Hard-to-Find LEGO Colors (and what to do about it)
Bringing back one retired LEGO color in 2018 raises an important question—how useful are the 39 colors that we already have? Let’s see how many colors are available in enough different parts that you can actually build what you want!
In this chapter:
Update January 31, 2018: The topics explored in this article were featured in a recent episode of the All Sorted podcast. I highly recommend listening to the podcast after reading the article—the podcast reinforces the main points from this article, and you can listen to it in the car.
Back in December, it was revealed that a color was added to the 2018 LEGO Color Palette, bringing the number of solid colors in current sets to 40. It isn’t actually a new color; they brought back 107—Bright Bluish Green (BrickLink: Dark Turquoise, Common Name: Teal.) The color plays a major role in the new #10260 Downtown Diner set, although you can also find it in 2018 Elves and Disney sets.
This was the first new color since the Friends line was introduced in 2012; that’s when they added 326—Spring Yellowish Green, 323—Aqua, 322—Medium Azur, and 324—Medium Lavender. This was in addition to 323—Aqua, 321—Dark Azur, and 325—Lavender which were added in 2011. (2012 also brought us 330—Olive Green with Monster Fighters and Dino sets.)
LEGO fans make a big deal when a color is retired, added, or changed slightly—but does it really make a big difference for model builders? Certainly new colors can make a big difference, but it typically takes a long time for a new color to be available in a wide range of parts. As you will see, many new colors remain limited to a small selection of parts for a very long time, thus limiting their usefulness.
Related Links: The Rambling Brick: “Teal We Meet Again: In search of Stafford’s Choice”, New Elementary: “Contest: Kill Teal”, The Brick Blogger: “LEGO Downtown Diner & the return of teal”, Brickset: “Teal we meet again”.
Rather than just celebrate that we now have one more LEGO color to choose from, let’s take a deeper look at the existing solid colors to see how easy it is to use the 39 colors we already have.
All colors are not created (in) equal (quantities)
In this article, I have done a detailed analysis of which colors are most common in sets from the last 5 years. This has been done before, which is why I took the analysis one step further and looked at the 24 most common basic bricks/plates/tiles as a way of gaining insight into not only how many parts are made in each color, but which colors are offered in the widest selection of useful parts.
What we find is that the 10 most common colors account for almost 80% of the LEGO bricks which are produced every year. Since the remaining 30 colors make up just 20% of the parts being produced, the remaining colors range from relatively uncommon to very rare.
The top 10 colors are (in order):
- 194—Medium Stone Grey (Light Bluish Gray), 15%.
- 1—White, 13%.
- 199—Dark Stone Grey (Dark Bluish Gray), 11%.
- 26—Black, 11%.
- 5—Brick Yellow (Tan), 7%.
- 192—Reddish Brown, 6%.
- 21—Bright Red (Red), 5%.
- 24—Bright Yellow (Yellow), 4%.
- 138—Sand Yellow (Dark Tan), 4%.
- 23—Bright Blue (Blue), 3%.
Percentages based on buying one of every set released in 2013-2017, and sorting the 24 most common bricks/plates/tiles by color.
This article looks closely at these less common colors, and helps you understand how to make the most of each of these colors in your MOC’s. To keep the conversation manageable, we will only look at the 24 most common bricks, plates, and tiles, although the same patterns play out across the whole range of parts.
Common, Uncommon, and Rare Colors
It would be easy enough to sort all of the colors by the quantity of parts produced in each color, and somewhat arbitrarily draw lines between those colors which are common, uncommon, and rare. Instead, I added a second dimension to the groupings—In how many common parts does each color come?
Amazingly, none of these 24 common parts are currently available in all 40 solid colors. This means that LEGO artists who choose less common colors will need to work around situations where the part they need is not available in the color they want to use.
While it isn’t the focus of this article, some of the workarounds include: re-designing the model, using a similar color, buying horribly overpriced non-production parts, or even cutting parts to a smaller size.
That’s why it’s beneficial to break the color palette into categories:
- Common colors – Colors which are available in almost every common part, allowing you build whatever you want with very few part substitutions.
- Uncommon Colors – Colors which are available in a lot of parts, but are missing enough parts to make them frustrating to build with.
