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Colours of the National Flag (Spain)

Last modified: 2010-10-08 by eugene ipavec
Keywords: spain | specification: colour | colour | cie lab | cie 1931 |
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Meaning of the Colours

The colours in the Spanish flag probably originated in the colours of the original Spanish kingdoms' coats-of-arms. Castile has a yellow castle on a red field, Leon has a purple – sometimes dark red – lion carrying a yellow crown on a white field, Catalonia/Aragon has four red vertical pallets on a yellow field, Navarre a yellow chain on a red field (I have deliberately ommitted a correct heraldic blason). There is no specific symbolism in any of those colours, except for the legendary origin of the Aragonese-Catalan arms. One can read all sorts of things like "red stands for the blood shed by Spaniards and yellow for the bright Spanish sun" or even "red and yellow stand for bulls' and bullfighters' blood on the sand of the bullfighting ring", but they are fictitious (and frequently nonsense).

Santiago Dotor, 18 Nov 1998

What do the colours in the Spanish flag represent? The answer is basically "nothing." The colours were chosen in a 1785 contest among eleven other designs. From those twelve it becomes apparent that red, yellow, white and blue were preferred to other colours. It is not clear, however, that the reason to choose them was to keep the traditional, heraldical hues present in the Spanish arms. It is probable that cost of the material, ease of production and long distance reconnaisance capability played a role as important, if not much more, than tradition.

Santiago Dotor, 26 Feb 2001

Colour Specifications

Santiago Dotor wrote: "The red colour is quoted in the Constitution as merely "red."" There is a specification of the colours to be used for the Spanish flag in the Spanish legislation. This is not Pantone but the CIELAB system. This is what can be read in the Boletín Oficial del Estado:

Color     Denominacion color        Tono H* en º   Croma C*   Claridad L*
Rojo      Rojo bandera              35.0           70.0       37.0
Amarillo  Amarillo gualda bandera   85.0           95.0       80.0
The International System CIE 1.931 is also mentioned:
Iluminente C
Denominacion color       Y      x       y
Rojo bandera             9.5    0.614   0.320
Amarillo gualda bandera  56.7   0.488   0.469

Pascal Vagnat, 25 Sep 1998

I do not know these systems, CIE-LAB and CIE-1931 (meaning I've never even heard of them), but they sure seem to be colour producing systems (as opposed to "sample palette" colour identification systems), since each colour is not identified by a arbitrary number or other list entry, but rather determined by a set of values. Moreover CIE-LAB, using "shade" (tono), "color depth" (croma) and "brightness" (claridad), surely reminds of the HSB system, which stands for "hue," "saturation" and "bright." HSB is avaliable available as an option in PhotoShop and I tried the Spanish flag values reported image by Pascal Vagnat, but the comeout was nonsense: light green and brown. I guess that CIE-LAB and HSB, while being "matemathically" similar (they use the same approach to colour determination), must have different "scales," the first component being completely arbitrary. It's like defining colours in RGB and RBG: 0-255-0 is red in the first and blue in the second...

António Martins, 30 Jun 1999

CIE stands for Commission Internationale de l'Eclairage, or International Commission on Illumination. This organization has defined several colorimetric standards, two of which are the CIE Lab and the CIE 1931, or Yxy. Both represent colours as the coordinates of a point in a three-dimensional space, in terms of three primary colors, just as the RGB or the HSB computer standards do. All of these systems use different coordinate axis, however. In the Lab system, L is the luminance, or brightness, of the colour, and a-b are coordinates in a plane. This also can be expresed in polar form, as hue (H) and chroma (C), leading to the HCL specifications given for the Spanish flag. In the (year) 1931 standard, Y is also a kind of luminance, and x-y are again coordinates, in a different plane. There are conversion tables as well as an on-line utility to make the conversion between the CIE standards and RGB.

Juan Claudio Regidor, 18 Nov 1999

Applying the Colour Metric Converter to the CIE 1931 specifications of the Spanish national flag:

           Y     x      y                R    G    B
Red        9.5   0.614  0.320            168  12   27
Yellow     56.7  0.488  0.469   gives    255  179  0
Illuminant C
The closest browser safe equivalents would be RGB 153-0-51     for the red and RGB 255-204-0    
for the yellow, both darker than the middle shades used in our images, RGB 255-0-0     for the red and RGB 255-255-0    
for the yellow.

Santiago Dotor, 27 Nov 2000

I really think that this cannot be so. Either the CIE to RGB converter has some kind of bug or there is some fundamental impossibility in the conversion. One thing I am sure of – the Spanish flag is bright red and bright yellow, and the refered RGB values are way too dark.

António Martins, 03 Dec 2000

The said converter might be set to give dark values. I tried adjusting all the other variables to no avail, however. So maybe the official specification is that one and nobody uses it, not even the Spanish government. Also noteworthy is the fact that CIE 1931 is an approximation given by the law to the official CIE LAB specifications (also in FOTW).

Santiago Dotor, 04 Dec 2000

Meaning of the Colours

There are official Pantone colours for the flag of Luxembourg, but as far as I can find out there are no equivalents for France, Spain or Belgium. The only things which I can suggest are the official Pantone recommendations for the flag of Andorra (which after all contains blue, yellow and red and which borders two of the countries concerned). To save you looking it up, for the stripes these are: blue 072, yellow 012 and red 199 (the shades used in the arms are, of course, slightly different)..

Not all that helpful I know, but they are more or less basic shades and (in my opinion) look well together.

Christopher Southworth, 13 Jun 2004

Spanish red for the red in the Spanish CoA, regulated September 27th, 1999, is Pantone 186.

Source: Spanish Vexillological Society's website

Red for the flag is not officially regulated with the pantone system , but red 186 is close enough. The flag's yellow is not regulated in the Pantone system, buy yellow 116 is widely used.

Jose C. Alegria, 14 Jun 2004

I can only add that the "Manual de Imagen Institucional de la Administración General del Estado" (General State Administration Corporate Image Handbook) in the Order of 27 September 1999, published in BOE nº 232, 28 September 1999, gives Pantone 186 and 872 for the red and gold in the arms.

Source: SEV website

Santiago Dotor, 14 Jun 2004

In case it is not no FOTW (I haven't checked) the Album 2000 approximations for the Spanish page are:

   red 186c
yellow 116c
purple 226c
  blue 2738c
The last two are in the COA, though the COA has some more colours – however this two appear in relatively considerable amounts in various naval flags, while the others don't.

Anyway, to use the same red as in French or Belgian flag seems reasonable choice (it's the "heraldic red," whatever exactly I mean with it). Also the choice of the same bright yellow as in Belgian flag is an other sensible choice (again, we may speak of the "heraldic yellow").

The choice of the same colours for the "main" European colours may also be sensible from the printer's point of view (e.g. to save an other printing layer). This may mean also that the choice of the same red for Luxemburg, even if there is official choice, would not be that much noticable, but the blue must be lighter for differentiation...

Željko Heimer, 13 Jun 2004