RAL is a colour matching system which is used throughout Europe. Often when people refer to RAL, they colloquially mean the RAL Classic System, which contains over 200 different colour tones and shades, ranging from white to black in its diversity. Traditionally, the RAL system was used as a reference for varnishes and powder coatings. However, in recent years, the system is now also used to reference plastics as well.

What is now known as RAL was conceived during 1927 in Germany, at this time it comprised a collection of 40 different colours under the moniker “RAL 840”. The system was devised in order to aid the communication of colour tones between individuals. Before the system was established manufacturers and customers alike had to exchange samples of a tint or colour to explain it. With the creation of the RAL 840, these individuals were now easily able to refer to tones and colours as numbers contained within the standardised system.

As the RAL tones, tints and shades contained within the system expanded during the 1930’s, the system was renamed “RAL 840R”, the R standing for revised. Under these changes, each of the colours was transferred to a uniform four digit system of recognition. By 1961 the system was once again revised, this time becoming the “RAL 840HR”. This is the system which remains in use to this day and contains some 210 different colours, tones and shades. A further change to the system which was adapted at this time was the addition of names to each of the colours, to avoid confusion, as digits were frequently wrongly recorded.

Again change occurred to the system. This time during the 1980s, this was because of the rise of glossy surfaces and finishes. Previously the “RAL 840HR” system had only referred to matt finishes. In order to overcome this obstacle, the “RAL 841 GL” was invented, which was limited to 193 colours in its scope.

In order to meet the needs of architects, designers and advertisers a new RAL system was created in 1993. Initially this system contained some 1688 colours, however this was later reduced to 1625 colours. This system differs from its predecessors as it bears no names and makes use of a scheme based on the CIELAB colour space. Under this system each colour has a 7 digit reference number, ordered as a triple and two doubles, this signifies hue, brightness and saturation respectively.

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