The Most Forbidden Color

The Most Forbidden Color

The fiery color red has long been controversial — so controversial, in fact, that it is commonly banned outright lest it inflame strong emotions, spark revolution, kindle anger, inspire boldness, instigate bloodshed, arouse lust, or provoke pain. Is it preposterous to think that a single color can be dangerous to society? Consider the following examples of forbidden reds from modern to ancient times. Then ask yourself: do you dare to use or wear the color red today? Is red worth the risk of arrest, imprisonment, or even a death sentence? Ultimately, is red (or any color) worth championing?


Director Michael Mann banned the color red from appearing in his film Miami Vice, as he has a personal dislike for red and other earth tones. (Source: New York Times.)

The American Civil Liberties Union reported the first known instance of an educational institution reacting to gang fears by banning a primary color. In reaction to school vandalism and the threat of violence, "officials at Round Rock High School in Texas banned the color red. ... Apparently the gang responsible for these incidents wore red—about forty students wearing red items were sequestered in the library, and the parents were called." (Source: Leland Gregory, Hey, Idiot!: Chronicles of Human Stupidity.)


In 1887, Chicago police banned the color red from labor union advertisements of the Knights of Labor. This was a colorful example of the anti-Communist "red scare." (Source: Economic History Encyclopedia.)

Daniels Farm Elementary School in Trumbull, Connecticut banned its teachers from using red ink to grade student homework. Apparently, parents objected to red as being "too stressful" and symbolic of negativity. "The disillusionment with red is part of a major shift in grading, and three top pen manufacturers have heard the complaints. As a result, Bic, Pilot Pen, and Sanford (the manufacturer of Papermate and Sharpie) are producing more purple pens in response to rising sales. According to Pilot Pen’s vice president of marketing, school leaders are 'trying to be positive and reinforcing rather than being harsh. Teachers are taking that to heart.'" (Source: Lisa Orlando, "The Ink That Teachers Use To Grade Papers Has Parents Seeing Red.")


The government of Saudi Arabia banned the color red around Valentine's Day, in a move to discourage Muslims from observing the Western holiday. Red flowers, plush hearts, wrapping paper, and other red items were illegal to sell. As a result of the ban on red roses, a black market has flowered. (Source: Saudi Gazette.)

In Israel, the color red was banned from kosher clothing stores. (Source:

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The Colors of Ancient Egypt

The Colors of Ancient Egypt

The roots of color technology trace back to Ancient Egypt, where visionary chemists concocted recipes for synthetic pigments. Color (Ancient Egyptian name 'iwen') was an essential part of life in ancient Egypt, adding deeper meaning to everything the people created. Paintings, clothing, books, jewelry, and architecture were all imbued with colorful symbolism. African historian Alistair Boddy-Evans explains that color "was considered an integral part of an item's or person's nature in Ancient Egypt, and the term could interchangeably mean color, appearance, character, being, or nature. Items with similar color were believed to have similar properties."

Egyptologist Anita Stratos informs us that the Egyptian palette had six colours:

photo by Cesras
img by Cesras
  • red (desher)
  • green (wadj)
  • blue (khesbedj and irtiu)
  • yellow (kenit and khenet)
  • black (khem or kem)
  • white (shesep and hedj)

Boddy-Evans notes that organic sources yielded two basic colors: crushed bones and ivory provided white pigment, and soot provided black. Red dye was produced from the dried bodies of female scale insects (family Coccidae, genus Kermes). Indigo and crimson pigments came from plants. Most other colors were made from mineral compounds, Stratos notes, "which is why they retained their vibrant colors throughout thousands of years."

Ancient Egyptians considered green to be a positive and powerful color, Egyptologist Geraldine Pinch notes (Magic in Ancient Egypt, 1995). It was associated with fertility, growth and regeneration. "A person was said to be doing 'green things' if his behavior was beneficial or life producing," Stratos says. "Wadj, the word for green, which also meant to flourish or be healthy, was used for the papyrus plant as well as for the green stone malachite. Green malachite was a symbol of joy. In a larger reference, the phrase 'field of malachite' was used when speaking of the land of the blessed dead."


