Why all the disagreement on which
 color is correct?


  by Art Braunschweiger, TRMA


If you're new to Titanic modeling, the lack of agreement among the "experts" can be frustrating.  In some cases there’s disagreement on what paint brand is best, and in other cases as to what the the real color was. Some explanation may help. 

To start, Harland & Wolff didn’t buy their paint in large drums as is done today. They mixed their own in the paint shop (pictured above). The formula for any given paint color might not have been written down to begin with, and might have varied slightly from batch to batch. As to the "correct" color? "Without a mixing formula from H&W, a paint supplier to White Star or something from whatever remains of the Line's archives, there can be no such thing. All we have to go on are a few period models, and a small number of existing color photos, none of which can be counted on due to either aging of the paint on the models or the affect that period films had on color rendering. Beyond that, there's the educated guesswork of individuals like Ken Marschall to use as a guide. On top of all of this, you have the "human factor" to contend with; everyone's eyes interpret light and the color spectrum with slight variations, and that's without taking the problem of colorblindness into consideration. That's precisely why . . . an awful lot depends on whether or not you're satisfied with a particular result, with the secondary problem being whether or not you can obtain the brands and colors called for in a given mix." (Scott Andrews, from a January ’04 TRMA forum posting)

While there’s plenty of historical evidence, it sometimes conflicts.  This is especially the case with illustrations of the period.  (See the article “Photographic and Illustrative Evidence of White Star Buff" for more information on this.

Lighting will also affect colors significantly. The same color viewed outdoors will appear noticeably different in bright sunlight, under cloud cover, on a rainy day, at sunrise, or at sunset. The color will also change if light is reflecting off the water, and will even be different at sea than in harbor. So a great deal depends on conditions, and much is subjective judgment.  This is why the same color doesn’t appear the same in different photographs, and why descriptions vary.

Another very real problem is the difficulty in finding a match for certain colors. White Star Buff and deck planking are top on this list, because neither can be easily described or matched. While theoretically the modeler should be able to mix paints to any color necessary, in reality it’s not possible or practical.  This is why the paint recommendations for Titanic modeling primarily list stock paints.  But a stock paint may not be an exact match for a color, and there may be another alternative from another brand that’s fairly close.  Each color will develop its own followers.

The bottom line is that YOU have to like the color you’re using. It has to look realistic to you, because it’s your model and your vision. Some modelers may even choose to sacrifice historical accuracy for personal reasons. For example, the well deck color used by James Cameron in his movie has since been determined to be completely different from the actual color. But, some like the movie so much that they want their model to replicate the film version rather than the real thing. There’s nothing wrong with this; it’s all about personal choice.

Many of the color recommendations on this site are based on the collective experience of many serious Titanic modelers over many years. For most colors, there is a reasonable consensus as to one or more choices of paints or mixes. But that doesn’t mean that they are the best color choices possible, nor are they the only choices available. The same goes for mixing formulas. At some point you may not be satisfied with the look of a particular color, and want to improve on it. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Your hobby shop should be able to get you color charts of the paints you’re using. With that in hand as a guide, find some similar colors, shake up the bottle, and see what it looks like (but remember, it will dry a slightly different shade.) Buy a few, try them out on scrap plastic, and even attempt a mix or two. This will make you a more confident modeler, and you’ll have the satisfaction of having what amounts to a truly custom paint job on your model. And who knows, you may be the one to discover a new mix that no one else has thought of!