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

At first glance, the color world seems very clear. There are the basic colors: red, yellow and blue and there are the “non-colours” black, white and grey. 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 are ultimately an almost infinite number of possible color shades.

If you don’t already know, there are different ways to work with colors as well as several existing reference color charts. 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, you have to adapt to their codes and adopt their references.

What is a color chart?

The wide spectrum of colors available to you when designing your house, for example, is on the one hand a good thing, but on the other hand 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 is anything but a clear wish, since there are theoretically an infinite number of shades of blue. In order to bring more order to this “chaos” and to make the selection reasonably clear, so-called color systems have been developed. By this is meant a limited palette of clearly defined selected colors, in other words: a color chart.

Have you ever seen a color chart? Are you sure? Have you ever seen this kind of fan that opens up to an incalculable number of colors? Swatches give a complete overview of a defined color space. That is to say, by opening it, you discover color cards or color sample cards, which allows you to choose one or combine several relatively easily. As soon as you want to professionally deal with colors, their effects and their combinations, the color chart is the tool you need. It is a “must have” – ​​whether in the print shop, in the communication agency, in the hardware store or in the paint shop. Swatches provide an overview of colors for a wide variety of applications and materials.

When do you 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 covering of the walls, whether they are 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 heard, but what does it really mean?

You have just made an agreement with a communication agency about your wedding invitation. The in-house graphic designer has done a good job and you are satisfied with your announcement. This therefore goes to print. And your interlocutor has just placed Pantone in the discussion. He has even just said that he was going to fetch 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 placed an NCS color chart? Is there any connection with bodywork paint?

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. The one you choose to use depends mainly on the project you are leading and the way you 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 colors to be assigned precisely 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 basic colors. The “Pantoniers” are presented as fans marked with many colors. It is mentioned for each of the shades the mixing ratio of the base colors but also the type of paper on which the colors are printed – uncoated, matte and glossy. The same color recipe is used for printing on the different types of paper. However, the appearance of a color may vary depending on the printed paper. The goal when creating the Pantone Matching System was not to achieve uniform color appearance regardless of media, but to print different types of paper with a uniform color recipe. Pantone special 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 base colors for 80 years. This color chart, with more than 210 colors, is very often used in industry, construction and also the automotive industry. It is mainly 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 colours: 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 color numbers to clearly and unambiguously determine the color in which a product should be delivered. The clear definition of the color tint allows in the first place that it can be produced exactly everywhere. It also makes subsequent painting and touch-ups a lot easier.

Some of the colors in the RAL palette are very 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. It is now used as a standard in countries such as Sweden, Norway and Spain. It is established according to three criteria: the “darkness” of the color, its saturation and its hue. By a step of ten, it first determines the amount of black in the color. Then its “strength”. And finally the combination of blue, red, yellow or green composing it.

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