If you’ve ever found yourself bored of using the same old colors to describe things, today’s post on rare colors is for you. It’s a natural follow-up to my last post, which focused on how to write excellent room descriptions for your text-based game.
When I say “rare,” I generally mean words that aren’t used in everyday conversation.
Some rare colors may be fairly common to RPGs (e.g. “ebony armor” or “obsidian sword”), but you might not know where the colors come from or why they’re named that way.
That’s why I added etymology hints, too.
The rare color words in this list can be used to describe all sorts of things, not just rooms and objects. How you use them is entirely up to you, but I do provide a few pointers at the end of this post.
List of rare color terms, grouped by category
For ease of browsing, I’ve grouped the rare colors in this list by category. Some colors might fall into more than one category (e.g. shades of reddish-orange could be either red or orange).
In such cases, I just picked whatever seemed most appropriate.
You’ll also notice that I included links to authoritative pages on the etymology of certain color terms.
As for the rarity of the terms in this list, I simply tried to select a variety of interesting color words. If you’re well-read or do a lot of design work with color palettes, you may find that you know several or many of the terms listed.
However, I did my best to include a few particularly rare items, as well. And don’t forget to check out the FAQ (trivia) at the end of this post. Enjoy!
Rare red colors
Rare shades of red include:
- amaranth – reddish-rose or reddish-purple color, named after the flower of the amaranth plant
- cardinal – vivid red, like the bird
- carmine – deep red, though some varieties may include a tiny bit of purple
- cinabrese – pale reddish-orange, after a flesh-colored pigment used by Italian Renaissance painters
- cinnabar – see vermillion below (and link to etymology)
- coquelicot – bright red, named after a French word for poppy
- crimson – deep, rich red with a hint of blue, often associated with royalty and luxury
- sorrel – reddish-brown, from horses of that color
- stammel – wine red, named after a coarse cloth used for medieval undergarments
- titian – reddish-brown, named after a Renaissance painter
- vermillion – bright red, sometimes slightly orange
Rare orange colors
Rare shades of orange include:
- amber – golden yellow-orange, named after fossilized tree sap, which is used to make jewelry
- fawn – pale shade of yellowish-brown or dark orange, both of which are found on the spotted coat of fawns (young deer)
- gamboge – yellow-orange used to dye Buddhist monks’ robes, named after the tree most commonly tapped to make the pigment
- jacinthe – vivid yellowish-orange, from a French name for hyacinth
- madder – orange-red, named after the plant used to make the dye (from its root)
- mahogany – golden-red or reddish-brown, named after mahogany wood; when referring to paints, mahogany is often a very dark reddish-brown
- nacarat – bright orange, sometimes with a reddish tint
- persimmon – bright orange, after the persimmon fruit
- sinopia – reddish-orange or reddish-brown, “red earth” or “red ochre” color used in Classical Antiquity through the Renaissance; fairly synonymous with the pigment known as Venetian red
- tangelo – bold orange, named after the fruit (a hybrid between orange and tangerine)
Rare yellow colors
Rare shades of yellow and gold colors include:
- aureate – gold, golden
- aureolin – medium yellow, named after a pigment similar to canary yellow
- champagne – pale yellow, after the bubbly drink
- citron – dark yellow, named after the fruit
- fulvous – brownish-yellow, see also tawny below
- jonquil – golden-yellow, after the flower (a species of daffodil)
- ochre – yellow-brown, but see this page for other varieties, e.g. “red ochre”
- or – yellow or gold, used in heraldry
- saffron – yellow-orange, named after the spice
- sarcoline – pale yellow-beige color used to describe some lighter skin tones; comes from the Greek word “sarx,” meaning flesh or meat
- tawny – brownish-yellow, usually, but see this list for other possibilities
Rare green colors
Rare shades of green include:
- celadon – pale green or gray-green, like the pottery
- chartreuse – yellowish-green, like the French liqueur
- kombu – dark green, the Japanese name for edible kelp
- lovat – grayish-green used in woolen textiles
- paris green – blue-green to deep green, after a toxic inorganic powder used as a pigment and insecticide
- sage – gray-green or silver-green, like the plant
- skobeloff – rich, bluish-green color with a hint of darkness
