Americhrome
May 4, 2011 9:02 AM   Subscribe

Americhrome: The color that has come to signify America in today’s combat theaters isn’t the red, the white, or the blue picked by Betsy Ross, but an ignoble sandy hue commonly referred to as desert tan and officially identified as Federal Standard 595 Color No. 33446. The official swatch of desert tan is housed in Franconia, Va., just outside Washington’s beltway, in a warehouse filled with the rest of the federal government’s certified color chips. From there, for $625, you can purchase a complete set of the 650 three-by-five-inch cards that define the colors covering the vast majority of items purchased by the Federal Acquisition Service, a $50 billion subsection of the General Services Administration, which acts as a kind of equipment manager for federal agencies around the country...
posted by jim in austin (34 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
And before anyone starts complaining about the $625 price tag, note that the Pantone Reference Library goes for $609.99 on Amazon.

Colors are expensive.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:12 AM on May 4, 2011


I'll sell you a color that's almost as good for only $19.95.
posted by theodolite at 9:14 AM on May 4, 2011


Well, at least now I know where to find that pallid, bilious federal office green next time I redecorate...
posted by jim in austin at 9:21 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Paging Hubertus Bigend to the courtesy Federal Standard 595 Color No. 33446 phone.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:25 AM on May 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


With almost everything done digitally, what do people use these cards for?
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:28 AM on May 4, 2011


These colors don't run... cheap.
posted by Trurl at 9:32 AM on May 4, 2011 [12 favorites]


With almost everything done digitally, what do people use these cards for?

Even digital printing doesn't guarantee the output color will match the standard.
posted by tommasz at 9:37 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


The new combat theater color may be desert tan, but growing up in the '70s, for me, the color of combat fatigues will always be olive drab, which conveniently worked well in my Wisconsin woods. Any other color on a field jacket just looks like it's trying to hard.
posted by quin at 9:42 AM on May 4, 2011


Looks almost like fucking Sandstone Cove, which is my brother's favorite color that he paints EVERYTHING with.
posted by sperose at 9:47 AM on May 4, 2011


Colors are expensive.

Consistent, calibrated and certified colors are expensive. Printing them is the cheap part. Proving that they're an accurate reference is the hard part. You can't just trust process or sampling, you have to check every one of the reference colors to be correct -- never mind the detail work needed to trace your calibration devices back to a standard. In the US, this is often something at NIST, and if you have a NIST certified calibrated scale, there is paperwork tracing every step of that calibration back to K20, the Official US Kilogram Standard.

That's what makes *standards* expensive. It's not the initial cost, it's that they are provable actual representations of what they represent, so that when you make eight million gallons of paint for the US Army, you will have some way to make sure that the color is correct and your eight million gallons of paint isn't rejected for being out of spec.
posted by eriko at 9:53 AM on May 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


With almost everything done digitally, what do people use these cards for?

Making the colors on a screen match what's on the page is really quite difficult. Add in the fact that monitor calibration can vary widely, having a reference color is ideal. It would really suck to spend a bunch of money on a print run where the image looked fine on a monitor but horrible in person.

(That's one thing I miss about CRTs--at least you had a chance of calibrating them to something amounting to the same colorspace. On LCDs it's way more difficult, probably why some color calibration software runs four figures.)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:01 AM on May 4, 2011


Americhrome

You give us those nice big 'splosions
You give us the blood on walls
Makes you think all the world's a McDonald's Cafe oh yeah!
I got a helmet mounted camera
I love to take a photograph
Of Osama when I blow him away
posted by nomisxid at 10:02 AM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Even digital printing doesn't guarantee the output color will match the standard.

Yeah. The point is that the designer can specify, say Pantone 187 on uncoated paper and expect the print shop to produce output that matches the chip (that's the theory anyway). On the other side, the print shop knows to mix their inks to match a set standard and they can check the output against the chip to see that they've got it right. If they match and the client doesn't like the result, the problem is demonstrably not the printer's fault. Without some kind of standard, they could spend all day arguing about it.
posted by zachlipton at 10:09 AM on May 4, 2011


#A38C6C, in case you were wondering.
posted by condour75 at 10:34 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Making the colors on a screen match what's on the page is really quite difficult.

Oh gods. And don't even try to explain to a client the difference between how colors look on a computer monitor which is backlit and the reflective color nature of ink on paper. Or how you can take the same color same out into the sun and have it look like an entirely different color than it looks under indoor lighting.. Or, or, or....

