RAL Color System: What Is It and What Is It Used For?

RAL Color System guide used to match and reference colors

Green beige, oyster white, sand yellow, rape yellow and olive yellow are some of the colors you might come across when referring to RAL colors, a color matching system that is popular in the European region.

In the world of painting, its main use is for varnish and powder coating for effect and design, and it is used mainly for color communication in:

  1. Architecture
  2. Road safety
  3. Construction
  4. Industry
  5. Recreation

The German State Commission for Delivery Terms and Quality Assurance developed the system patterned after printing’s used system, the Pantone colors. Now the Central European Color Standard uses the RAL color chart as reference to define color standards in the service areas mentioned above. The system allows for a wider color spectrum where additional modification to suit specific preferences can be made.

The RAL Color System

RAL color wheel on black background

A collection of 40 colors called the RAL 840 was introduced when the RAL color chart was first developed in 1927. It was relabeled to RAL 840 R as tints were added. This development changed the way manufacturers referred to colors, from physical exchange of samples in order to show a particular hue, to simply referring to numbers based on the chart.

By the early 1960s, the systems colors increased to 210 and the numbers, especially when accidentally transposed, caused some misunderstanding. The label was again revised to RAL 840-HR and the color names were modified for specific individuality.

Further System Improvement

RAL 841-GL with 193 RAL colors was introduced in the 1980s to include glossy surfaces, improving the previously matte paint exclusive RAL 840-HR.

These labels known as the RAL Classic became the top choice for important color requirements in the manufacture of warning and traffic signs in different organizations and public services, particularly those under the government.

Some examples of the RAL Classic use where shade is indicated by the first digit:

  1. Swiss Postal Service – RAL 1004
  2. Austrian Postal Service – RAL 1021
  3. German Postal Service – RAL 1032

Additional Use for the RAL Color Chart

Photo closeup of different RAL colors

RAL F9 was created in 1984 and is used by the German military for camouflage purposes. It has a collection of three colors, namely green bronze (RAL 6031), leather (RAL 8027) and tar (RAL 9021).

Despite the RAL colors’ existing labels, a new kind of color language under the system was created. This catered to the needs of the design, advertisement and architectural industry – the RAL Design Colors.

  • It has 1625 colors (previously 1688 but was revised and reduced).
  • It carries no names and no numbers patterned after the CIELAB colors.
  • A 7-digit code represents the colors, and the code is grouped in pairs of 3 or 2 to signify tone, brightness and saturation.
  • There is no interconnection between RAL Classic and RAL Design Colors.

RAL Digital software allows more creative applications in colors through the incorporation of Classic, Effect and Design. It is a tool that gives more creative freedom to interior decorators and architects.

For industrial applications, there is the RAL Effect with 420 solid colors, 70 of which are metallic in nature but are free of lead, chromates and cadmium.

As further aid for designers, a planning tool called RAL Color Feeling allowed a more professional touch and personal creation through color combination.

Putting a Stop to Confusion

The RAL Color System established a common color language that helped end the confusion and mix-ups when matching or mixing colors. With 40 standard colors for a start, the system now boasts over 1800 colors.