- Rare Colors – Colors which are available in so few parts that you can only really use them as an accent color in your models.
While the chart is hard to read, you can see black squares which represent parts which are not available in that color, and the red colors represent parts which are “rare” in that color because they come in very few sets. The colors were organized from left (common) to right (rare).
The following chart zooms-in on the first 17 colors in the previous chart. These are the most common colors—each of these colors is available in almost all of the 24 common parts included in this analysis. While some of these colors are significantly more common than others, they are all great choices for the main color while building your next great MOC. If you don’t have the parts you need, common parts in these colors are readily available online.
In addition to the classic LEGO colors, a few relatively new colors are already available in most common parts:
- 154—Dark Red was introduced in 2001.
- 138—Sand Yellow (Dark Tan) was introduced in 2002, and is already in the top 10 most common colors for basic parts.
- 191—Flame Yellowish Orange (Bright Light Orange) was introduced in 2004. It has slowly become available in most basic parts while remaining relatively uncommon.
- 324—Medium Lavender and 322—Medium Azur make the list, which is noteworthy since they were only introduced in 2012, and most parts from these colors have only appeared in a few sets.
Next, we see the colors that are frustrating because between 4 and 9 out of the most common 24 LEGO parts are missing. You also need to remember that many of the specialty parts which are popular for adding smaller details to LEGO models are not available in these colors.
To be fair, some of these colors will be more frustrating than others. (For example, it’s harder to workaround the lack of a 1×1 part than the lack of a 1×2 part, since you can often use two 1×1 parts as a substitute.)
Unfortunately, some really great colors are uncommon:
- 140. Earth Blue (Dark Blue) which gives models depth with this darker shade.
- 151. Sand Green which is one of a small number of low-saturation colors that is perfect for re-creating weathered copper surfaces.
- 38. Dark Orange which is an important complement to both brighter colors and earthtones.
- 222. Light Purple (Medium Pink), 268. Medium Lilac (Dark Purple), 124. Bright Reddish Violet (Magenta), and 221. Bright Purple (Dark Pink) are the four most common Pink / Purple colors.
Exactly why these colors aren’t available in all common parts is not clear to me. While most of these colors are relatively new, 38. Dark Orange was introduced in 1994, 102. Medium Blue was introduced in 1997, and 151. Sand Green was introduced in 2000. I really hope that the AFOL’s who work at LEGO find ways to sneak some of these missing parts into sets soon, allowing us to move these colors into the “Main Colors” group.
Lastly, we look at those colors which remain very rare across the 24 common LEGO parts analyzed here. In some cases this is explained by the color’s purpose—two of the Nougat (Flesh) colors are used extensively for minifigure hands and heads, but rarely used in other places. Many of the other cases are likely attributable to colors which were only recently added to the palette.
Surprisingly, not all of these colors are new. 135. Sand Blue has been around since 2001, but still only comes in just 12 of the 24 parts listed here. (This is unfortunate; low saturation colors add realism to MOC’s.) 312. Medium Nougat is another odd example, since it is relatively common in bricks, but very rare in plates.
Cheap vs. Expensive Colors
A second way to look at the color palette is to consider which colors are cheaper and more expensive to buy. Not surprisingly, the most common colors also tend to be the least expensive, but there are some unexpected surprises when you dig in to the data.
All prices are based on the sales from the Last 6 Months on Bricklink of new pieces in larger quantities. (Data pulled 2018/01/12)
Least Expensive Colors
The charts also show that the most common colors are often the least expensive colors. This makes sense, since they are available in much greater quantities.
That said, there are a couple relatively common colors that are significantly below the average price (for the 24 common parts explored in this article):
- 119—Bright Yellowish Green (Lime) parts are the cheapest, at 40% below average.
- 192—Reddish Brown, 21—Bright Red (Red), 24—Bright Yellow (Yellow), and 23—Bright Blue (Blue) are about 30% below average.
I found it a bit surprising that despite massive production volumes, the four most common colors are not significantly below average price. 194—Medium Stone Grey (Light Bluish Gray), 1—White, 199—Dark Stone Grey (Dark Bluish Gray), and 26—Black are only between 5% and 15% below average prices. I think it’s because these are popular colors for MOC’s, and supply is doing a good job of matching demand.
