Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Where is white in the paint fan deck?

Occasionally, people ask where to find white and black paints in Colorjive. The blackest black is S 9000-N in the NCS fan deck. The whitest white is S 0300-N. But that black isn't as black as the darkest parts of the monitor. And the white is not as light as monitor white. How can that be?
The short answer is: there is no such thing as an absolute black or white. What we call white is generally the lightest color we can see. And we call the darkest color black. So, when viewing colors on the monitor, a pixel that blasts out all 256 levels of light in Red, Green and Blue is perceived as white. If a pixel doens't emitt any light, it is perceived as black.
If you compare the monitor white to a white paper, you'll notice that it is not the same. The paper might actually be lighter, depending on the ambient light. And magically, the color you first perceived as white on the monitor changes to grey when viewed next to a lighter piece of paper. That's because your eyes just adapted to the new situation.
So where does that leave us with regard to paint? In theory, white paint should reflect all light 100%. Black paint should reflect no light at all. But such paint doesn't exist. Paint manufacturers try to come as close as they can but will never achieve 100% result.
The NCS color code already shows the flaws. In NCS, absolute white should have a color code starting with the number 00, which indicates it contains no black at all. But in fact, the best possible white in NCS has the number 03, which means it contains 3% black and 97% white. And this is a color that is already quite difficult to achieve in paint.
NCS black has the number 90, which means 90% black and 10% white. So the blackest paint the industry can come up with, still contains 10% white.

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