- smaragdine – deep green, after the Latin word for “emerald”
- tilleul – pale yellowish-green, named after the lime tree
- viridian – blue-green
Rare blue colors
Rare shades of blue include:
- azure – deep, sky-blue color
- celeste – sky blue
- cerulean – similar to azure but a little lighter (thank you, Crayola)
- cornflower – medium-to-light blue, named after the flower
- glaucous – hazy, grayish-blue, like the foggy sheen on plums and grapes
- indigo – deep purplish-blue, named after the plant used to make dye
- mazarine – deep blue color used in textiles and ceramics
- phthalo – blue-green, from the family of synthetic pigments made from copper phthalocyanine
- ultramarine – intense blue
- YInMn Blue – intense, near-perfect blue with IR reflective properties, discovered in 2009
- zaffre – deep cobalt blue, from the Persian word “zāfira,” which means “sapphire”
Rare purple colors
Rare shades of purple include:
- aubergine – dark purple, another word for eggplant
- byzantium – a rich, dark purple with a hint of red, named after the ancient city
- claret – dark reddish-purple, like the wine
- heliotrope – a vibrant purple with pinkish undertones, named after the flower
- lilac – pale blueish-purple, named after the flower
- mauve – grayish-purple
- mulberry – a vibrant reddish-purple, named after the fruit
- orchid – a medium to light purple with pink and blue undertones, named after the flower
- periwinkle – a soft, pastel purple with a bluish tint, named after the flower
- puce – brownish-purple
- thistle – a light purple with a slight grayish tone, named after the flower
- tyrian – deep reddish-purple that originated in ancient Phoenicia
- ultraviolet – intense blueish-purple
- wisteria – a light to medium purple, named after the flowering plant
If you’re wondering why so many shades of purple are named after flowers, check out the FAQs at the end of this post!
Rare black colors
Rare shades of black include:
- coal – matte black, like coal
- corbeau – black with green or blue, from the color of crows (corvids)
- ebony – black with olive undertones, named after a dense type of ornamental wood
- ink – a dark, intense black, often with a bluish undertone, reminiscent of black ink used in writing or printing
- jet – a deep, pure black, named after the lignite mineral used in jewelry, which is a precursor to coal
- obsidian – black, sometimes with purple undertones, named after the igneous rock
- onyx – deep black, named after the gemstone, a form of chalcedony
- piceous – glossy brownish-black, resembling pitch (pitch is also used as a color)
- sable – black used in heraldry, may have some brown, like a sable’s pelt
- Vantablack – an extremely dark black, known as one of the darkest artificial substances
See the end of this post for a brief discussion on whether white and black are considered colors.
Rare white colors
Rare shades of white include:
- alabaster – white with a very pale yellow or pink tint
- albescent – shading into or becoming white
- albugineous – white, used to describe anatomical features, such as fibers or fluids, that are white
- argent – white or silver, used in heraldry (similar to “or”)
- cornsilk – silky yellowish-white, describes the color of corn silk (the thread-like stuff that surrounds the corncob)
- eburnean – ivory white, from the Latin word meaning “resembling ivory”; the term can also be used to describe something as pure, pristine, or elegant
- magnolia – a creamy white with a hint of yellow or pink, named after the petals of the magnolia flower
- niveous – snowy or resembling snow, often used to describe a pure, untainted white
- porcelain – white, often used to describe delicate things or very pale skin
- zinc – a bluish-white, named after the metal zinc, often used in galvanizing
Rare gray colors
Rare shades of gray include:
- battleship – a medium gray with a bluish tint, often associated with naval ships
- cinereous – ash gray, sometimes gray-brown, from the Latin word for ashes
- drab – a dull, light brownish-gray, often used to describe uninteresting or dreary things
- feldgrau – grayish green, from the German word for “field green.” Feldgrau was the color of choice for German uniforms during WWI and WWII.
- gossamer – greyish-white, like a spider’s web
- greige – grayish-beige, a portmanteau of gray and beige
- gunmetal – medium gray, sometimes with a greenish undertone
- isabelline – pale yellowish-gray, used to describe plumage, horse coats, and textiles used in fashion
- livid – a grayish-blue or grayish-purple, often used to describe the color of bruises or contusions
- pewter – flat gray, named after a tin alloy
- pumice – a light, ashy gray, named after the volcanic rock
Is it gray or grey?