Blue and turquoise were considered divine colors and appropriate for sacred places. Stratos explains that "Dark blue, also called 'Egyptian' blue, was the color of the heavens, water, and the primeval flood, and it represented creation or rebirth. The favorite blue stone was lapis lazuli, or khesbed, which also meant joy or delight. . . . There is also a theory that blue may have been symbolic of the Nile and represented fertility, because of the fertile soils along the Nile that produced crops. Because the god Amen (also spelled Amon or Amun) played a part in the creation of the world, he was sometimes depicted with a blue face; therefore, pharaohs associated with Amen were shown with blue faces also. In general, it was said that the gods had hair made of lapis lazuli."

egyptian_sky egyptian_turquoise

Stratos explains that red was considered a very powerful color, "symbolizing two extremes: Life and victory as well as anger and fire. Red also represented blood. . . . In its negative context of anger and fire, red was the color of the god Set, who was the personification of evil and the powers of darkness, as well as the god who caused storms. Some images of Set are colored with red skin. In addition, red-haired men as well as animals with reddish hair or skins were thought to be under the influence of Set. A person filled with rage was said to have a red heart."

egyptian_red ancient_egypt

"In the Graeco-Egyptian papyri, a special kind of red ink, which included ochre and the juice of flaming red poppies, was used," Pinch says.

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Color and Industrial Food

Color and Industrial Food

In reading through the COLOURlovers' blog, it’s easy to see that food is a common inspiration for color lovers of all kinds, as well it should be! Color is probably one of the oldest tools for knowing how to navigate the ancient grocery store of the forest.

Yet as many people know, our mono-culture food system is also going monochromatic. With so much variety out there, why are our apples and tomatoes almost all red? And how did our corn get so yellow?

Why Red?

“Apples of New York,” a 2 volume encyclopedic listing of apples grown in New England during the 1800's, lists over 1,000 varieties of apples, yet today we’re lucky if we find 10 in all the grocery stores across America and almost all of them red: Honeycrisp, Cameo, Red Delicious, Braeburn, McIntosh, Jona Gold, Fuji, Gala, Courtland, Empire, and Golden Delicious.

In the early 1900's Washington State Apple Growers launched an expensive promotional campaign to market just one apple: The Red Delicious. Their campaign to sell the Red Delicious centered on the idea that the color red is an indication of ripeness in apples, regardless of variety.

red delicious
Photo by Gracie

Growers all over the country started to select trees that produced the reddest fruit without selecting for taste or nutrient value. Because of the mono-culture around apples, today the Red Delicious is among many apples plagued by diseases and pests, making it very difficult to grow organically.

The Washington Growers didn’t choose the Red Delicious because of it’s nutritional value, or even because of it’s flavor. They chose it because it doesn’t store well and doesn't show bruises. They chose it primarily because Washington State has the best climate in the country for growing Red Delicious apples.

Too Much Maize

Corn is another crop that has gone the way of the mono-culture. A quick internet search finds you over 100 varieties of corn, or maize, yet all we grow in this country is sweet corn and feed corn.

Photo by Jimmedia

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Colors In Nature: Aurora

Colors In Nature: Aurora

There is at least one thing to be said about living in colder climates, and that would be being able to experience, first hand, one of the color wonders of the world, aurora.

Aurora originates from the sun. Large amounts of solar particles are thrown into space and travel for about two to three days at a rate of 300 to 1000 kilometers per second in order to reach earth's outer magnetic field. At this point, the clouds of particles are pulled towards the northern and southern magnetic poles. As they are being pulled towards the poles they are stopped by our atmosphere colliding with other present particles. The interaction of these particles causes what we know as aurora, the northern lights or aurora borleis in the northern hemisphere, and aurora australis or the southern polar lights in the southern hemisphere.

