Renault Group

Colourist: A trade unto its own at Renault Design

22 February 2022
DesignIndustry & quality

Orange Valencia – colour chosen for the launch of the fifth generation Clio – made quite a splash for its release in 2019, undoubtedly because it was the first ever orange-coloured varnish ever to be produced for a production model. An iconic look developed by Raphael, colourist at Renault Design. Using pigments, nacre, and other alumina, he is a colour technician who works away in his studio to design between 15 to 20 colours every year. Brushes up! Get set! Paint!

On average, each Renault vehicle comes with seven different hues. Every subtle feature, contrast, or metallic sheen is carefully thought out. Everything is assessed and ultimately approved by the Design teams with the help of creative experts and suppliers before being taken to the streets and on to dealerships.

I can do everything, create everything. With alumina, nacre, and all the fundamental pigments needed to compose a colour. All the colours of the rainbow.

colourist at Renault Design

A rainbow of inspiration

Working at Renault Design for the past 21 years, Raphael spent his first 10 years as a painter before becoming a colour technician. Quite simply, he makes the colours to be used on cars as they leave the plant. Located within the Tehcnocentre – Renault Design’s headquarters –, Raphael has a laboratory in which he can play around with different coloured pigments and three painting booths to apply and test each new batch.
In reality, a colourist is first and foremost an artist !

Un arc-en-ciel d’inspirations

First of all, Raphael is given a set of indications by the Colour and Materials Designer who lays down the general idea of the colour to be made and gives the initial inspiration. "I'm told we’re looking for a blue, that can be light or dark depending on the vehicle; then I take it from there," says Raphael.

There are many questions that need to be answered at this stage of the process: Is it a limited series vehicle? If so, the colour will have to make a statement, something with a short life span. Or something more strategic, more lasting? What type of body is it going to be used on? Does Raphael have to work within the confines of a very specific brief or is it more of an inspirational mood board.

The colourist’s priority is to come up with new ideas before producing a first batch he will have approved by the designer. To do this, he uses highly accurate techniques to get the perfect balance for each mix. "Sometimes I get it perfect the first time," says Raphael. In this case, one day is more than enough to get approval for the new colour. "But most of the time it takes a lot of time, going back and forth with the designer to get the colour we’re looking for.

A pinch of red pigment

Une pincée de pigments rouges

What does this colour wizard keep stored away in is drawers and on his shelves? No magic potions or spell books, but pigments. Lots of pigments! "I have raw pigments that are found only in the chemical industry. Others that are readily found in most garages. I mix them together to get the right colour." While pigments used to be organic compounds, they are now synthetic and there are countless varieties that come from the United States, Japan, and even Germany. Along with alumina and nacre, pigments are the essential ingredients when making any new colour.

Colours exist in several large families: solid; metallic; pearlescent; triple-layer (composed of a solid layer, a pearlescent layer, then a layer of varnish); and coloured varnishes. 

It's a bit like a recipe for cooking... except that you don't lick the spoon once you’re done! Do I add a big splash of glitter? A small dash? Which colours mix well together? Should I use coloured alumina or varnish? The goal is to always create something new and harmonious.

Un arc-en-ciel d’inspirations

While you only need three to eight ingredients to obtain the final colour, getting the desired result is really a matter of dosing. It may mean having to prepare a dozen different batches to get there. It goes without saying that the number of possible combinations is almost limitless.

"I can't afford to go off in all directions," says Raphael with a cautionary air. "You have to make something beautiful yet affordable. Something that is fully realised but easily repeatable. Of course, the goal is to create something that is pleasing to as many people as possible, but ultimately, cost is a major factor."

The final product is then obtained by adding a varnish, most often glossy. By adding resin to the mixture, Raphael can also alter the finish, anywhere from matte to satin.

Among Raphael's latest ingenious ideas, Glass Flakes is an ingredient made of miniature glass beads that, when added to the base mixture or varnish, helps the paint reflect light.

The Seven Wonders of Raphael's World of Colour

Shape: All About Seduction

Une pincée de pigments rouges

After ‘cooking up a batch of pigments’ and getting the green light from the Colour and Material designer, Raphael moves on to the more technical phase. It is a matter of faithfully reproducing the colour every time during the first assembly. Raphael then works closely with the supplier in charge of colour matching based on an industrial brief.

This stage takes about eight weeks. The paint is then applied to a curved form: a rather large piece of sheet metal that catches light differently according to its angle and source. This gives a good idea of the final product. For one final check just to be sure and to obtain approval from Project teams, Raphael applies the final paint to a 1:1 scale car.

