The most popular chromatic colour on new cars in Europe is blue according to the 2018 Colour Popularity Report from Axalta. Blue has the largest colour position of any colour, with 20,000 different variations from pale baby blue to dark midnight blue, and everything in between. As blue is the colour of Standox, one of Axalta’s global refinish brands, the Germany-based brand decided to look into its iconic shade to discover some insights.
The Egyptians first created blue pigments. About 6,000 years ago they used lapis, a bright blue semi-precious stone mined in Afghanistan, in jewellery and headdresses but were unable to create a pigment with it as it turned grey as soon as it was ground up.
Around 2200BC – about the same time as the Ancient Pyramids were built – the Egyptians were successful in creating what is considered to be the first ever synthetically produced colour pigment, Egyptian blue. They mixed ground limestone with sand and a copper-containing mineral, such as azurite or malachite, which was then heated between 800 and 900 degrees celsius. The result was an opaque blue glass that had to be crushed and combined with thickening agents such as egg whites to create a long-lasting paint or glaze.
Blue’s popularity persisted throughout the Roman Empire and Greco-Roman period, but the dyes were extremely expensive and rare, so were reserved for royalty and the Church. Around 430AD, the Church first portrayed the ‘Virgin Mary’ wearing a blue robe. This shade became known as navy blue. It stood for innocence and trustworthiness, and this positive connotation is possibly why navy blue has been used by military and police forces, but as navy blue became increasingly synonymous with authority, lighter shades of blue pigments were developed to recapture the colour’s original trustworthy meaning.
Ultramarine – a deep royal blue pigment – was highly sought after among artists living in Medieval Europe. But, as it was considered to be as precious as gold, it was reserved for the wealthy. Art historians believe that Michelangelo left a painting unfinished because he was not able to afford the ultramarine he wanted. Cobalt blue was used extensively by Renoir and Van Gogh, and Picasso favoured Prussian blue during his blue period.
Today, there are hundreds of shades of blue, each with its own name, and this breadth of colour spectrum extends into the refinish sector too. There are high chroma blues, coloured aluminium blues, and even coloured glassflake blues.
Olaf Adamek, Standox Brand Manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa, says: “Blue pigments have their roots in art, and as a brand that has The Art of Refinish at its heart, we know the diversity of blue all too well in the refinish industry. A car is never just blue. Some blues evoke a calming feeling from nature, but there are other blues, so-called pure blues, that express more dynamism and energy, and this is why you often see these blues on expensive cars.”
Europe is the only region in the world where blue has a double-digit share of new car sales, at 10 per cent, according to Axalta. And this popularity is clearly reflected in the Standox global colour database, Standowin iQ: for all passenger cars there are more than 21 per cent colours that are categorised as blue. This compares to 15 per cent for grey and 11 per cent for red.
With so many cars on the road sporting any number of blue hues, bodyshops are seeing more chromatic repairs. But blues, particularly dark blues, are not the easiest colours to match. The Axalta labs ensure all the blue refinish formulas have the tints with the right pigments so that refinishers have the ability to create perfect colour matches for any hue.
Adamek adds: “we continually bring new blue tints to market so that our refinishers can always deliver quality results.
“Blue as a car colour is gaining traction in Europe, so refinishers have to ensure they are ready to tackle the full spectrum of those popular yet tricky colours to get right-first-time, high-quality perfection in the spray booth. And for us at Standox, we are very pleased that our colour – a lighter mid-blue – represents trustworthiness. It did nearly 1,600 years ago and we know for a fact that it still does today, making us the best choice for professional bodyshops.”