Photos by Arnar Valdimarsson

The colors created by aurora are most commonly, green and red, but depending on the particles present in the clouds from the sun, say if there is nitrogen present, the color can range from low level reds to very high blues and violets.

With the technological advances of film and development of digital imaging we are now able to capture the true beauty of auroras, but it still nothing compared to witnessing the animated currents of color flowing over the horizons and covering landscapes with illuminating waves of light for yourself. So enjoy these stunning images of this magnificent show and give some thought to taking a cold vacation this year.

Photo by natekoechley

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COLOURlovers API Documentation and Showcase

COLOURlovers API Documentation and Showcase

With the release of the COLOURlovers API, you can now access 1.4 million named colors and more than 500,000 color palettes for your creative projects and applications. Creating a theme editor and want to give your users some color theme options? Creating a visual project that ties keywords to colors? Who knows what amazingly creative stuff people will come up with.

Below are two showcase examples of the COLOURlovers API in action as well as the full API documentation. Happy API COLOURloving!

COLOURlovers API Usage Showcase


Desktop Color Search - AIR App

Desktop Color Search is an Adobe AIR app that runs on your desktop and allows you to search the entire COLOURlovers database for colors, palettes and patterns. You'll need to download the Adobe AIR runtime in order to run Desktop Color Search, you can use the link below to install AIR. (It works in both Windows and on Mac OS X)
Special thanks to Levi McCallum at FutonMedia for coding the AIR app.

Download Desktop Color Finder  |  Download Adobe AIR



A simple interface to COLOURlover's deep, deep palette library, it creates randomized compositions using rectangular geometry drawn by the Degrafa drawing library.
Have some fun of your own color fun with Dekaf Lovers.

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Sponsors - More Features. More Love. Little Fee.

Sponsors - More Features. More Love. Little Fee.

In order to support our growth and the costs of maintaining and developing new features for our color loving community, we've added some great extended features and are offering them as a thank you to those who support us with a small yearly sponsorship of only $20. Thank you for helping us grow our wonderful community.

To become a sponsor or to give the gift of color love, visit:


Benefits of Being a Sponsored COLOURlover:

- Have Your Love Notes and Subscription Updates Emailed to You
- Download All Your Colors and Palettes in One File
- See More Recent Activity on Your Profile, Colors, Palettes & Patterns
- Customize Your Profile to Show Top, New or Fave Colors, Patterns or Patterns
- See Custom Palette Widths by Default When Browsing
- Choose Your Top Groups and Lovers to Display on Your Profile
- Get Beta Access to New Tools Before They Are Launched Publicly
- Fancy Avatar and Profile Badges to Show Your Sponsorship
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- More to Come Soon!

Have Your Love Notes and Subscription Updates Emailed to You



See More Recent Activity on Your Profile, Colors, Palettes & Patterns


Show Top, New or Fave Colors, Patterns or Patterns on Your Profile



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Holi: The Festival of Colors

Holi: The Festival of Colors

We often find our breaths taken away by the presence of color in our everyday lives, and thankfully there are three times as many opportunities to celebrate it. While the carnivals of Brazil and New Orleans explode with vibrancy, there is something simpler and yet equally joyous about Holi, the festival of color that takes place in early March of each year in India and Nepal. It is also known as Phagwa, or in West Begal, Boshonto Utsav (meaning "Spring Festival.")

img by RichieWJA

India's people believe that bright colors are synonymous with life, joy and positive energy. Holi is a day to celebrate these concepts, but it also holds other symbolism as well (which seem to differ depending on what region the celebration is held in.) For some, Holi means celebrating the divine love of Lord Krishna and Radna (this is most popularly believed in Vrindavan and Mathura, where Krishna grew up.) The festival is celebrated for 16 days in the aforementioned areas (in some areas it is as short as six days.) There is a story that tells of Krishna complaining to his mother about his dark skin in contrast to Radna's fair cheek, which Krishna's mother addressed by applying color to Radna's face, transforming her from starkly contrasting to brilliantly colorful.

img by Matthieu ::

