Colors or color combinations emerging as a favorite in one sector will become or are already prominent in most of the other major sectors – architecture, interior décor, automobiles, fashion, textiles, household appliances, consumer products such as smartphones and even industrial equipment.
Some sectors are more influential in determining color choices in other markets mainly because their products are more visible and thus able to demonstrate more widely shifts in tastes.
One of these in Europe is automobiles which are not only a conspicuous feature of everyday life but whose coatings suppliers maintain technological leadership in the development of innovative coatings.
In a market in which the overall balance between achromatic or neutral colors – whites, blacks, grays, silvers – and primary colors and their shades – blues, reds, greens – does not alter much, neutrals tend to have an average dominant share of around 80 percent.
But within the two groups, there are distinct changes. In different segments of the market, for example, chromatic colors have a bigger share than the average. Also, with the help of effect pigments and metallics, the interaction between neutrals and color is becoming increasingly close.
These changes are becoming evident in various ways in other sectors, particularly in architectural and interior coatings. Neutrals are gaining prominence but at the same time, counterintuitively, the primaries and their shades are becoming more prevalent. The achromatics are now acting as a tool for a greater variety of colors.
In 2018, the most significant color trend in the European new automobile market was the increase in the share of grey and its multiple shades, parallel with a rise in blues.
“Europe is experiencing an upward trend of grey with a two percent increase,” said Axalta in its latest annual Global Automotive Color Popularity Report. “Grey takes second place in this region for the first time in history.”
White retains the largest share at 25 percent with grey rising to 22 percent ahead of black (21 percent). Blue leads the color hues with a 10 percent share well ahead of second place red (six percent).
“(Europe) is the only region in which this chromatic color (blue) enjoys a double-digit share,” said Axalta.
In the UK, Europe’s second largest car market behind Germany, grey was the favorite new car color in 2018 with a 21 percent share ahead of black with 20 percent while white slid down to third with 18 percent, according to figures from the country’s Society of Motor Manufacturer and Traders.
Blue reached just over 16 percent, while red hit 10 percent ahead of silver at nine percent, making the UK new car sector among the most colorful in Europe with neutrals having a share of less than 70 percent.
In addition to specific countries, segments of the Europe car market now have above-average shares for chromatic colors. In the compact car and SUV markets color hues each had a 25 percent share, according to PPG figures. In the compact segment, blue and red had a combined share of 19 percent, similar to that of grey and second only to white with 25 percent.
With advances in coatings technologies, particularly with the aid of digitalization, grey has been able to expand its color space. The addition of special effects had provided it and other neutrals like white with undertones of other colors. In its report on automotive OEM colors in new cars in Europe, BASF Coatings estimates that grey has 110 different shades.
The range is even bigger with blue which now has around 140 different shades, said BASF Coatings. This offers an even greater range of opportunities for combinations with other colors for both blue and grey, not only in the automobiles but in other sectors.
Color Marketing Group, a U.S.-based international association of designers, color scientists and other specialists, has chosen a dark grey, called City Grey, as its 2019 color. Its forecasts are based on the outcomes of a series of workshops of its members across the world including Europe, North America and Asia.
“City Grey is capable of standing on its own,” explained CMG. “And with other hues, it can play the quiet accompaniment or bold center of attention.”
With its versatility, grey provides a platform for the current impetus towards a greater spectrum of colors for which neutrals like grey provide a base. Color diversification is now a feature of automobiles and most other sectors.
“There are more opportunities than ever to personalize your new car to your exact (color) taste,” said Mike Hawes, chief executive of the UK’s SMMT.
In interior décor, neutrals are enabling combinations of a widening range of colors which can merge together harmoniously. “We are seeing a return to simple base colors to support brighter colors,” said Hannah
Malein, head of trends at Colour Hive, a UK-based color forecasting specialist, in a presentation at the Surface Design Show in London in February.
These base colors include greys and white providing a background to speckled colors or, in the case of grey, a bridge between intense light colors with deep dark ones.
A feature of the exhibition which was mainly focused on interior decor was the broad variations in interior surface materials resulting from the current outside-to-inside fashion for bringing natural materials into the inside of commercial and residential buildings. This has added to the diversity of interior colors because in many cases the materials – wood, stone, metals, thin-layered cements like cement porcelain – are often covered with bio- or naturally-based coatings.
With sustainability continuing to be a top priority, there is an increasing emphasis among owners of commercial and residential buildings, as well as their occupiers, on the recyclability of materials. These have to be seen to have been repurposed or reused, which can affect the designer’s choice of coating or color.
“We rely a lot on neutral colors like greys,” said Paola Bova, an executive with Diplos, an Italian-based producer of multicolored laminates and chipboards based on recycled woods. “We specialize in combination colors in which neutral colors like grey help to merge different colors together.”
The popularity of the natural look and the growing criticism of high tech companies is forcing changes in the appearance of smartphones and other consumer electronic products.
“The tech companies are having a hard time at the moment because of issues like fake news and security of personal data,” said Malein. “So they are trying to project a more amicable image by replacing the high tech appearance of their products with softer materials.”
Perhaps one of the reasons for the rising popularity for greys in the European automobile market and a declining preference for silver is that greys are not linked to high tech but to more warm and comfortable emotions.