Coral Red - Lobster Red
Orange - brownish Orange
light orange brilliant orange vivid orange
moderate orange strong orange vivid orange
brownish orange deep orange vivid orange

Table 2. RHS66 Color Patches in the "Pinks"
purplish Pink Pink yellowish Pink
Pale 55D 56A,B 62D 65C,D 69A,B,C,D 73D 75C,D 76D 56C,D 27B,C 36D 49D
Light 55C 56B 62C 63D 65B 68D 70D 73C 75B 50D 26D 27A 29C,D 36A,B,C 37D 38C,D 39D 49C
Moderate 62B 65A 68C 73B 74D 75A 77D 78D 49B 51D 54D 26D 31D 33D 35D 37C 38B 39C
Dark 70C
Deep 55A 57D 58C 61D 64D 66C,D 67C 68A 72C,D 73A 47C,D 48A,B 50B 51B, 52B,C 54B 39B 41B 43C 44D
Strong 55B 58D 62A 63C 67D 68B 73B 48C,D, 49A 50C, 51C 52D 54C 31B,C 32C,D 33C 35C 37A,B 38A 41D
Vivid 30B,C 40D 41C
ISCC-NBS color-name
chart for Red ISCC-NBS color-name
chart for Blue
Figure 1. Examples of hue modifiers for selected colors in Blue and Red hue ranges.
ISCC-NBS color-name chart for Red; note modifiers (Pinks) for the lighter values. ISCC-NBS color-name chart for Blue; note modifiers for the lighter values.

ISCC-NBS Names for Colors of the RHS Colour Chart

For those who encounter Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) color-chart references to pink colors, Table 2 shows patch numbers from the 1966 edition of the RHS chart corresponding to the various "pink" color-name blocks in the ISCC-NBS system. Unfortunately, some in later editions of the 1995 RHS charts do not closely match their counterparts in the 1966 chart (see Voss & Hale, 1998, and Voss, 2002). A supplement to Huse & Kelly, 1984, lists the ISCC-NBS names for color patches in the 1966, 1985, 1995, and 2001 editions of the Royal Horticultural Society Colour Chart. This supplement is available from the Office of the Executive Director, American Rhododendron Society.

The color-name charts of the ISCC-NBS Method of Designating Colors (Kelly & Judd,1976) are defined in terms of Munsell notation, dividing the "color space" into only 267 color-name blocks. It is thus inevitable that several colors from a more finely divided sampling of color space (the RHS chart has 808 color patches) will bear the same ISCC-NBS color name. Consider also that the normal human vision system can distinguish some 5 million or more colors. Some of the ISCC-NBS color name blocks thus will include a fairly broad range of colors. But because the ISCC-NBS color names comprise readily understood words to characterize the hue, lightness, and chroma of colors, they convey more information and better facilitate visualization of a color than any other set of color-names.

Application of precisely defined color names inevitably encounters the "boundary" problem. When color names are assigned to parts of a color space, each color-name block must have boundaries designated for the attributes of color (for example, Hue, Value, and Chroma in the Munsell system). Although most colors will fall neatly inside one or another color-name block, the coefficient for one or more of the attributes may fall exactly on a boundary. In that case, according to the ISCC-NBS Method of Designating Colors, the color names of all color blocks touching that point are to be listed.

An Essential Caution

Because of the inter-edition color differences for certain patch numbers in the RHS chart, one should always specify the edition used (for example, RHS66, RHS86, RHS95, or RHS01) in addition to the number-letter combination identifying the selected color patch.

Endnote: A primary objective of this article is to enhance understanding and interpretation of the ISCC-NBS color names appearing in descriptions accompanying Rhododendron name registrations.

Galle, Fred C. 1985. Azaleas . Portland, OR: Timber Press.
Galle, Fred C. 1987. Azaleas . Revised and enlarged ed. Portland, OR: Timber Press.
Huse, R.D. & K.L. Kelly [ed. D.H. Voss]. 1984. A Contribution Toward Standardization of Color Names in Horticulture . The American Rhododendron Society Publications Committee.
Kelly, K.L. & Deane B. Judd. 1976. Color: Universal Language and Dictionary of Names . National Bureau of Standards Special Publication 440. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Voss, Donald H. 1985. Communicating Perceptions of Color. The Azalean 7(4):69-77.
Voss, Donald H. & William N. Hale. 1998. A Comparison of the Three Editions of the Royal Horticultural Society Colour Chart. HortScience 33(1):13-17.
Voss, Donald H. 2002. The Royal Horticultural Society Colour Chart 2001. Journal American Rhododendron Society 56(1):10-11.

Don Voss is a member of the Potomac Valley Chapter.