Most Expensive Colors
There are only three relatively common colors that are more than 50% above average prices. All three are relatively low-volume colors, and I think the prices are high because they are popular colors for MOC’s.
Most expensive colors:
- 151—Sand Green is the most expensive color, at more than double average prices.
- 323—Aqua (Light Aqua) is about 80% above average prices.
- 38—Dark Orange is about 55% above average prices.
While a specific part in a specific color might be particularly expensive, the majority of colors cost roughly the same price. That said, you might want to do a little research before getting your heart set on a particular color for your next big build—you might find the parts you need don’t exist or are more expensive than you had hoped!
Out-of-print and non-production parts
You also might notice that there are quite a few part/color combinations that haven’t been produced recently, but are available on BrickLink to purchase. This could be due to a number of factors including: it was included in sets more than 5 years ago, it was incorrectly listed on the site, or it was never included in a LEGO set, but a handful escaped the factory through various channels (including LEGO employees, or the design studios at LEGOLAND theme parks.) These are called non-production color parts.
A few of the many parts which you can buy on BrickLink even though they don’t appear to be included any current sets:
- 28—Dark Green (Green) – Tile 1×6. Three were included in one set from 2009. 0.44$
- 138—Sand Yellow (Dark Tan) – Brick 1×3. Not available in any sets. 5.89$
- 140—Earth Blue (Dark Blue) – Plate 2×6. Two were included in one set from 2003. 6.55$
- 140—Earth Blue (Dark Blue) – Brick 2×4. Included in four sets from 2008-2011. 0.47$
This analysis has changed how I look at my collection—I’m focusing my attention on filling in gaps in the most common colors, and only those uncommon colors which are most useful for building Architecture models. The data reinforced my inclination to continue avoiding the rare colors, because finding the parts you need is difficult and expensive. (I’d be happy to see 135—Sand Blue, and 308—Dark Brown become available in most common parts.)
This article is the first I’ve seen which measures the usefulness and cost of each color by comparing cost and availability across a set of common parts. I chose to focus on Bricks, Plates, and Tiles, as these are the core building elements required to build almost any model (using System pieces.) In the future, I may cast a wider net to see if any of the colors end up in a different category if we include other common parts in the analysis (such as: Round 1×1 Plate, Cheese Slopes, Grille, Jumpers, Bow.) I also want to see if any of the Transparent, Metallic, or Glow Colors are more common than I think.
Criteria for inclusion in my list of “common” parts included both:
- Part available in 20 or more colors.
- if you bought one of each set between 2013 and 2017, you would have 3000 or more of that part across all colors.
The data used for this article comes from two sources: BrickLink for Cost Data (prices on 2018/01/12), and Rebrickable for Set Inventories (downloaded 2018/01/10)
The cost data was pulled from Bricklink using the BrickStock app. This data was saved as a .bsx file, which can be imported into Excel.
STEPS: Create a list of “common” parts with quantity of 1 each, copy/pasted 40 times and modified to include all parts in all 40 colors, “extras > update database”, “edit > price > set to price guide” using options “Last 6 months sales” / “Quantity Average”, Save Changes.
The number of parts for each part/color was derived from the latest data you can download from Rebrickable.
STEPS: I re-created the database structure in Access, added two additional tables to help normalize the data and drive my queries: 1) Table of color names & color ID’s across LEGO/BrickLink/Rebrickable databases. 2) A table of parts that I care about for this report. This allowed me to make a single query listing all elements from all sets from 2013-2017, along with Part ID and Bricklink Color ID.
Finally, the output of that data feeds into an excel spreadsheet that has color ID’s across the top, and Part ID’s across the left. One workbook counts the number of parts in each part/color combination from the data exported from Access. The second workbook finds the latest Brinklink prices for each part/color from the table outputted from BrickStock app.
Possible Errors in analysis:
- Price data is based on new parts available in large quantities from the last 6 months. Might be significantly different if used parts were included, or if prices changed very recently.
- I only looked at 24 common parts. It is entirely possible that some of these colors are significantly more/less common, or more/less expensive in different parts. (I know that the two Nougat/Flesh colors are mostly used for Minifigure hands and heads.)