RAL is a colour matching system used in Europe that is created and administrated by the German RAL gGmbH (RAL non-profit LLC), which is a subsidiary of the German RAL Institute . In colloquial speech RAL refers to the RAL Classic system, mainly used for varnish and powder coating but now there are reference panels for plastics as well. Approved RAL products are provided with a hologram to make unauthorised versions difficult to produce. Imitations may show different hue and colour when observed under various light sources.
See also: List of RAL colours
In 1927, the German group Reichs-Ausschuß für Lieferbedingungen (National Committee for Delivery and Quality Assurance) invented a collection of forty colours under the name of "RAL 840". Prior to that date manufacturers and customers had to exchange samples to describe a tint, whereas from then on they would rely on numbers.
In the 1930s, the numbers were changed uniformly to four digits and the collection was renamed to "RAL 840 R" (R for revised). Around 1940, the RAL colours were changed to the four-digit system, as is customary. Army camouflage colours were always recognized by a "7" or "8" in the first place until 1944. With tints constantly added to the collection, it was revised again in 1961 and changed to "RAL 840-HR", which consists of 210 colours and is in use to this day. In the 1960s the colours were given supplemental names to avoid confusion in case of transposed digits. At the international furnishing fair imm Cologne, 13 till 19 January 2020, two new colours were presented in the Classic Collection: RAL 2017 RAL Orange and RAL 9012 Clean Room White.
As "RAL 840-HR" covered only matte paint the 1980s saw the invention of "RAL 841-GL" for glossy surfaces, limited to 193 colours. A main criterion for colours in the RAL Classic collection is to be of "paramount interest". Therefore, most of the colours in it are used on warning and traffic signs or are dedicated to government agencies and public services (for example: RAL 1004 - Swiss Postal Service, RAL 1021 - Austrian Postal Service, RAL 1032 - German Postal Service). The first digit relates to the shade of the colour:
|RAL 1xxx||Yellow||RAL 1000 Green Beige||RAL 1037 Sun Yellow||50|
|RAL 2xxx||Orange||RAL 2000 Yellow Orange||RAL 2013 Pearl Orange||14|
|RAL 3xxx||Red||RAL 3000 Fire Red||RAL 3033 Pearl Pink||34|
|RAL 4xxx||Violet||RAL 4001 Red Purple||RAL 4012 Pearl Black Berry||12|
|RAL 5xxx||Blue||RAL 5000 Violet Blue||RAL 5026 Pearl Night Blue||25|
|RAL 6xxx||Green||RAL 6000 Patina Green||RAL 6038 Luminous Green||36|
|RAL 7xxx||Grey||RAL 7000 Squirrel Grey||RAL 7048 Pearl Mouse Grey||38|
|RAL 8xxx||Brown||RAL 8000 Green Brown||RAL 8029 Pearl Copper||20|
|RAL 9xxx||White/Black||RAL 9001 Cream||RAL 9023 Pearl Dark Grey||14|
This collection, which follows the naming of RAL Classic, was invented in 1984. It is now made up of ten colours (RAL 1039-F9 Sand beige, RAL 1040-F9 Clay beige, RAL 6031-F9 Bronze green, RAL 6040-F9-Light olive, RAL 7050-F9 Camouflage grey, RAL 8027-F9 Leather brown, RAL 8031-F9 Sand brown, RAL 9021-F9 Tar black and RAL 6031-HR Bronze green for non-camouflage applications), used by the Bundeswehr for military camouflage coating.
In 1993 a new colour matching system was introduced, tailored to the needs of architects, designers and advertisers. It started with 1,688 colours and was revised to 1,625 colours and again to 1,825 colours. The colours of RAL Classic and RAL Design do not intersect.
Contrary to the preceding systems, RAL Design features no names and its numbering follows a scheme based on the CIELAB colour space, specifically cylindrical CIEHLC. Each colour is represented by seven digits, grouped in a triple and two pairs, representing hue (000–360 degrees, angle in the CIELab colour wheel), lightness (same as in L*a*b*) and chroma (relative saturation). The three numeric components of almost all RAL Design colours are multiples of 5, the majority are divisible by 10.
RAL Effect comprises 420 solid colours and seventy metallic colours. It is the first collection from RAL to be based on waterborne paint systems.
RAL Digital is software that allows designers to navigate the RAL colour space.