Either! Gray is more common in American English, while grey is more common in British English.
How to use the rare color names in this list
It’s worth noting that some of the rare colors listed here are more obscure than others. Depending on your audience, some readers may find the words strange, confusing, outdated, or even pretentious!
If your readers aren’t receptive, the words in this list might annoy them more than intrigue them. Your writing might come across as pretentious or unnecessarily high-brow.
If that’s the case, choose carefully and use sparingly.
On the other hand, if your audience is the type to enjoy obscure words they’ve never heard of before, feel free to use rare colors in this list with abandon. Every audience is different.
Tips to familiarize readers with rare colors
If you’re concerned about being understood, you can help readers along by including the basic color term after the adjective.
For example, instead of writing just “saffron,” you can write “saffron yellow.” Instead of “sage,” you can write “sage green.” This way, even if they don’t know that saffron is an orange-yellow spice or that sage is a silver-green herb, they still know what basic color you’re talking about.
Once your audience has been introduced to these new colors, you can use the lesser-known terms more freely in your writing.
Good use of context can also help your readers become more receptive and less resistant to unfamiliar words. (See also the tip on “show, don’t tell” in my post on writing room descs.)
When to use the rare color words in this list
I recommend using the colors in this list whenever you want to spice up your writing. Especially if you spend much time describing areas, clothing, and other objects for a text-based RPG.
Writing the same words over and over can really reduce one’s enthusiasm and motivation for a project.
The same is true for readers and their reading material!
Readers’ eyes will gloss over if they read the words “azure sky” and “verdant grass” over and over. Tossing in some variety can help hold your readers’ attention – and yours!
Additional resources for writers and roleplayers
I hope you enjoyed this list of rare color terms! If you did, you may also like these other lists I created:
For color basics, such as the difference between a tint, shade, and tone, check out this Wikipedia page. You might also like the Color Meanings blog, which includes lots of articles about color, the meaning of color, and color ideas.
Thanks for reading, and until next time!
Frequently Asked Questions
If you enjoy trivia, check out these FAQs about color:
What’s the rarest color in nature?
Blue is considered the rarest naturally occurring color when referring to pigments. Animals and insects that appear blue tend to mimic blue pigment through structural means.
Because of its rarity and costliness, blue dye was often reserved for royalty in ancient times.
What’s the rarest color in the world?
Blue pigments are thought to be some of the rarest in the world. A modern example is YInMn blue (pronounced “in-min blue”). YInMn blue is a vibrant, near-perfect blue pigment that was discovered in 2009 by chemists at Oregon State University.
Unlike other blue pigments used throughout history, such as cobalt blue, YInMn blue is not toxic to humans.
What’s the difference between a color and a pigment?
Color refers to the subjective perception of light, while pigments are substances that selectively absorb and reflect light to create the appearance of color in materials.
Pigments are one means of achieving color, but color can also be produced through other mechanisms such as structural coloration (e.g. blue found in butterfly wings).
Are black and white considered colors?
Depends on who you ask. In art, white is treated as the absence of color. However, in science, white light includes the entire color spectrum, while black is the absence of light – and therefore color.
This is why you might get a different answer to the question, “Are black and white colors?” depending on who you’re talking to (an artist or a scientist).
Is Vantablack the blackest black?
Created for space exploration, Vantablack holds the record for being one of the darkest substances created by humans. Made from nano-materials, it has an extremely high light absorption capability, absorbing over 99.9% of visible light and giving it the appearance of a black hole.
This makes Vantablack one of the closest approximations to a “perfect black” that has ever been achieved by humans.
Is magenta a real color?
Although well-known for its presence on the color wheel, magenta does not exist as a visible wavelength. Humans only perceive magenta as a distinct color due to the way our visual system processes and combines different wavelengths of light (red and blue).
For this reason, magenta is known as an “extra-spectral color.”
Why are so many purple colors named after flowers?
Flowers like lilac, lavender, orchid, and wisteria are among the few naturally occurring sources of this purple. This rarity makes the purple shades of these flowers particularly memorable and distinctive.
The use of flower names for colors often dates back to times when dyes and pigments were made from natural sources. Flowers like lavender and orchids were used to create dyes, making their names synonymous with the colors they produced.
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