A second story about Holi's origins involves Kamadeva, the Hindu God of Love. Kama was destroyed by Shiva, but Shiva recreated his body as a mental image for sake of Kama's wife. The concept behind this story is that Shiva gave Kama's wife back the symbol of her emotional and spiritual devotion, which outweighed the importance of his physicality (the latter signifying physical lust.) The Holi bonfire, which is traditionally held on the first night of Holi, is believed by some to pay homage to this story. Other believe in the bonfires as a recreation of the burning of the demoness Holika, for which the festival was named. This ritual is called "Holika Dahan."

img by freestyler

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Saving the Colors of Polaroid Instant Film

Saving the Colors of Polaroid Instant Film

If you haven't heard, Polaroid film is dying.

On February 8th, 2008, the Polaroid corporation announced that the incredible invention of Edwin Land has a permanent expiration date that no refrigeration can postponed; stating, "Polaroid has made the difficult decision to cease manufacturing of instant film products in 2008. We hope that you will continue to choose Polaroid products, as we take instant imaging into the digital platform with exciting new products being launched this year." The last of the film is projected to expire in September of 2009.

It seems that there is still yet one hope remaining for Polaroid film. Save Polaroid has setup shop to assemble artists and fanatics to save Polaroid.

About Save Polaroid

On February 8, 2008, Polaroid Corporation announced that it will discontinue production of all instant film. This site will document the aftermath of this announcement and will serve as a home-base for the effort to convince another company to begin producing the cherished technology that Polaroid has so carelessly abandoned.

This site is not about saving Polaroid, the company, rather the remarkable invention of Edwin Land, the instant film that made Polaroid a household name.

Photos by Grant Hamilton

What We’ve Done So Far

Since this announcement, we’ve been assembling articles, links, stories and planning out the best way to create a joint effort to save instant film. We’ve contacted Polaroid, Fuji and Ilford about licensing.
- Save Polaroid

Rod Hunting Helps Save Polaroid

My good friend, and fellow member of the Chicago artist family The Post Family, artist Rod Hunting was asked by Save Polaroid to produce a limited run of his Polaroid print to be auctioned off on ebay to raise money for Save Polaroid. I sat down with Rod over some fine malt liquor to discus his 'Polareds' project, the end of Polaroid and speeding tickets.

Photo from The Post Family

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Conceptions of Color in a Colorless World

Conceptions of Color in a Colorless World

A world devoid of color, posited John Arthur Thomson, "would not be uninteresting; but it would be very difficult and dull" (Riddles of Science, 1932). Even on the grayest of days, the human mind struggles to imagine a life destitute of color. However, sometimes imagination isn't required. Damage to the visual cortex can bring about Central Achromatopsia, a defect in color perception that renders the world into a "dull, dirty, faded, gray, washed out" wasteland like something on a black and white television (Alex Byrne and David Hilbert, Readings on Color, 1997). Besides being less pleasurable, a colorless world would be more difficult to navigate. Color experts Vernon Lee and C. Anstruther-Thompson explain how inhabitants of a colorless world would be strangers in a strange land: "Color gives the eye a grip, so to speak, on shape, preventing its slipping off; we can look much longer at a colored object than an uncolored; and the coloring of architecture enables us to realize its details and its ensemble much quicker and more easily. For the same reason colored objects always feel more familiar than uncolored ones, and the latter seem always to remain in a way strange and external; so that children, in coloring their picture-books, are probably actuated not so much by the sensuous pleasure of color as such, as by a desire to bring the objects represented into a closer and, so to speak, warmer relation with themselves" (qtd. in The Enjoyment and Use of Color by Walter Sargent, 1964).

