50+ Rare colors to intrigue your readers

Updated
A headshot of Andruid, shaded blue.
By Andruid

Writer, roleplayer, storyteller, and nerd who tries to live by Bill and Ted wisdom, i.e. "Be excellent to each other." 

Table of Contents

    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 below.

    How to use the rare color names in this list

    Before you jump in, it’s important to note 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 Depending on your audience, some readers may find the words strange, confusing, outdated, or even pretentious!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 playerbase 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. Their eyes are going to 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!

    List of 50+ rare colors, 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. For any colors that don’t have links, you can learn more simply by performing a web search. For example, when I Google “saffron color”, the first result in the list is Saffron (color) on Wikipedia.

    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. Enjoy!

    Rare red colors

    Shades of red paint distributed on a canvas.
    • 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
    • cinnabar – see vermillion below (and link to etymology)
    • coquelicot – bright red, named after a French word for poppy
    • 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

    Shades of orange paint evoking sunset colors.
    • 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)
    • nacarat – bright orange, sometimes with a reddish tint
    • tangelo – bold orange, named after the fruit (a hybrid between orange and tangerine)

    Rare yellow colors

    Saffron yellow paint on a surface.
    • aureate – gold, golden
    • aureolin – medium yellow, named after a pigment similar to canary yellow
    • citron – dark yellow, named after the fruit
    • fulvous – brownish-yellow, see also tawny below
    • 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
    • tawny – brownish-yellow, usually, but see this list for other possibilities

    Rare green colors

    Shades of green paint mixed together.
    • celadon – pale green or gray-green, like the pottery
    • chartreuse – yellowish-green, like the French liqueur
    • lovat – grayish-green used in woolen textiles
    • sage – gray-green or silver-green, like the plant
    • tilleul – pale yellowish-green, named after the lime tree
    • viridian – blue-green

    Rare blue colors

    Shades of blue paint swirling together.
    • 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
    • indigo – deep purplish-blue, named after the plant used to make dye
    • mazarine – deep blue color used in textiles and ceramics
    • ultramarine – intense blue

    Rare purple colors

    Purple paint distributed over a surface.
    • aubergine – dark purple, another word for eggplant
    • claret – dark reddish-purple, like the wine
    • lilac – pale blueish-purple, named after the flower
    • mauve – grayish-purple
    • puce – brownish-purple
    • tyrian – deep reddish-purple that originated in ancient Phoenicia
    • ultraviolet – intense blueish-purple

    Rare black colors

    Swaths of black paint.
    • 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
    • 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

    Rare white colors

    A swatch of thick white paint.
    • alabaster – white with a very pale yellow or pink tint
    • 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)
    • porcelain – white, often used to describe delicate things or very pale skin

    Rare gray colors

    Shades of gray from dark to light.
    • cinereous – ash gray, sometimes gray-brown, from the Latin word for ashes
    • 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
    • pewter – flat gray, named after a tin alloy

    Is it gray or grey?

    Either! Gray is more common in American English, while grey is more common in British English.

    Additional resources

    I hope you enjoyed this list of over 50 rare colors! 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.

    I’ll end this post with a bit of trivia: in art, white is often treated as the absence of color, while in science, white is the result of all colors (white light includes the entire color spectrum), and 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). 😄

    Thanks for reading, and until next time!