To Colour or Not to Colour: a treatise on digital heraldic submissions

As more and more heraldic submissions are accepted using digitally rendered and coloured means, the question frequently comes up in heraldic spaces: what is an acceptable digital colour palette, in either hex codes or Pantone colours? This article will discuss why the SCA College of Arms has not published an official digital colour palette, and some reasons why it’s still quite fine to submit the old fashioned way using markers and hand-drawn art.

Let’s get the big question out of the way: why does the SCA College of Arms not have an official, “acceptable” digital colour palette?

There are a couple of reasons. One, colour is incredibly subjective. To explain this concept, this VSauce video goes into detail about the subjectiveness of colour. Besides those who are colour-blind, there exist tetrachromats (who can perceive a few more shades of colour). But, even if you’re not colour-blind or have extra colour sensing cones, the way that each individual experiences colour is still slightly different. Colour can also appear different depending on lighting, if there’s another colour nearby, or even the time of day.

Another reason why having a standard colour palette is a terrible idea is that there are simply colours that people don’t like. “But Konstantia,” I hear you say, “all they have to do is not use those colours!” Ah, but au contraire, my friends. Think of it this way – imagine that the reason one may not like a colour is because of a shade of a colour. As a personal preference, I happen to like some fairly golden yellows . . . which look absolutely wretched with some shades of blue, green, and purple. Limiting our already limited heraldic colour palette to a submitter may make it even more difficult for a submitter to figure out what they want their heraldic device to look like. Worse, it could turn out that a submitter might actually want a more period tincture (which, if you do, and you want to see some cool examples, Maister Iago ab Adam has a fantastic set of period heraldic palettes that could be used for personal use here) which may not register to modern eyes as being a particular colour. (I’ve seen purple go very red in the same vein of Tyrian purple, for example.) If we limit our submissions paperwork to these colours, our friends desiring to use a more period tincture set are left out.

So, what about those who do only digital heraldic art? Fair question. It’s helpful to have some idea of what could be used so that heraldic submittals go faster, understandably. That said, think of the effects of printed submissions. Aside from Virtual Herald’s Point (which is a very large exception), most submittals are printed and sent in to submissions heralds across the Knowne World. Depending on printer type (ink or laserjet), monitor calibration, paper colour, and/or scanner calibration, the colour of each submittal can look radically different from pass to pass. Even with a standard palette, there is still room for heraldic tinctures to look radically different. Even as someone who does digital heraldic art, I frequently have to recalibrate my monitor to make sure that what looks good on my computer at home looks good on my phone or even on other computers because of variability on monitors or phones.

Of course, let’s say that as a heraldic artist, you prefer to work in traditional methods because you’re a Neo-Luddite when it comes to digital art (of which there is very little wrong). Not everyone has the capabilities, either mechanical, financial, or temporal to do a digital submission, or may be unplugged at a war. Even with the interconnectedness of our Society, it may still be difficult for someone to do a digital submittal – and by picking a standard, it makes it more difficult for our traditional artists to submit art. In fact, it penalizes them. (also, of note, a great article about the types of markers one could use besides the Crayola gold standard is found here.) Also, somewhat related – as someone who has done both traditional and digital submittals, we should remember that just because it’s done traditionally, that it’s not any less valid for either submittal or for discussing in forums such as SCA (Unofficial) Heraldic Consultation. (Also, bad heraldic art is period and I adore it.) As long as the concept can be blazoned, then by all means, hand draw it.

Lastly, let’s look at the already bad reputation that heralds have been trying to fight for the last fifty-odd years. By being even more nit-picky about colour, we run an even higher risk of alienating potential submitters. Even if one was to actually implement an official heraldic colour palette, who would actually want to be That Person to tell a submitter that their shade of purple was actually too blue? I most certainly don’t, and it does very little to fix the reputation of heralds as officious and hypercritical.

Am I saying that it’s a bad idea for an individual to have a particular colour palette for their own use? Absolutely not. Again, as someone who does digital heraldic art, having those easy buttons make things a lot easier. But, by insisting that Gules be #CC0000 or Azure as Reflex Blue C instead of PANTONE 293 C, leads to quibbles that the College already doesn’t have time to deal with. At the end of the day, we want people to be able to register their devices so they can use them accordingly. If it helps to use a colour chart, Mathghamhain has one here, but remember that this colour chart is merely a guide.

Also, of note – even as I say that the College of Arms is not mandating a particular colour palette, if a green or blue looks teal, then there runs the risk of that submittal being returned. Same goes for a yellow that looks orange, or a purple that looks overly red. Blurple is always an issue that we have difficulty with in submittals. What I am fond of telling people is that going back to the colours that they learned as kids are almost always a safe bet for heraldic colours. As I discussed in my article Making the Odds Ever Be in Your Favour: surviving the heraldic submissions process, these colours are easily identifiable, and in the commentary process, using those identifiable colours will make it much easier for Wreath Sovereign of Arms to make their decision. After your device has been registered, feel free to go with any shade of that particular heraldic tincture, provided that it is what you registered. (Example: if you register green, use any shade of green that could be read as green.)

TL; DR: the SCA College of Arms does not mandate a hex code or PANTONE colour for heraldic tinctures as colour is subjective, the methods used to create heraldic art for registration is not standardized, and while it is okay for an individual to have their own cheater palette for their own use, alienating submitters and heralds alike is a Terrible Idea.

About Rachel

I belong to the Society for Creative Anachronism, and there, I'm known as Konstantia Kaloethina, an Eastern Roman (Byzantinian) woman of the sixth century from Constantinople. I am proteged to Master Gabriel andvaka Kjotvason. I'm an American. I share Harry Potter's birthdate (July 31st, 1983). I typically score as INTJ (Myers-Briggs), and as a confirmed Five with a Four wing "Iconoclast" (Enneagram) type, with strong scores in Musical, Visual/Spatial, and Intrapersonal on the Multiple Intelligences test.
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