Colorless Life.

img by WTL Photos

Even people without the faculty of sight must take color into account, Walter Sargent notes, "because they hear about it as one of the distinguishing qualities of objects." He cites the American activist Helen Keller, the first person with deafblindness to graduate from college. Keller used her imagination, analogies, and senses of touch, smell, and taste to develop her own conceptions of color. As she explained:

I understand how scarlet can differ from crimson because I know that the smell of an orange is not the smell of a grape-fruit. I can also conceive that colors have shades and guess what shades are. In smell and taste there are varieties not broad enough to be fundamental; so I call them shades. There are half a dozen roses near me. They all have the unmistakable rose scent; yet my nose tells me they are not the same. The American Beauty is distinct from the Jacqueminot and La France. Odors in certain grasses fade as really to my senses as certain colors do to yours in the sun. . . . I make use of analogies like these to enlarge my conceptions of colors. . . . The force of association drives me to say that white is exalted and pure, green is exuberant, red suggests love or shame or strength. Without the color or its equivalent, life to me would be dark, barren, a vast blackness. (qtd. in The Enjoyment and Use of Color by Walter Sargent, 1964. Emphasis mine.)

Though blind to the physical world around her, Keller could not and would not allow her thoughts to remain colorless. She always asked for things to be described to her in terms of color, so that she could imagine their resonance. "The unity of the world demands that color be kept in it whether I have cognizance of it or not," she explained. "Rather than be shut out, I take part in it by discussing it, happy in the happiness of those near me who gaze at the lovely hues of the sunset or the rainbow."

The COLOURlovers library testifies to the fact that even colors and palettes seemingly devoid of pigment can be interesting.

Dull Day Devoid

Colourless Sky Colorless

Grey, Not Colorless Water is Colourless;

colorless Colorless_View

Colorless_World colorless

colorless Colorless_Blood

colorless_fear colorless_feelings

Colorless_External Colorless_Landscape

colorless_lemon colorless_toxin

Cover img by Sarah Reed.

Craig ConleyAbout the Guest Author, Craig Conley
Craig is an independent scholar and author of dozens of strange and unusual books, including a unicorn field guide and a dictionary of magic words. He also loves color: Prof. Oddfellow

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Little-Known Meanings of Crazy Color Names vol. 5

Little-Known Meanings of Crazy Color Names vol. 5

Baffling color names often tell entertaining stories, at least to those who are willing to delve beneath the surface. We continue our strange and wonderful adventure into the uncharted fringes of language, where we'll discover new "shades of meaning."

The deep green color called nnnn represents a “closed,” “intimate” hummed sound which “resonates mostly in the head,” as opposed to the “exposed” aaahh sound “which resonates in the chest. You can keep the closed sound a secret, sitting calmly at a committee meeting while others about you are losing their minds” (W. A. Mathieu, The Musical Life).


The light gray color claled nnnnnn refers to the “head guy” of “a bunch of dudes from the nameless planet”: "Nnnnnn moved his green hand in a circle, indicating the stream, the forest, the city. 'I know you feel like an alien here,' he said softly. 'But that is because you are thinking too small'" (Bruce Coville, “I, Earthling,” Odder Than Ever).


The deep blue color called nt represents the word not, written in Roger Bacon’s all-consonant secret code (devised in 1250), as discussed in The Voynich Manuscript by Gerry Kennedy.


The tan color called pff is an indication that one is miffed, as by a failed pursuit: "[W]hen they rounded the corner the bird had disappeared, and though the children searched high and low, there was not a feather to be found. 'Pff! Typical,' Georgie spat, turning back down the stairs" (Justyn Walker, The Magician’s Daughter).


The pink color called pfff refers to a French expression of loneliness, as when everyone is having too much fun to give one a call, as in “Numéro privé” by Erwan Le Goffic.


The magenta color called pfffft recalls the sound of a stabbing hypodermic needle: "She stuck the needle in, pushed pfffft, just like that, and it started burning immediately" (Janet Laurel, Heart and Soul: What It Takes to Promote Health While Confronting Cancer).


The light mauve color called pffft echoes the sound of a balloon deflating: "The volunteer was given a pair of safety glasses and a long bamboo pole to the end of which was secured a match. This was lit, and placed under the balloon. It collapsed with a dull pffft" (D.W. St. John, A Terrible Beauty).

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