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Revealing the Colors of the Star Trek Enterprise

Posted on Wed, August 17, 2016
  • by: Margaret Weitekamp, Malcolm Collum, and David Wilson
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Want to know what colors are on the 3-meter (11-foot) Star Trek starship Enterprise studio model?

Below are the colorimeter readings for the colors we uncovered during our sanding tests and other conservation work on the model. They are based on the nonproprietary L A B color space, which includes all perceptible colors. The LAB color space identifies colors through precise measures on three axes, in this case L (lightness), A (red-green), and B (yellow-blue).

For more information on the science of color perception, standardization, and use, explore the Smithsonian Libraries’ new exhibit Color in a New Light, on display at the National Museum of Natural History. The exhibit examines the differences between additive color systems (color created using light, such as on a television or computer monitor) and subtractive color systems (color created using pigments, such as on dyed fabric or painted surfaces) – as well as the many different organizing schema that have been created by scientists, manufacturers, and artists to systematize colors.

The paint colors used in the conservation of the studio model were matched to colors uncovered during the Museum’s exhaustive research on the artifact. Microscopic color samples revealed the number of paint layers in different parts of the model and guided the Museum’s decisions about where to conduct sanding tests. In addition, there were some places on the model where original paint could be seen directly. Dave Wilson, a museum specialist, matched the color and determined the values we share below.

  • Smith holds up a board that she is painting with different colors. In front of her is a workbench with all of her paints.

    Kim Smith, of Pulse Evolution, custom blended the detail paint colors used on the model. Image: National Air and Space Museum

  • Close up of red and yellow paint application samples.

    The team examined different applications of the same red and yellow paints on a mockup of the Enterprise studio model to determine which best replicated the desired appearance. Image: National Air and Space Museum

  • The team at work. From left: John Goodson, Kim Smith, and Bill George. Image: National Air and Space Museum

  • Color Matching the Enterprise

    Dave Wilson works on matching the color of the Enterprise model. Image: National Air and Space Museum

The Museum mixed the base color (hull gray-green) and painted the model before advisors Bill George, and John Goodson, of LucasFilm’s Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), as well as Kim Smith, of Pulse Evolution, arrived on site. The detail paint colors used on the model were custom blended by Kim Smith. The final composition of those colors were adjusted slightly in intensity and hue to match historic images of the model.

We’ve provided the closest possible commercial matches to the actual colors identified on the model itself. Modelers will understand, though, that the appearance of any color will vary based on how it is applied (paintbrush, airbrush, etc.), how many coats are applied, level of gloss, how colors are juxtaposed, and under what lighting the final piece appears. And because colors need to scale with changes in size (smaller pieces need to be lighter than larger ones to achieve the same final look), the final choices for any application on a model will also depend on that model’s size. But this should be enough to get you started.

Have fun!

  1. Production Hull Gray-Green; LAB: L 64.45  A -3.53  B 2.40, Approximate match: Benjamin Moore “Heather Gray” # 2139-40, Note: Actual match is less green and less yellow (chip currently available from Benjamin Moore).
  2. Pilot Hull Blue-Gray; LAB: L 62.96  A -1.97  B -4.20, Approximate match: Sherwin Williams “Babbling Brooke” # HGSW 3364, Note: Actual match is slightly darker, and slightly less red.
  3. Light Gray accent color; LAB: L 81.37  A -2.23  B -0.37, Approximate match: Pratt and Lambert “Nickel” #2232, Note: No adjustments needed (“Calibrated Colors IV” color deck).
  4. Medium Gray accent color; LAB: L 66.89  A -0.55  B 3.99, Approximate match: Pratt and Lambert “Half-tone” #2298, Note: No adjustments needed (“Calibrated Colors IV” color deck).
  5. Dark Gray accent color; LAB: L 49.13  A -0.52  B  1.20, Approximate match: Pratt and Lambert “Gettysburg” #2242, Note: No adjustments needed (“Calibrated Colors IV” color deck).
  6. Yellow markings; LAB: L 79.72  A  -10.24  B  56.78, Approximate match: FS 595B # 23785, Note: Actual match is slightly darker, slightly greener, and slightly less yellow.
  7. Red markings; LAB: L 37.26  A 40.76  B 16.79, Approximate match: Valspar “Cut-ruby” #1009-4, Note: Actual match slightly less red and slightly less yellow.
  8. Turbo Lift Green; LAB: L 46.63  A -5.39  B 5.09, Approximate match: FS 595B #34159, Note: Actual match slightly lighter, slightly less green and slightly more yellow.
  9. Dorsal Aqua accent color; LAB: L 56.60  A -21.72  B -17.72, Approximate match: FS 595B #35275. Note: Requires thinning to a very transparent wash.  

You can learn more about the entire process of preserving the Enterprise studio model on our project page and see how we plan to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Star Trek with three days of special programming. 

#BoldlyGo50

More Star Trek

You can learn more about the entire process of preserving the Enterprise studio model on our project page and see how we plan to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Star Trek with three days of special programming. 

#BoldlyGo50