Coral Bliss – An Analysis of LEGO’s new 2019 Color

As a graphics artist, one of the slightly more frustrating aspects of dealing with LEGO is the relatively low number of available colors for parts and to boot, not all parts being available in every color even. This stops many of my ideas from ever taking shape physically and when it doesn’t, it still often feels like one should not need to spend so much time on thinking how to approximate some of that stuff when the result may still feel like a bad 16 color GIF dithered down from a great, colorful original photo. This basically means that I can never have enough colors and on some level even regret the great culling in the early 2000s having killed of so many useful ones, leaving noticeable gaps of genuinely missing or at least highly desirable colors. Which ones I think are missing is a discussion for another time, though.

Today let’s focus on the first tiny tippy-toe step to improve the situation by LEGO having introduced the new Coral color this year. In a funny and weird coincidence, Pantone, makers of the famous color system for print, declared their Living Coral (16-1546) Color of the Year after last year’s Ultra Violet (18-3838, in memory of the late musician Prince who died the year before). LEGO clearly were spot-on and had the right gut feeling at least once in a lifetime!

Why you may never have heard of it yet

Of course there’s a big caveat to the whole thing (for now at least): Unless you took an active interest in The LEGO Movie 2 and the sets around it or are generally inclined to the colorful sets for Friends et al, you may never even have heard of this new color much less seen it because thus far the only set that contains pieces in this shade is the Pop-Up Party Bus (70828). I of course was giddy about this ever since I heard about it and since the model is also exceedingly good and appealed to me as a whole with its design and overall nice look (review coming one of these days) I had to get it.

LEGO, New 2019 Coral Color, Initial Parts Selection from the Pop-Up Party Bus (70828)

The set contains the parts depicted in the image above and LEGO need to once again be applauded by doing it right and including several of them quite in generous quantity, making this an overall great roll-out of the new color. In other words: Even if you had no intention of actually building the bus, just buying the set for some of these parts could be totally worth it if you want to use the Coral in your projects. that said, of course things will only get better from here on with several Friends sets already having been announced for the second half of 2019 that will feature even more new pieces in this color and in the long run you should expect bits and bobs to appear in other series as well.

What Coral is and what it is not

A first instinct for many users might be to call the new Coral color the long missed Day-Glo Orange of the LEGO world, but more or less it isn’t. Sure, there can be a case made to use it in this fashion and we surely will see some such stuff, but doing so will require to be cautious and measured about the whole thing rather than splashing it out with a spray can and arbitrarily use it everywhere. There are a few things to consider.

First, it isn’t a pure Orange. If the day-glo analogy were to be used, you’d have to call it a slightly faded variant of this color. On real use cases like rescue vehicles and helicopters this often happens when the areas where the color is applied haven’t been underpainted with a bright yellow or the yellow pigments of the color itself decompose faster than the other ones under exposure to sun light and weather. As a result, these areas turn more and more pinkish when the red components become more dominant. Things have gotten better and colors more chemically stable, but regardless, this fading process still happens relatively fast. In case of the LEGO color this means it would be more representative of an already slightly aged paint job, not a factory fresh one.

Another interpretation could be that this is an opaque version of the long-existing Trans Neon Orange Color, as it was widely used e.g. in Nexo Knights, but this isn’t an exact match, either. Naturally it would depend on which background the transparent plates etc. are set against, but even on a white base the orange looks much more intense and reddish. In fact it even has the same fluorescent behavior, meaning it (seemingly) emits more light than it logically should, but the spectrum is a different one. So for all intents and purposes it would be fair that Coral is somewhere in that ballpark, but never a hundred percent match. 

LEGO, New 2019 Coral Color, Perception against differently colored Backgrounds

To complicate matters further, such bright colors are typically extremely dependent on individual perception and the context in which they are used and presented. They can extremely stand out against some dark backgrounds to the point of literally causing so much stress on the eye, you get headaches when looking at them and your brain trying to bring everything in a range it can process, while on the other hand they can almost disappear against some lighter colors. To illustrate this I photographed the same element against differently colored backgrounds (colored art paper) and matched everything as best as possible with my limited equipment.

