The Language of Colour

yellow socks

Let me start you with a question….

Take a look at the picture of two rather crumpled socks.

Now how would you describe the difference in the colour between the two?

Would you say… is more yellow? One is darker? Or perhaps, one is more summery? Brighter, redder, greener……?

The simple fact is that there are many ways to describe a colour.

If you are shopping for clothes in your high street, the words you use to describe the colour do not really matter.

However, if you are a buyer or designer communicating with your garment supplier, then we are talking a whole new ball game! In that situation, the words you use are very important. This becomes even more so if, in the global textile market, your supplier is overseas and you are not communicating in their native language.

The way we communicate terms of colour is something we learn from our peers in industry, and can be greatly affected by whichever sector of the industry we are in.

If you are a designer or buyer, you may use words such as – darker, lighter, warmer, duller or vibrant. On previous projects, I have worked with designers who have also used phrases such as – “plummier”, “more sunshine”, “dirty”, and “washed out”.

As a technical dyer/printer, the words used to describe colour difference are quite different to those used by designers/buyers and, just to confuse the situation, while the words are different the meaning is the same. Here are a few examples:

Words a Designer/Buyer might use: Equivalent used by a Dyer/Printer:
Darker Full
Lighter Thin
Duller Flatter
Vibrant Bright

A dyer will also describe things as being yellower/greener/bluer or redder.

So, if we return to the socks at the top of this article and take the one on the right as the standard required, and the one on the left as the sample, you should be advising your dyer that the sample is thin, flat and green.

The temptation to say: “it’s lighter/more washed out/dirty looking” is difficult to resist – but these descriptions will not help you to let your supplier know where things need to be changed.

With the introduction of colour match prediction (CMP) systems, the ability to provide both standardised terminology and an actual measurement of the colour difference, is now readily available.

Unfortunately the technology is not yet widely used in design studios or buyers’ offices, so for now, we have to look at how, as humans, we describe colour.

The industry is always looking towards achieving right-first-time processing to increase efficiencies and reduce costs – and in a global textile industry, the pressure on manufacturers for faster production and delivery is always increasing.

The demand to be efficient in the colour submission and approval stage is especially high. The first step is to work with reputable suppliers; the second step is to be able to communicate with them in a correct and efficient manner.

Speaking the same ‘colour language’ of your supplier is key to getting the results needed to compete in a fast paced industry.


Coloursmith Ltd offer training courses to the textile industry, including Colour Communication and Colour Management.

We also offer Colour Deficiency Testing (Ishihara, Munsell 100 Hue) to help you achieve effective colour communication and appraisal procedures, to gain time and cost efficiencies.

Contact us for more information:


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