Question About Colours

Do the paint jobs on cars seem much more rich or vivid nowadays than they used to? I mean, (to me at least) the reds somehow seem “redder”, the blues somehow seem “bluer” than they used to.

For example, of the primary colours, what is the “red-est” that red can be? Is there a scientific measurement or standard that defines the colour red, independent of a person’s individual perception of what the colour red is or should be?

And would this have any bearing on people who are colour-blind, say between green and red? Could such a colour-blind person even know what the colour red looks like, or what the colour green looks like in the first place?

If a person could see reds but not greens, (and called a green object red), and if another person corrected him and told him it was green, would this have any meaning at all to the colour-blind person, since he’d never seen the colour green in the first place?

Some companies are starting to use think layers of preformed latex that stretch over that car instead of paint. I’ll try and dig up the article. Maybe that’s why.

There’s the CIE chromaticity diagram, as well as the human eye’s stimulus response curve. The “red-est” color would consist of wavelengths above the response curve of the S and M cones’ response, i.e., 630nm and above.

I’d imagine that would be due to a combonation of consumer demand for more vivid colors (along with more vivid looking cars in general, just look at how some cars have evolved over the years) along with better paints, longer lasting paints, clear coats etc…

The “redness” isn’t a matter of a wavelength around 700nm, but one more of saturation. How much red can they squeeze into a can of paint? It’s also not just simply pigment saturation - other considerations are the purity of the paint’s “vehicle,” absence of any contaminating pigments, (ie: no green in the red paint) and anything that goes on top - ie: clear coat that is truly clear. For the most part, it seems to be a combination of several technical advances in paint manufacturing that have added up to yield “brighter” paint.

As for the layer of latex idea, I have to say “Cite?” on that. I can’t envision latex lasting more than a few months under exposure to atmospheric pollution and physical damage. Perhaps what you’re thinking of are the “wrappers” that advertisers use - they typically use a urethane-based self-adhesive film such as 3M’s Scotchcal. This stuff is durable enough that 3M puts a 5-year warranty on it.

How would a decline in the saturation of a red hue be due to something other than it reflecting wavelengths shorter than 630 nm?

I can only provide input to one part of the OP:

I would say that it is a matter of there being more cars out there painted in the brighter colors. That is to say, it’s more noticeable now.

For instance, back in the early 1970s, Chrysler had a number of special, very bright and saturated colors for their sporty cars & supercars. There was Ultraviolet/Panther Pink, bright lime-green, etc. Also American Motors had their AMXs and Javelins available with really bright paints…I think they were preceded by the term “Grabber.” As in Grabber Blue. I won’t swear to the actual name, but they were pretty bright.

However, there were two things about this:

  1. These colors were only on the sporty cars; they were not available on a lot of the manufacturer’s models.
  2. Some colors, like really bright red, eye-searing red, were not used by any one for instance (as best I can remember). So I do believe that there is a greater variety of intense, or saturated, colors available today.

But they definitely had them even way back then.

Maybe it’s not the color but coating over the color. There’s red and then there’s super ultra glossy red with a clearcoat over it.
Paints have also gotten better over the years to resist fading and retain the shine.

This also reminds me that the computer graphics community has done some interesting work on recreating the appearance of the surface of modern cars. Here is an example of some of the results.

And wouldn’t older cars have faded paint anyways, even if they were burn-your-eyes-out neon to start with?

The finish on cars lasts a lot longer now than it did 20 years ago. I don’t see as much severe fading now. New cars had nice bright finishes before, but in five years they lost a lot of lustre.

As for standards, there are many but I think the best known color standards in industry are the Pantone standard colors.


Just to muddy up the colors a bit… it should be noted that color vision isn’t just a matter of wavelength = color. Researchers at Polaroid discovered that color is really a decision by the brain based on the all the information in the visual field. I wish I could find a summary of the experiement online. As I remember it, they used a large display of variously colored tiles and three projectors putting out red, blue, and yellow light. They set all three at the same level so they combined to make “white” light and then measured how much red light a purple tile was reflecting and how much yellow and how much blue. Then they blocked off all the tiles except a brown one and set the projectors one at a time so the brown tile reflected back the same amount of red as the purple tile was previously reflecting, the same amount of blue, etc. and then removed the mask and turned on all three projectors. Surprise! The purple still looked purple, the brown still looked brown and all the colors looked as they should even though the projectors were no longer making white light.

My summary is weak (and confusing), but the experiment was fascinating. Any Dopers know about this experiment?


I don’t get this at all. Where in the OP did paint fading come in here?

I can see with 99% certainty that there is no production car in the world with that kind of “paint” system. I’ve never even heard of that on a concept car, and I follow the auto industry (and auto detailing industry, which is obviously very concerned with paint) closely.

To address this part, quite possibly telling someone “that’s red” wouldn’t make a difference, because it’d just look like tan or something, and the color-blind person wouldn’t be able to distinguish that tan from another tan. Here’s a webpage that tries to simulate colorblindness. As you can see from the examples, the “red-green colorblind” images look yellow-tan in those parts. That matches the explanation from a childhood friend who was colorblind (his mother was the rare form that saw in shades of gray only), who grabbed a brown colored pencil to fill in some color he couldn’t perceive correctly.

(My father had an odd form of colorblindness - the only confusion we ever identified with him was in certain shades of green and blue, but he’d call one the other name instead of saying it was gray or brown or something. He didn’t like to talk about it so I suspect there might have been much more to the problem than that.)

This article about the Causes of color is one of the better ones I have read.

As far as cars go, yes, there are cars that appear to have a deeper saturation of color, especially in the blues. This is not only my own observation, but is backed up by a * Modern Marvels* about paint.

You may have noticed the various irridescent finishes on cars. I saw a car recently that was deep purple, blue, and green all over. The exact color depended on viewing angle. This two is new. Back in the 80s there was a very expensive pinkish on whit iridescence availble as a customization, but I saw that only rarely.