Pantone, RAL and NCS: what are the differences between these color charts?

At first glance, the world of colors seems very clear. There are the basic colors: red, yellow and blue and there are the “non-colors” black, white and gray. By mixing the basic colors, there are many other variations. If you mix yellow and blue, for example, a green tone will be created, while blue and red will produce purple tones. Since the base colors can be mixed in a wide variety of proportions and can also be lightened or darkened in a wide variety of shades using the non-colors, there is ultimately an almost endless number of possible color shades.

If you don’t already know, there are different ways to work with colors as well as several existing repository swatches. These references are different according to the country and according to the applications: printing, decoration, architecture, etc. To be able to work with professionals in these markets, it is necessary to adapt to their codes and adopt their references.

What is a color chart?

The wide spectrum of colors that you have available when designing your home for example is a good thing on the one hand, but on the other hand it can be quite confusing. The incredible number of colors and their variations can also lead to communication problems. Unfortunately, when a customer orders a blue facade paint, it’s anything but a clear wish, given that there are theoretically an endless number of shades of blue. In order to put more order in this “chaos” and to make the selection reasonably clear, so-called color systems have been developed. By this we mean a limited palette of clearly defined selected colors, in other words: a color chart.

Have you never seen a color chart? Are you sure? Have you never seen this kind of fan that opens up to countless colors? Swatches provide a complete overview of a defined color space. That is, by opening it, you discover color cards or color sample cards, which allows you to choose one or to associate several relatively easily. As soon as you want to professionally treat colors, their effects and their combinations, the color chart is the tool you need to have. It is a “must have” – ​​whether in the print shop, communication agency, hardware store or paint shop. Color charts provide an overview of colors for a wide variety of applications and materials.

When do we need a color chart?

You have just built your house. The roof is installed, the windows too, all you have to do is worry about the wall covering, whether it is your exterior facades or your floors and ceilings and interior walls. This is when the word color chart comes back and comes back again. RAL, do you think you’ve heard, but what does it really mean?

You have just reached an agreement with a communication agency about your wedding invitation. The in-house designer has done a good job and you are happy with your invitation. It therefore goes to print. And your interlocutor has just put Pantone in the discussion. He even just said he was going to get his Pantonier. But what exactly is a Pantone color chart?

You are in a car garage. You will have that on the counter is casually laid an NCS color chart? Is there the slightest link with body painting?

What are the main types of color charts?

The three best-known examples of standardized color palettes, in other words, color charts are the RAL, Pantone and NCS color systems. Today, RAL, Pantone and NCS colors are ubiquitous, especially in manufacturing or printing processes. Which one we choose to use depends mainly on the project we are leading and the way we work.


What is the Pantone Matching System? The “Pantone Matching System” or in its abbreviated form: PMS, is an internationally recognized color system that allows precise assignment of colors using a coding system. The Pantone color system was developed in 1993 by the American company of the same name and has since established itself as the international standard in the printing and design industry. With the Pantone matching system, all colors are obtained from the mixture of 14 base colors. The “Pantoniers” are presented as fans marked with many colors. The basic color mixing ratio is mentioned for each shade as well as the type of paper the colors are printed on – uncoated, matt and gloss. The same color recipe is used for printing on different types of paper. However, the appearance of a color may vary depending on the paper printed. The goal in creating the Pantone Matching System was not to achieve a consistent color appearance regardless of the media, but to print different types of paper with a consistent color recipe. The special Pantone colors are therefore not only identified with their own numbers, but also with a corresponding abbreviation for the paper.


Of German origin, RAL (Reichsausschuß für Lieferbedingungen) is one of the existing references in terms of color charts. There are several RAL systems but the two best known are Classic and Design. These are color charts based on the same 40 basic colors for 80 years. This color chart, with more than 210 colors, is very often used in industry, construction and also the automobile. It is especially used for paint colors. RAL color charts are just as popular today as they were in the 1930s. And the more than 200 colors defined in the RAL color chart are now familiar colors: must-haves. The standardization of RAL colors has the enormous advantage, as with other color charts, of considerably simplifying communication about the different color tones. In sales situations, the supplier and the customer can use the color numbers to clearly and unambiguously determine the color in which a product is to be delivered. In the first place, the clear definition of the color shade means that it can be produced exactly everywhere. It also greatly facilitates subsequent painting and touch-ups.

Some of the colors in the RAL palette are well known. Don’t you know the burgundy-purple of our passport covers, recognizable among all? This is the RAL 4004 reference!


The NCS is a color classification system of Scandinavian origin. Today it is used as a standard in countries such as Sweden, Norway and Spain. It is established according to three criteria: the “blackness” of the color, its saturation and its hue. In steps of ten, he first determines the amount of black in the color. Then his “strength”. And finally the combination of blue, red, yellow or green composing it.

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