Lastly, factory robots reproduce the exact same colour using very precise spraying and pressure processes.

I have explored everything from white to black, from red to green. In my job, I have to find ways to reinvent myself. That is the key to it all. I have to seek out new pigments. Do things differently.

It can take up to one and a half years between the day a colour is created and the first time it is applied to a car an assembly line. However, some colours, such as Alpine’s Fire Orange, took five times longer (eight years, to be exact) before seeing the light of day.

To immortalize his creation, Raphael called on his imagination one last time to give a name to his colour. For example, the name ‘Zanzibar Blue – a colour first seen on Arkana – draws on a holiday memory: "It is evocative of the colour of white sand, water, and a dark sky above. “

From precursor orange to presidential blue

Among all the colours composed by Raphael, some have become icons. Colours that marked minds and their time because of how daring, innovative, and quite simply beautiful they were.
When I see a colour I like in the streets, I sometimes wonder which pigments our competitor used to get it. However, it always gives me fresh ideas and original ingredients to work with to design something you won't find anywhere else.
This was the case with Orange Valencia, launched with the fifth generation Clio. This is the first and only production model orange-coloured varnish in the history of automotives. Combined with an undercoat of a different colour, the varnish gives the hue a saturation that is deeper and more vivid. "When it comes to coloured varnishes, we were already leading the way somewhat with Flame Red," Raphael recalls. "The idea was to find ways to do just as well, if not better, on the next model, all the while looking for something original. “
Renault's iconic colour for the past 10 years, Rouge Flamme is still used on current models such as the All-new Mégane E-TECH Electric
The difficulty is that not all colours suit all body types, nor all silhouettes. A body with round, generous shapes like Clio will go hand in hand with a powerful, saturated colour like Flame Red. While a metallic colour, with shades of grey, such as Shale Grey, would be more flattering for a car body with tighter lines, such as the All-New Megane E-TECH Electric.
Raphael applies the final paint to a 1:1 scale car
Lastly, more refined or widely accepted colours are easier to pair with other vehicle shapes. Midnight Blue is one such colour. It is used for the All-New Megane E-TECH Electric, ZOE, as well as the Espace driven by the French President.

Colour, an endangered species?

"For the past ten years I have been working on highly-saturated, very colourful hues. Colours that stood out." says Raphael. "I'm a fan of colour. The less white, black, and grey there is, the better off I am! In fact, I would love to see more of the full colour spectrum out there on the roads. But the world today is becoming more uniform."
A survey carried out a year ago by Axalta (automotive paint specialist) confirmed that colours are in fact becoming more uniform. According to the survey, 81% of vehicles marketed worldwide are either white (38%), black (19%), or grey (15%). Manufacturers tend to favour these colours because they are relatively cheap to make."Some of these colours have been around for ages," says Raphael. "They are here to last. Take the Renault White: it is over 30 years old!"
While colour palettes offered by manufacturers are increasingly limited, some markets have long resisted more "neutral colours” and continue to do so today. Some countries have cultures that are more welcoming of colour. This is the case in India, where spices and fabrics create a kaleidoscope of colour. In 2020, Renault unveiled the Kiger show-car, which paved the way for a new model specifically for the Indian market. Aurora Borealis was specially designed for the model and was unique in how it changed appearance depending on the light and from which angle the car was viewed. It combined blue-purple highlights with neon-green accents.
The Renault Kiger show-car, intended for the Indian market, bore the shades of a unique colour known as Aurora Borealiss
In terms of manufacturers, Renault’s Chief Colour and Material Designer, François Farion, said in a previous story that he feels that "Renault has quite an advantage as its offer includes a greater array of colours than average. We sell about 10% more colourful models than our competitors."
Not too long ago, colourists tended to create cross-colours. In other word, colours that were used by several brands within the Group. Nowadays, each colour is exclusive to a manufacturer, or even to a specific model. Each brand has its own identity, with its own unique visual language. "Dacia is the only one with shades of green, for example, with a palette drawn from nature ," says Raphael. "Whereas Alpine taps into a language centred around different shades of blue that we are constantly reinventing."
As regards Renault, "We are now working towards colours that are highly sought-after, more subtle," says Raphael. "We keep some colours with a certain degree of saturation, but we also look for more sophisticated hues, sometimes even a bit ‘metal’. We are tending toward richer colours with more depth."