New colour chart for mycologists

New colour chart for mycologists

Colour chart booklet

These days I accidentally stumbled upon a web-site offering colour charts for sale. I must admit, I have not been very positive at first, having seen many that are completely useless for the purposes of mycological work. However, browsing the web-site I quickly become more and more convinced that it is something that is worth a try. And so after a short thinking, the chart was ordered on the same day.

Although most of people with passion in mycology will be perfectly aware of the need of colour charts and have already experienced the problem with colour description and quotation, I am tempted to give a short glimpse on those problems before actually reviewing the new colour chart, I mentioned above. I hope that the reader is going to forgive me the lengthy introduction, but I believe it is crucial for understanding the pluses and minuses of the new colour chart I am going to present in this post.

Colour charts generals

Colours of the fungal fruitbodies are usually rather ephemeral and fade quickly in the process of drying, leaving in most cases dehydrated inconspicuously coloured pieces, that are hardly recognizable without colour photograph and detailed field notes. In many cases field notes describe colour with common terms as “pale yellow”, “dark pink”, etc. However colour perception and terming varies from one person to another and “dark pink” will certainly be interpreted in many different ways. To limit the possibilities for interpretation many mycologists use colour charts. These could be very different but basically each chart provides colour samples with corresponding names and/or codes.

The need of colour charts for naturalists emerged early in time and the first chart appeared in the end of 19th century – Saccardo’s “Chromotaxia”. Since then mycologists use in their studies many different charts, such as Ridgeway (1912), Maerz & Paul (1930), S?guy (1936), Bondartsev (1950, 1954), Locquin (1957), British Fungus Flora Colour Chart (Anonymous 1969), Rayner (1970), Munsell (1975), Kornerup & Wanscher (1978), and others. Some of these are proper mycological charts, but others are serving more general purposes (e. g. the very popular Kornerup & Wanscher 1978) or were initially aimed to be used in other research field, as is Munsell Soil Color Chart (Munsell 1975; being reprinted in 2000). The last two mentioned actually become widely used in the mycological practice, primary due to the very detailed colours included.

The above list of colour charts seems rather impressive, but a closer glance will show the numerous problems it poses to contemporary mycologists. With only one or two exceptions the above editions are nowadays excessively rare and therefore rather difficult to find and usually very expensive. As I already mentioned in the Literature section, mycologists use them arbitrarily depending on the availability. This nearly ruins the idea of colour charts, unless every mycologist possesses all the titles.

Another very serious disadvantage is again due to the age of those books. Colour samples tend to gradually (and usually quickly) change with age due to unavoidable changes in the dyes used. That is why the Pantone charts used as a standard in printing are strongly recommended to be replaced in no more than five years. The recentmost of the above widespread editions is printed in 1978, which plainly means their colour samples have been fading for more than quarter of a century. One could easily decide for themselves how accurate a reference like this is likely to be.

So, if we have to summarize the most important properties of a “perfect” colour chart, by my personal opinion these will be:

-         widely available and easy to obtain, so everyone could have it for easy and correct reference;

-         cheap enough and hence easily replaceable to overcome the dyes aging problem;

-         steadily supplied and unchanging, so the continuity is ensured;

-         uniform, that would mean there is only one set of colours (which is not true for example with the Pantones, where such a variety exists, that it makes the customer succumbing when deciding which one to buy);

-         not too simple and not rather detailed, as browsing through thousands of colour samples would be more likely pain than convenience;

-         easy to use even for people not too much indebted in colour theory (usually done by extending the number of samples rather than adding complicated schemes for the changing colour parameters);

-         suitable for use both in the field and in the lab.

The new colour chart itself

The chart in question (further referred as OAC) is manufactured by the Online Auction Color Chart Company and as the name says it was initially targeted for use in colour quotations in online auctions, such as eBay, although the publisher recommends its application for scientific purposes as well.

The OAC is designed as a booklet consisting of 6 double-sided pages with 12 plates with colour samples. The total number of colours is 909, which in my opinion perfectly fits the “not too simple, not rather detailed”-rule. The chart is printed on high quality card stock and is coated with a semi-gloss finish to resist wear, an important characteristic as colour charts for mycological work definitely need to be wear-proof, being often used under harsh conditions in the field.

Colour chart part 1

Each OAC plate contains 77 colour samples, with except of the first one (with 67) and the last one (with 72). Samples are squares with side 2 cm (0.79 in). The palette leaves an impression of careful design and represents well an impressive set of colours, leaving a possibility for quoting missing intermediate colours, should such cases occur. Even a quick glance is enough to convince that this particular set of colours would be perfectly enough to satisfy a mycologist. No doubt that the level of detail makes the chart applicable even in such delicate things as description of new species.

Colour chart part 1

The chart also shows a remarkable preciseness of the reproduction of the colour samples. I compared closely the colour consistency through 10 random copies of the chart and I will wholeheartedly assure the reader that it is unlikely that with bare eye one will find inconsistency between the different copies.

Finally, the price of the chart is indeed reasonable, amounting from about 4 EUR, but discounted down to about 2 EUR per piece, depending on the quantity ordered. It is a price hardly comparable to that of some older charts which may reach 400 EUR if one gets lucky to find them at all. Even Pantone guides may cost about 100 EUR.

My OACs came to me carefully wrapped and in immaculate condition, despite of the transatlantic shipment and the handling given by the Bulgarian post. Also, I cannot avoid sharing my admiration for the manufacturer’s contact person Lisa Kramer and their prompt, very kind and most helpful service.

Finally, I would not spare some desirables to the manufacturer of the chart. These are by my opinion not real disadvantages, but more likely recommendations to make the chart more customized for mycological (and other scientific) work.

First of all, something that is really needed is to provide colour names in addition to the codes. They might be more general with one name covering couple of codes, for example Grass Green (oac75-76); they are however essential to translate the codes to some understandable language used when describing fungi and other living things. As one elegant solution I see adding a small booklet with indexes name-to-colour and vice versa (it could be even downloadable to reduce the extra costs).

I would also think that it will be convenient if the chart is offered not only as a double-sided booklet, but also as a set of single-sided colour plates. This will allow spreading the tables of similar colours thus making the comparison easier.

I would very much like to see one more option, when ordering my colour chart. Even if the OAC seems sturdy, mycologists often expose their charts to detrimental conditions when using them in the field. Of course, you may always order a spare, but it is definitely bad if such an item gets damaged in the midst of a long field trip. Therefore I would be happy if a reliable waterproof case is offered separately, exactly matching the chart size.

In final conclusion, after some tests and careful consideration, even though not initially aimed at mycology, I find the Online Auction Color Chart perfectly capable for everyday mycological use. As seen from the above it overpasses the other options by many parameters. Despite some things that are more or less easily solved, the OAC certainly fits the requirements for a good colour standard. Out of any doubt, every mycologist will have their own requirements, but nonetheless I would not hesitate to express my recommendation to give this chart a try.