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"How did they describe paint and uniform colors in WWII?" Topic

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Grelber09 Aug 2020 2:40 p.m. PST

Back in the 1889 regulations, if you wanted to make uniforms for the US Army, you were advised to drop by the local office and a friendly Army guy would supply you with a swatch so you could match colors. Is this still how things were done by the various nations in World War II, or did they have new and improved plans to define colors so contractors could manufacture paints and dyes in the appropriate colors?

I believe that nowadays, at least in some cases, colors can be defined by wave length, but that sounds way too high tech for WWII.

I just mixed up what will--hopefully--pass for British G3 Khaki Green, but I'm a bit color deficient in reds and greens, and wanted to have some idea of how much leeway there would have been.


JAFD2609 Aug 2020 2:59 p.m. PST

I would bet that this is covered somewhere in 'the Green Books' – the official US Army WWII histories – check the Quartermaster Corps volumes for uniforms.

Unfortunately can't tell you exactly where, but think they're all online, downloadable PDFs.

Good luck!

Martin Rapier09 Aug 2020 10:43 p.m. PST

In the British Army they appear to have been defined by the relevant British Standard (BS), but you'd have to dig through the actual archive of standards to find the chemical compositions. see:


The Germans used the RAL standard from the late 1920s


Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP10 Aug 2020 8:01 a.m. PST

Actually neither is correct. There is actually an international system for describing various colors to include swatches of specific colored textiles. The Colour Index International was first published in 1924. Currently it is maintained online. When going out for a contract the US military would specify a code which matched a specific swatch for the color they were looking for. Manufacturers could look up the color and using dye information match it exactly. link

Grelber10 Aug 2020 8:41 a.m. PST

OK, it sounds like World War II colors were fairly well defined. This has always been an area where I try not to get seriously wrapped up in details, since I can see that cloth colors tend to fade and paints, particularly some colors like the red used on automobiles, tend to oxidize, and change dramatically when exposed to harsh sunlight. Close may not be good enough in this case.

Many thanks for the comments!


Black Hat Miniatures11 Aug 2020 1:58 a.m. PST

HMG Paints who manufacture our WW2 paint range made the original paint for the British Army during WW2. When the paint range was being made they were asked if they could match to the original vehicle colours – the reply was, sure which month? There was a war on, so the colours varied slightly depending on the raw materials they could get!


Legionarius11 Aug 2020 4:17 p.m. PST

Try using "English Ivy Green," "Palm Leaf Green," "Parakeet" (Green), "Leaf Green," "Christmas Green," plain ol' "Khaki," "Territorial Beige," "Golden Brown," or any such Apple Barrel craft colors. Mix them up with each other, add a little off white or black and you have all the colors you need for nice WWII GIs, Marines Aussies, Brits, Soviets, and even Japanese. Add a couple of grays to the mix and you have Germans. It just takes a bit of practice, a couple of highlights and washes and you can have fun mixing and matching. Remember the effects of sun, wind, salt, rain, or snow and the fact that soldiers will adapt and adopt all kinds of gear and you will soon find that (almost) anything goes. This sort of laissez-faire uniformity would drive a drill sergeant nuts--but you are painting combat troops in the thick of it. Cheers:)

Porthos12 Aug 2020 5:14 a.m. PST

Do not forget to check sites of re-enacters ! And since there are also lots of colour pictures taken during WW II there is another undebatable source (;-)). If looking for uniforms (or dress) for special armies try to search in the language of that army (for more complicated languages try Google Translate).

Steamingdave212 Aug 2020 7:53 a.m. PST

@Porthos – undebatable source? Not sure that colour photograph rendition is ever "undebatable", even with modern dye technology. Add in effects of lighting at the yime, exposure to wear, effects of mud and dust etc and it's still a guessing game, unless you can get swatches of original uniforms that have been kept in the dark for 75 years. Even then there were variations in dye batches.

RudyNelson25 Aug 2020 9:55 a.m. PST

Unfortunately different countries, illustrators, used terms that could describes varying colors. The term khaki could mean a tan-mid brown. However Greece uses term term khaki to describe their olive green shade. Same with other countries and colors.

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