- Coloured vinyl records – more ubiquitous than ever
- How are coloured vinyl records made?
- Splatter vinyl, marbled vinyl and other effects
- What’s the sound quality of coloured vinyl like?
- Are coloured vinyl records valuable?
- Coloured vinyl records – summary
A veritable explosion on the turntable.
No, I’m not talking about the music – although some does sound like that! – but what the records look like. Coloured vinyl records are more widespread than ever before. As a result, music fans just starting out often ask how coloured vinyl is made, what it sounds like compared to black vinyl, and if coloured vinyl is inherently worth more than boring old black.
Let’s get going.
Coloured vinyl records – more ubiquitous than ever
Even though coloured vinyl records have been around for as long as there have been vinyl records, their popularity has exploded massively during the vinyl revival.
The range of possible vinyl colours used to be pretty basic: a standard handful of common colours, such as red or blue and a few others, in fully opaque or translucent variants.
It was always something of a novelty to take a record out of its sleeve and stare in wonderment that it was white or yellow or transparent or something.
I didn’t even see a marbled vinyl record until the early 1990s.
But what was once purely a marketing ploy – a limited edition on coloured vinyl, followed by subsequent black vinyl pressings – is now pretty much de rigueur. These days, it seems that virtually all new releases are available on coloured vinyl. People have come to expect it. Indeed, many people buy the records purely because of the fact they’re made of coloured vinyl. (’Twas ever thus.)
How are coloured vinyl records made?
I’ve already written about how vinyl records are made, including some embedded video.
Coloured vinyl is made in exactly the same way as black vinyl. The only difference is that the vinyl pellets, and therefore the biscuits they’re made into, are coloured.
Technically, all records are on ‘coloured‘ vinyl, as the PVC in its natural state is translucent and more or less colourless. The reason vinyl records have historically been black is that when they were introduced, record companies wanted them to look as close as possible to the shellac records (78s) that people were already familiar with. Plus, it’s easier to carry out quality checks on black vinyl, as any artefacts or impurities show up more clearly.
Coloured vinyl records, as in ‘records which aren’t black’ are slightly more expensive to manufacture than their black vinyl counterparts. This is because the presses have to be thoroughly cleaned before and after each colour change, whether changing from black to colour or vice versa, or switching between colours.
If the presses aren’t properly cleaned, the resulting records have streaks or marbling effects in them. Of course, this may be the desired effect that artists and record labels want. But in this case, better results can be achieved by deliberately mixing the colours.
Splatter vinyl, marbled vinyl and other effects
Today, a dizzying array of vinyl effects are possible.
- Boring old black vinyl
- Single-coloured vinyl – just about every colour or shade you can imagine, either opaque or translucent
- Clear vinyl
- ‘Natural’ vinyl – without the addition of any colourants at all. Vinyl in its natural state!
- Marbled vinyl – where two or more colours are mixed together to create a marbled effect
- Splatter vinyl – where two or more colours are mixed together to create a splatter effect
- Split colours – one half (or third, or quarter etc) of the record is one colour, with the other half (or third, or quarter etc) being another colour, with the colour transition(s) being, if not a 100% solid edge, then pretty close to it
- ‘Egg yolk’ vinyl – like a fried egg, with a more or less round central area in one colour, and the rest in another
- Glow in the dark vinyl
- And others
The video below shows splatter vinyl being produced at German pressing plant Pallas.
Other special vinyl effects are created by combining the pellets, and/or placing them on the presses, in different ways.
Placing one colour on top of another results in a swirl effect. Placing two colours side by side results in one half of the record being one colour and the other half the other colour.
Glow in the dark records are made by adding luminous pigments. However, these are not actually vinyl pellets, which means there is a loss of sound quality.
Speaking of which…
What’s the sound quality of coloured vinyl like?
Many people wonder how coloured vinyl records sound, especially in comparison to standard vinyl records. They want to know if coloured vinyl doesn’t sound as good as plain old black.
As with just about any online discussion about music and audio in general, and vinyl in particular, there are lots of people with firmly entrenched opinions giving their tuppence’ worth.
The common wisdom
It’s generally held that black vinyl records sound better than coloured vinyl records, and that opaque vinyl sounds better than translucent vinyl.
This is because black vinyl also includes carbon black, which strengthens the material and acts as a homogenising agent, reducing surface noise.
