Colors and Sorting

I’ve been recently going through my LEGO collection adjusting some of the organization with respect to color. With all the new colors from the Friends sets coming in, I’ve been really at a loss to find an organization system that is consistent and clear, both while sorting and while looking for parts, and takes into account the vast differences in available parts across the color pallette.

Anyone who’s undertaken to sort LEGO has faced the age-old question – sort by color, or by shape? Like most people, my first attempt at sorting LEGO was by color, and like most people I immediately ran into some major drawbacks to that style of sorting:

  • You can’t find the small pieces easily, which tend to drift to the bottom of the bin
  • It’s a lot easier to find a red 1×4 among a pile of 1×4’s of all colors, than to find a 1×4 among a sea of red
  • Tendency to make monochromatic MOCs, because it’s extra work to get parts of other colors

I didn’t stay with that sorting system for very long. For the past 10 years or so, I’ve been mainly sorting by shape, with color as a secondary sort parameter in some cases. Over the years I’ve evolved the following system:

  • Bricks, plates (1x and 2x only), and tiles (except round ones): each color has its own container, and within that container each size is in a ziploc bag.
  • Slopes: sorted into containers by angle (45, 33, etc.) and then ziploc bags within that container for each color. Corner and peak slopes are separated out from ordinary slopes as well.
  • Everything else: all colors mixed together, sorted by shapes or categories of parts.

This has worked well as long as LEGO’s color pallette was fairly consistent. But in the past few years, especially with Friends coming out, I’ve had a hard time integrating new colors into my sorting system. The problem is that the new pastels, purple, etc. – as well as older colors such as the sand, medium, and dark colors – just don’t exist in the kinds of quantities that mainline/primary colors do. LEGO doesn’t make all sizes and shapes in each color, and I don’t have as many of them. So while it’s not hard to spot a purple part among a sea of same-shape/size parts of all colors, it can still take a fair amount of digging and raking through parts because there are so few of them. And since the new colors only include a small range of shapes/sizes, it’s hard to remember “Did LEGO make one of these in purple?”

So my thinking has evolved toward the conclusion that it’s better to have these rare colors separated out from the general population of my collection. If I’m going to build something out of purple parts, my options are more constrained by “what did LEGO make in this color?” than “can I find a specific part in this color?” anyway.

But then the question became, which colors get this treatment? Obviously colors I don’t have much of, such as Maersk blue or the new colors only found in Friends sets, do. But what about Orange? Lime? Sand green? Dark blue? Dark tan? These colors are a lot more common in recent sets, and LEGO have made a pretty complete pallette of them (at least compared to colors like purple), but still I don’t have that many and in some cases they are easily confused for colors such as grey or black.

I bet you can see where I’m going with this – I came to the realization that there are three types of color of LEGO parts.

  1. Main colors: white, black, light/dark stone grey, red, blue, yellow, tan, brown, dark red, green
  2. Intermediate colors: orange, lime, dark blue, dark green, medium blue, sand green
  3. Rare colors: purple, sand red, sand blue, sand green, Maersk blue, dark brown, dark tan, dark flesh/nougat, bright green, pastels, azure, teal, etc.

Main colors continue to be sorted as described above. I’ve been going through all my bins to pull out any Intermediate or Rare colors, however. The Intermediate colors get placed back in the bins where they were found, but in a separate ziploc bag. So I’m putting all those colors together in one bag in some cases, or where there is a lot of them into separate bags. For bricks and plates and tiles, they still get their own color bins, stored alongside the main color bins. Dark red has reached sufficient ubiquity to be counted as a Main Color, and some of the other dark or sand colors come close but didn’t quite make the cut.

But all the Rare color parts, regardless of what type or shape of part it is, get pulled out of the general population. These will be collected by color, and placed into a Rare Colors bin. All parts of the same color will go into one bag in most cases, except so far only Purple has enough parts to justify its own bin (because I bought a dozen #7591 Construct a Zurg sets on sale, so I have a lot of large purple parts). In most cases the parts are further divided into ziploc bags by type, and then those bags are placed together into a gallon ziploc bag.

I’ve gone through most of my bins and pulled out all the non-Main colors, and I’m feeling good about it so far. But I haven’t tried building anything with the Rare colors yet…

How do you tackle this issue?

4 thoughts on “Colors and Sorting”

  1. This is really good timing for me – thanks :-)

    Until now, I’ve used trays with dividers to sort by type/size, and then colour.

    I’ve got a few thousand new pieces needing sorted, and wasn’t looking forward to moving pieces around to make them fit.
    I really like the system you’ve described, and I anticipate it being easier to grab pieces out of bags than having to use a spoon to pick them out the corners of little plastic compartments.
    I’ve bought a load of little ziplock bags, and started reorganizing – I’ll find out when I start my next MOC, whether it works for me too!

  2. I tried using boxes like that at one point, but the fact that you can’t turn them upside-down to dump them out without mixing all the different ones together was a problem. Also, the dividers between adjacent boxes would slip and then parts would go from one to the next. I do use these however
    which have removable trays for each compartment.

  3. The rare colors made me start to change my sorting also. I now have drawers for all the rare colors (my categorization is different than yours, I include all your intermediate colors and the newer main colors), with rare colors that have more parts than others more divided into bags in the drawers (though most have all the 1x brick in one bag). I try to keep like colors in the same drawers. Some of the “rare” colors have two drawers (brown, new brown, orange, and that orange/brown color).

    The non-primary colors are mostly separated out (green, tan, grey, dark grey, dark blue-grey, blue-grey).

    It’s really an interesting problem. Some parts are best sorted by function, but bricks definitely make some sense to be sorted in a way that makes it easy to grab all the brick of one color. Sometimes I wish some of the smaller bits were this way also, but until I can have a wall of small parts drawers, I will have to hunt for grey headlight bricks while building a castle…


  4. In my collection, the brown, light grey, and dark grey colors are the current shades; the old brown and (yellowish) greys that LEGO don’t make any more are considered obsolete and not included in my sorting. I have a separate box for those that are not sorted, and I don’t build with those colors.

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