Grey, Bluish Gray, Stone Grey, or Blay?

If you’ve done any substantial interaction online with the LEGO community, you may have wondered about the names of the colors for grey and brown bricks. On BrickLink, you will see the color names “Light/Dark Bluish Gray” while on BrickSet they use the terms “Medium/Dark Stone Grey.” Aside from the spelling of “Gray” vs “Grey” where do the terms “Bluish” and “Stone” come from? Why not just plain Grey (or Gray if you prefer that spelling) like they have for Red or Blue?

The answer goes back to 2004, when the AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGO) world was rocked to its core by a dramatic and unexpected change of colors of the grey and brown bricks. The LEGO company replaced the previous shades of grey and brown (which were simply called “Light/Dark Grey/Gray” and “Brown”) with the introduction of the new 2004 sets, which started hitting shelves in fall of 2003. At the time, the main online forum for AFOLs was LUGNET, and there was a lot of complaining on there about the change. Some people sold off their collections and quit the hobby over it. Others vowed to never buy any of the new grey colors. A Color forum was created for discussing colors on LUGNET (and to try to keep the complaints about it from dominating other parts of the site).

Old and new grey colors. Image courtesy Gareth Bowler, via Joe Meno on LUGNET.

The new colors were quickly labeled “bluish” by the AFOL community. The names “Light Bluish Grey” and “Dark Bluish Grey” (or Gray) were adopted by BrickLink and other fan sites, often abbreviated to just “bley” or “blay” in conversation. I always felt this was incorrect, because they really aren’t bluish. They’re just a cooler shade of grey than the older colors. And since the color change was permanent, it seems foolish to adopt such a name for these parts, but at the time people genuinely hoped they could convince LEGO to go back. Meanwhile, LEGO added the term “Stone” to their official names of the new colors.

In May 2004, Jake McKee, at the time the LEGO community liaison, posted a statement explaining the change and apologizing for his role in not making sure LEGO would understand how the AFOL community would react, and to apologize on behalf of the company for its implementation. But there were still a lot of hurt feelings generated by the change.

If anything, the older colors should be called “yellowish” in my opinion. Certainly they do turn yellow in UV light, but even fresh out of the box they are a warmer shade. I feel that the new shades of grey LEGO introduced in 2004 are better, more neutral shades of grey than the old colors – which is one of the main reasons LEGO made the change. They did focus groups of kids to pick the colors, and the kids prefer the new shades. I think the only reason to prefer the old colors – as most AFOLs did – is because you already have a lot of them. If the new colors had been the ones LEGO made since the beginning, I’m sure nobody would have cared.

The hardest part about the change in my opinion is telling them apart. The dark greys and browns are pretty obvious, but the light greys can be really hard to discern depending on your lighting conditions. In my case, I had a minor dark age (where I mostly stopped building original creations) for a while. Eventually I was able to get out of that funk by putting all the old greys into a separate “obsolete colors” storage container, and now my building inventory consists only of the new colors. I still have a few MOCs built with old greys, but I don’t build new ones with those colors. Sorting bricks when there are both old Light Grey and new Medium Stone Grey in the same pile can be really hard, and I still occasionally find old grey or brown parts when I dig through a container of parts.

Some people mix the old and the new freely, and just don’t care about the differences, or deliberately mix them to give a worn-out mottled effect. This works OK with some models better than others – the mix of greys tends to make things look worn and dingy, so it’s great for old buildings or castles, but less so for something that is supposed to look new. I personally tend to build things that have more of a bright new look anyway.

There were other colors changed at the same time. The brown color was made lighter and warmer, and both LEGO and the AFOL community agree that “reddish brown” is the name for it. The color simply called “brown” was discontinued at the same time as the old greys. A new “dark brown” color was introduced around that time, which is a bit more like the old brown but darker. The change to brown was never as controversial as the grey change for some reason.

They also changed a lot of the pastel and bright colors. If you look back at some of the older product lines marketed to girls, such as Belville and Paradisa, you will see plenty of pink bricks, but it’s a duller color than the ones you see in today’s sets. They had made a few other shades of pale or bright colors over the years as well, but there was very little consistency among those shades, and in many cases the colors didn’t go well together. These colors were changed to be more consistently bright and complementary, and when LEGO Friends was introduced they became very common and easy to get in the new shades – unlike the old colors which were not in very many sets, and those sets didn’t sell very well.

Finally, in November 2004, McKee posted a Universal Color List on LUGNET, promising that the then-new Stone Grey shades would be part of a list of Universal Colors (aka Locked Colors), defined as “An evergreen color that would not be changed, dropped, or modified without serious discussion that includes all stakeholders, including adult hobbyists and LEGO Company executive management.” This put to bed any thoughts that the colors might change back.

For more about the color changes here is some additional reading:

Also, if you need to translate between the AFOL color names (as you see on BrickLink, LDraw, and most other fan-run sites) and the LEGO ones (used on BrickSet and in LDD) you can use this handy conversion chart from Peeron, which also indicates RGB, CMYK, and Pantone values for the colors. (In particular, take note that “Dark Green” is LEGO’s name for what AFOLs call “Green” – LEGO uses “Earth Green” to refer to what AFOLs call “Dark Green.”)

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