Friday, June 25, 2010

Dealing with Red Lips

An anonymous reader is asking in a comment on the fuchsia post:

My daughter has asked me to paint the wall in her room this color:

http://img710.imageshack.us/img710/6656/img2676l.jpg

The color name on the paint can is "Hot Lips" but that is hardly appropriate. Can you tell me if this is Magenta or Fuchsia?

Here is how you can answer this kind of questions:

To give a "scientific" answer, you would have to measure your daughter's wall with a spectroradiometer and compare it to a measurement of the fuchsine colorant. If the two spectral curves are within a tolerance, you can say the color terms are synonyms. Unfortunately, this is not practical.

Since I happen to have a little FileMaker script on my PC, I can give you an "engineering" answer based on crowd-sourcing. Your photograph is not uniformly illuminated and you probably did not calibrate your camera and turn off the white balancing, so I just average a few pixels in the center of your picture. For the reference colors, I use Nathan's color thesaurus tool and query fuchsia and magenta, and just for the sake of it, I also query hotlips. Hotlips is not in the thesaurus, but it suggests lips, so let us take that. This gives me the following CIELAB values:

CIELAB values
  L* a* b*
hot lips (wall picture)
50
56
11
lips (thesaurus)
50
56
20
magenta (thesaurus)
56
46
-21
fuchsia (thesaurus)
60
45
-24

The FileMaker script yields the following CIE94 ∆E matrix:

CIE94 ∆E
hot lips lips magenta fuchsia
hot lips
0
4.72
18.8
21.98
lips
4.72
0
22.74
25.69
magenta
18.8
22.74
0
4.38
fuchsia
21.98
25.69
4.38
0

From the last post we know that fuchsia and magenta are synonyms. Therefore, the tolerance for crowd sourcing is a little over 4 for these colors. From a crowd-sourcing perspective, you could not call the wall color in your daughter's room fuchsia nor magenta, but people have a pretty good idea the walls are lips colored even if you do not tell them.

So far we have discussed the "scientific" answer and the "engineering" answer, but actually you want a practical answer, i.e., a color name that you think would be more appropriate for your daughter's room walls. It turns out, that this is a very easy problem.

The solution is to turn to Nathan's color thesaurus, which contains the wisdom of crowds: http://www.mostlycolor.ch/2007/10/on-line-color-thesaurus.html. Just enter hotlips and click submit: this will give you four synonyms for lips and you just pick the color term you believe is most appropriate for your daughter.

Color thesaurus query result for

So, people will know what you mean if you say coral red, carmine, scarlet, or punch.

At this point your daughter might insist to call her wall color as it is labeled on the paint can. If you are willing to spend a few dollars more, you can actually make everybody happy with the "marketing" answer. Many paint manufacturers also have an upscale brand in the name of a famous designer. The can will have the same paint, but the label on the paint can will be some fashionable fancy name evoking something exclusive. This would give you a posh name and your daughter the color she wants.

I can imagine many parent having this kind of problem, so we would be very interested in learning how you ended up solving your problem. Please leave us a comment below!