Conversely, the absence of this homogenising agent means that surface noise is not reduced.
Another factor is that although the quality of the PVC used to make coloured vinyl records is the same as that used to make black vinyl records, the colour pigments can introduce some background noise.
The extent of the surface noise depends on the colour pigments used, but you can expect to hear more background noise and/or clicks in the record’s run-in and run-out grooves, as well as in quiet parts of the music.
Black vinyl records are therefore said to have the very best sound quality of all. On the same basis, clear vinyl records are considered to have the worst sound quality, with other vinyl colours somewhere in between, with for instance opaque red vinyl sounding better than translucent red vinyl.
That’s the official theory, and many pressing plants state this on their websites or when customers enquire about the sound quality of different coloured vinyl.
The alternative theory
There’s also another theory, which holds that coloured vinyl should actually sound better than black vinyl. This theory posits that coloured vinyl is generally made from brand new pellets (‘virgin vinyl’), rather than the mix of new and recycled pellets often used for producing black vinyl records.
Although the majority of pressing plants stick with the common wisdom, there are a few who stand by the alternative theory.
Everyone online has an opinion
So who’s right?
It’s certainly true that plenty of people have stated their opinion about it, one way or the other. There are audiophiles who claim to be able to detect a sound difference between black vinyl and coloured vinyl by using their ears alone. In fact, it’s probably only a slight exaggeration on my part to say that some people online almost claim to be able to tell the difference between orange vinyl and pink vinyl in blindfolded tests!
While I’m a little sceptical about such claims, I don’t have their ears, so maybe they really can tell the difference between the sound of coloured vinyl and plain, trusty old black.
So DOES coloured vinyl sound worse than black? – My take
In the end, the differences in sound between black vinyl and coloured vinyl are so subtle, and depend on so many factors, that I think it’s impossible to say with any certainty whether certain colours sound better or worse than others.
If you and I both had exactly the same listening equipment and listening environment, and both went out at the same time and bought a brand-new, sealed copy of the exact same current release, we’d still have a different listening experience, as every record is unique.
And if we were both listening to different records on our identical systems in our identical listening environments, the differences could well be even greater. Different pressing plants have different equipment. And the very first record off the press in the morning could sound different to one pressed later in the day, when the presses had been hot for longer. My stylus may also have ever so slightly more tiny bits of fluff on it than yours at the precise moment we were playing our records.
It boils down to this:
If you love the whole vinyl experience, and prefer its warm sound and occasional background noise, some surface noise is not only always to be expected, but is an integral part of the listening experience – whatever the colour of the vinyl. It’s debatable whether the surface noise would hypothetically be microscopically more or less if your record was a different colour.
But if you prefer the clean sound of CD or other digital music, and only listen to music on vinyl through gritted teeth, when it’s absolutely unavoidable, you’ll also notice the background noise more, again no matter what colour the vinyl is.
Put it this way:
I’ve been listening to vinyl (and CDs, and other formats) since the 1980s, and I’ve never, ever thought, “If only I’d bought this record on black vinyl, because of the surface noise on this coloured vinyl edition.” (Picture discs are another matter entirely!)
So if you love vinyl, and a record you’re after is available on coloured vinyl – or perhaps only available on coloured vinyl – go right ahead and buy it, listen to it and enjoy it.
Are coloured vinyl records valuable?
It depends. Coloured vinyl records aren’t inherently worth more than black vinyl records, just because they’re on coloured vinyl.
But some coloured vinyl records most definitely are extremely sought-after, and therefore valuable. Others were produced in editions of tens of thousands or more, meaning they’re easier to find, and therefore less valuable. And other records just aren’t collectable at all, because nobody is interested in a particular artist or style of music any more. In such cases, you’d struggle to give copies away, whether on coloured vinyl or not.
So it really does depend on the detail. You may want to see my article How much are vinyl records worth?.
Coloured vinyl records – summary
Hopefully this article has won over any waverers among you who may have been agonising for ages over whether to buy that album you’ve been after on coloured vinyl. Basically, yes; if you want it, buy it!
But if you‘re the sort of person who can’t bear crackles, you’re better off staying away from vinyl full stop, regardless of the colour of the records!
All photos © musicstuff.info. Video: Schallplattenfabrik Pallas GmbH via YouTube.