Finally, there is another thing to consider: Of course it’s plastic and as such its smooth surface tends to be affected strongly by the surroundings it reflects. Here this seems even more the case as the color appears to always have a slight hint of transparency, regardless. This means that environmental light will penetrate it to some degree, minor as it may be, and this will make the colors appear to shift around. Therefore the color will look paler in daylight with a blue sky and more orange-y under more warm, yellow artificial light and it can look pretty dull under white LED light because, naturally, those LEDs don’t necessarily emit the wavelengths the material would reflect and amplify in the fist place. So if you wonder why it looks a lot less spectacular in a show case than when you were assembling it, here’s your potential answer to that mystery.

When and how to use it

When I first thought of this article I wanted to make it grand and as a graphics artist I’m of course prone to nerd out on color theory and bombard people with too much information. Luckily I came to my senses and stopped myself from creating tons of charts and diagrams, so here’s what I hope will be a bit of a more practical guide based on what colors actually exist currently in LEGO‘s portfolio.

LEGO, New 2019 Coral Color, Comparison with other LEGO Colors

If you look at the first image, you can see that Coral seems to go together quite well with many colors, yet doesn’t slot into in any of the available color lines, either. This could be seen as both good and bad. It’s good in that the color is indeed universal and independent enough to look acceptable with many color combinations. It’s bad because just as much the color will always stand out even with its closest matching colors. The logical conclusions to draw from this are:

  • It should not be used as a standalone color.
  • when used with other colors it should primarily be used as a contrast color only and sparingly.
  • Said contrast should not be dominated by Coral, meaning whatever other color(s) you use should be used in a larger amount.
  • The more colors you use on a model, the more disturbing the bright color becomes, so use it only if you truly have something to express with it or the use case mandates it.

Now of course art grows from making exceptions to the rules and it’s perfectly imaginable that you may come up with a cool use that still looks perfectly acceptable, but keep in mind that Coral may dominate, take over and overwhelm your models quickly if you’re not careful. I would also totally expect LEGO to produce some crazy parts like bullcatchers for off-road vehicles or even large Technic panels in this color, but overall perhaps keeping it toned down and not going overboard with its usage would be a good strategy for keeping this color fresh and interesting in the long run.

LEGO, New 2019 Coral Color, Comparison with other LEGO Colors

In more practical terms there are a few combinations that to me personally are at least critical, so I likely would try and avoid them or only use them extremely sparingly. Others could be usable, but still be problematic. Here’s my take on some of that:

  • Any combination of Coral with colors that are actually closest to it will look pretty naff, those being the regular Yellow, Bright Light Orange/ Flame Yellowish Orange and Orange. Here this would only make sense if you have a third, much darker color also that can visually distract or act as a separator. Of course there’s already yellow rescue vehicles with day-glo striping, so there’s that…
  • Red could be problematic if the area with Coral gets too large. Yes, that thing with “overwhelming” and two already strong colors battling it out.
  • Light Pink (leftmost bottom stack, bottom brick) in conjunction with Coral might not work that well, as both colors basically cancel each other out. For instance a single 2 x 1 plate of Coral amidst a sea of Light Pink ones will almost disappear and in reverse it’s the same. Mixing them randomly or in patterns about 50/ 50 gives a cool effect, though, as it will visually blend into a different kind of pink.
  • The Bright Light Yellow/ Cool Yellow could suffer from similar issues as the previous points and in addition also falls into that “yellow emergency vehicle” category, so some caution must be exercised to get it right, especially on your small City vehicles and similar.
  • Out of the “earthy” tones (top row, fourth stack from left), only Dark Tan/ Sand Yellow would IMO look reasonably okay. The Medium Dark Flesh/ Medium Nougat and the Tan color do not have enough contrast and could look quite iffy. More to the point, the bright Coral will make models with these colors look dirty and that is usually not something you want.

As I said further above, these are just things I would think once or twice about and my list should not stop you from trying what works for you. it may just require a bit of effort and experimentation to get a good balance of colors in such scenarios. Most other combinations should be unproblematic and fall into place almost naturally under the conditions I laid out. Some of that is already visible in the party bus set itself – Coral looks just gorgeous next to Dark Turquoise, Magenta and White. I can’t wait to see what other stuff is in store when the new friends sets come out and what one could potentially do with the Coral parts they will contain.