Gaaa. I did some web design work for one of those "here are all the touristy things in town" magazines in Sedona for a brief time, and in the few weeks I was in-house, the regular parade of (apparently) long-time clients who would come storming in the door FURIOUS about how the large-format transparency of that thing in their gallery didn't look at ALL like was published on paper, and then they'd have to be sat down and educated about how color changes in various settings and sources... And even then, I got the impression that this had all been shared with these people over... and over... and over....
posted by hippybear at 10:48 AM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Making the colors on a screen match what's on the page is really quite difficult.

~Insert one of a bajillion conversations with clients looking at a concept on their cheap, uncalibrated Office Max monitor.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:54 AM on May 4, 2011


I know where that warehouse is!

*begins plotting stupidest supervillain heist ever*
posted by JoanArkham at 10:57 AM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


I HEF ZTOLEN JOOR GOLD.
posted by longbaugh at 11:06 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


The official swatch of desert tan is housed in Franconia, Va., just outside Washington’s beltway, in a warehouse filled with the rest of the federal government’s certified color chips.

We have top men working on it right now.
posted by 7segment at 11:09 AM on May 4, 2011


From the article:

When I asked [Randall Schober, head of the Federal Aquisition Services' paint team] if he had a favorite color, he took a considered pause and said, “No.”
posted by Scientist at 11:15 AM on May 4, 2011


These guys have a nice color chart with RGB values (disclaimered as approximations). Nice to see that price competition hasn't yet settled into the public sector as their enveloped, boxed set of 3"x5" QA-quality chips will run you $975 though their fan set ("some colors slightly incorrect, not for QA or inspection") will only cost ya two benjamins.

Interesting article: nice work tracking some of the iconic colors down.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:17 AM on May 4, 2011


I don't know if this has been posted on MeFi already, but xkcd's color survey last year was fascinating -- all about what people call various colors. (also: no one can spell fuchsia)
posted by epersonae at 11:27 AM on May 4, 2011


I wonder if "The Blue" happens to be a Federal Standard 595 color?
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:28 AM on May 4, 2011


We have top men working on it right now.

Who?
posted by longbaugh at 11:52 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


quin: The new combat theater color may be desert tan, but growing up in the '70s, for me, the color of combat fatigues will always be olive drab, which conveniently worked well in my Wisconsin woods. Any other color on a field jacket just looks like it's trying to hard.

Heh, that's a good way of putting it. That's the color that I associated with the military, growing up at the end of the Vietnam era and for several years near Fort McCoy in Wisconsin. I think that the official issue combat fatigues changed to camouflage not too long after the movie Stripes came out, and I always associated that with Reagan-era Ramboesque jingoism. I went through a period where plain olive drab pants were my work pants of choice.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:53 AM on May 4, 2011


Top. Men.
posted by 7segment at 12:12 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Top. Men.

It's a relief to know there are some out there someplace. All I can find on via craigslist personals are bottoms.
posted by hippybear at 12:17 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


We have top men working on it right now.

Dammit, Chloe, I said desert tan!
posted by Gridlock Joe at 12:22 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dammit, Chloe, I said desert tan!

I'll just open a port to node 3 and reconfigure our protocols for desert tan operation while I remotely access every security camera in the world.
posted by zachlipton at 12:49 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


When I worked for a check printing company as their custom check specifications person, I put in bold on every email with a digital image that the colours weren't reliable, and we were sending the proof via email so they could check the positioning of things (like their logo), not the colours.

The most interesting thing I learned working there was that (according to Pantone anyway) blue-green and green-blue are the same colour, but nobody actually believes you when you tell them that.
posted by joannemerriam at 12:52 PM on May 4, 2011


The most interesting thing I learned working there was that (according to Pantone anyway) blue-green and green-blue are the same colour, but nobody actually believes you when you tell them that.

Probably because Crayola says different.
posted by hippybear at 1:11 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can buy a fan deck for $158. I have one!

Oh please, do not get me started on color accuracy on monitors vs. 4 color printing or spot color printing. I had a client a couple of years ago who were so freaking clueless about this and could not understand why the orange on their digitally-printed 4 color business cards didn't look as bright as the monitor. I let the account person deal with it, she nearly killed me for that.
posted by Mcable at 1:24 PM on May 4, 2011


Huh, didn't know anything so important was in that warehouse. It's a pretty non-descript place, close to the Metro station.
posted by smoothvirus at 2:27 PM on May 4, 2011


Huh, didn't know anything so important was in that warehouse.

There are many important things held in non-descript government warehouses. They're all non-descript. Security through obscurity, after all.
posted by hippybear at 2:44 PM on May 4, 2011


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