When I was writing my last post on the history of burnt ochre, I touched upon something that I thought needed further exploration; the fact that color names can be both a chemical formula and a general name that is divorced from its chemistry..
Paint names and inconsistencies can be extremely confusing. If its called quinacridone gold, then theoretically they should all look the same regardless of brand, right? Except that's rarely the case. I thought it would be helpful to look at why this is and what it means for you as an artist, color theorist or even the casually color curious!
Pigments have several different categories of names; the first is the color index general name. This is about as close to a universal language as a color can get. These are alpha numeric and tell you both the color family and if its organic or natural.
When we speak of chemistry its important to note that organic means NOT occurring in nature, it does not mean the same thing as organic in terms of food. Think of it like organic chemistry, its all about modifying chemicals to make them unlike they are in their natural state. For example oranges can either be NO--natural orange or PO--pigment orange (human modified). Now before you get worried that organic pigments are not as historically grounded let me assure you that painters have been using them since the 2 BCE. The first of these was lead white and Egyptian blue. Many masters used organic pigments and as such they are not a sub-class of paints by any stretch of the imagination!
Back, to our discussion of names--once you get past the color index name there is the common name or the historical name. These two terms are used interchangeably; it really just depends on the popularity of the color. If its still in use normally the common name is used (even if its different than the historic name), if its a color that is no longer used, then the historic name is used. Today I'm going to be using quinacridone gold, one of my all time favorite colors, as my example.
Quinacridone gold is technically defined as PO48 (pigment orange no. 48). Its from a family of colors all manufactured with the same base quinacridone, hence the name. Here is what it looks like in its dry pigment form:
The index and the common names are by far the easiest to deal with. The last name a paint can have is the marketing names. These are names that have either historically been or are currently used to market paint made with that pigment. For PO48 we have: ACRA Gold, C.I. Pigment Orange 48, Cinquasia Gold YT-923-D, Cinquasia Red Gold, Golden Orange, Monastral Gold, Pigment Orange 48, Quinacridone Burnt Orange, Quinacridone Orange, Quinacridone Red Gold, Quinacridone Red Orange, Quinacridone Rust, and Quindo Gold.
WHEW! That's quite a list. Technically, these paints are not going to all look identical as the proportions, binders, etc. will change the way they present. But its important to note that they all have the same foundation pigment in them. They are all PO48, they are all quinacridone gold.
So the first problem we have, is a lot of paints that are quinacridone gold aren't called quinacridone gold. The reasons for this is mostly marketing. Companies want to differentiate their products, to make them more evocative and therefore more marketable. Lets face it, if you're starting out "golden orange" is a lot easier to remember (and spell) than "quinacridone gold." So we have a lot of quinacridone golds that aren't called that.
The next problem we run into is on the opposite end of the spectrum; many paints called quinacridone gold aren't actually made with quinacridone gold. Lets take a look at a sampling in watercolors;
First, off we have Winsor & Newton: Their quinacridone gold is made from PR206 (quinacridone burnt scarlet), PV19 (quinacridone violet) and and PY150 (Nickel Azo Yellow).
Sennelier is made up of PY150 (nickel azo yellow), PR206 (quinacridone burnt scarlet) and PR101 (synthetic iron oxide).
QoR, Golden's watercolor division, is made from PO48 (permanent red) and PY150 (nickel azo yellow). You'll notice this "quinacridone" has no quinacridone of any kind in it!
Da Vinci watercolors are made from PY150 (nickel azo yellow) and PR206 (quinacridone burnt scarlet).
Last but not least is Daniel Smith, its made of PO49 (quinacridone deep gold). Interestingly enough they do make a quinacridone gold that is made with PO48 which is what was pictured at the beginning of this post, but they call it "quinacridone burnt orange." Why they've done this is a bit of a head scratcher for me. The only thing I can figure is they felt gold and deep gold were too close together for marketing purposes.
You can see how all of this can lead to confusion when buying paint. Sometimes you get a paint thinking that its a new color, only to find that its just quinacridone by another name and other times you will buy a quinacridone thinking that one is the same as the other only to find out its completely different! Most manufacturers will list what pigments they use in their paint. So if you like a particular brand's color but can't find it, you should be able to find something that will be close by going off of the pigment content instead of the name.
So what's in a name? Honestly, as a color theorist, I find names to be a very frustrating marketing ploy. But I also know how strongly our emotions and preconceptions play into how we respond to color. So its a problem that's not going away anytime soon. The best you can do is be forewarned and forearmed with knowledge!