We all have our favorite colors. Maybe you’re a blue man while your neighbor likes his people eaters purple and your wife likes her monsters green. That’s all well and good, but the thing is, there’s a difference between these subjective assessments and the objective, highly scientific world of listicle ranking. What are the criteria for a truly great shade of visual light? Does it take a numerically provocative and controversial wavelength like 666 nm? Or is it being an egalitarian color like gray, which all sighted peoples can enjoy regardless of colorblindness? Maybe it’s being a part of famous holiday group like red and green at Christmastime? The truth is it’s not an easy question, and there are no bright line answers. Many factors make a great color, and no single aspect will put one over the top. That’s why we decided to defer to the experts for some real answers. After polling some of most well known and respected names in the field of color, we analyzed the results and came up with this short list of the Five Greatest Colors of All Time. Enjoy!
The color of cartoon suns, Texas roses and urine, where would the world be without this classic color? Would golden showers and tooth whitening kits still exist? Would America’s dog pounds incarcerate Labrador retrievers at a higher rate? Easily the most well known non-RGB color next to orange, yellow has long fascinated both scholars and laymen alike, and in fact yellow is among the oldest of colors.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but the Egyptians first discovered yellow nearly 5,000 years,” says Smithsonian Color Historian Theodore “Red” Pierce. “See, back then alcoholic beverages were very expensive and poorer Egyptians used to collect the urine of rich drunks and chug it in the hopes of catching a buzz. One day a curious Egyptian thought to look down at the collecting liquid and probably said to himself, ‘Just what the heck is that?’ This may seem hard to believe in the age of the modern flush toilet, but before that nobody even knew urine had a color since they pissed on the ground and their urine dispersed. It was a pretty big discovery at the time. There are actually several walls of hieroglyphics dedicated to the event in the Valley of the Kings. They thought the color was a gift from the sun god Ra.”
You either love it or hate it, but everyone has to admit orange has been an extremely influential, even revolutionary color, its work paving the way for the dozens of non-RGB colors that came on the scene after it.
“Because non-RGB colors are so ubiquitous in media and popular culture nowadays, it’s easy to forget that before orange non-RGB colors weren’t even allowed on television,” says Kodak Noted Scholar Alvin Pickens, a color expert and self-described orange-aholic. “When my grandmother was a child, orange was an outlaw color. People called it ‘Satanic’ because of its association with Halloween. Heck, you can still watch old newsreel ads with blue-colored citrus fruits. Of course everyone knew a tangerine was orange, but it just wasn’t proper to show it on television.”
Spanning “Gaia’s 75” between 495-570 nm, unless you live in the heart of a big city you really can’t spend much time outside without encountering a whole lot of green. Between leaves, vegetables and poorly chlorinated pools, green is everywhere, and its legacy cannot easily be disregarded. However, that wasn’t always the case.
“For a long time there was this mentality that green was ‘the ugly one’ of the RGB colors,” says C.W. Berne, grandson of the inventor of Technicolor and 4K HD TV activist. “People used to hate nature. They called it the ‘savage’s house’ and considered it a part of America’s ‘Manifest Destiny’ to convert every square inch of unused land into parking lots and strip malls. There was even a longstanding movement to ban the use of greens in public buildings and parks. One town in Ohio went so far as to paint all its grass red. Nowadays these notions seem quaint and maybe even a little silly to us, but back then it really held green back. It’s a testament to just how great this color is that it could stick around and make such a comeback in the modern era.”
The color of aristocratic blood, oxygen deprivation and France, even if blue isn’t your favorite color you have to give it grudging respect for sheer prolificness.
“Blue often gets a bad rap as being a hoity-toity color,” says Alfonse Jameson, Director of Color Studies at the Rhode Island School of Design. “We hear terms like blue blood and royal blue and think, ‘Oh, I guess blue is too good for me.’ That couldn’t be further from the truth. Blue comes in many shades that are perfectly accessible to the common man. I’m talking your baby blues, your sky blues, heck, even your robin’s egg blues. It’s actually a universal color, but people get turned off because it also embraces high society, and people take that to mean blue is exclusive.”
The ultimate classic. Nothing says red Ferrari like the color red. It’s the color of passion and love, of blood and vengeance, of menstruation and accidentally kneeing yourself in the nose drunkenly attempting a flip off the armrest of the couch. Whether it’s being used as the coloring for all the best candy flavors, as roses for that special someone or to paint an X on your neighbor’s front door, red is everything that makes us human, for better and for worse. A perennial powerhouse on critics’ best colors of the year lists, the choice of red has become something of a litmus test for good taste in colors.
“When I was first getting into this field, my mentor actually took me aside and told me, ‘Look, you have to write a paper on how great red is,’” says Jameson. “I took his advice seriously and, sure enough, my research paper, ‘Red: Greatest Color Ever,’ was very well received in peer review and managed to land me my first tenured position. I’m thankful for that, but sometimes I wonder what track my life would have taken if I had written it about yellow or green…or, god, even purple. Can you imagine?”