What is the NCS System?

How do you ensure that your supplier or customer pictures a particular forest green colour exactly the same way that you do? The NCS system helps you communicate colours in a way that everyone understands.

NCS, Natural Colour System is a logical colour system which builds on how the human being sees colour. Colour is what we see, a subjective visual sensation. To characterize a colour you therefore have to describe what you see. How the colour is mixed, as well as the measurement data, is necessary for production, but to communicate with the customer you need a system in the way people see colours. A notation represents a specific colour percept and says nothing about what pigments, lights rays or nerve signals that have been given rise to this perception. This makes it possible to describe the colours of all surface materials and ensure that the colours turn out exactly as you want them to

The foundation of our products is the NCS – Natural Colour System®© – the cross-industry colour system used around the world for colour communication between designers and manufacturers, retailers and customers. Since the NCS system is based on how we perceive colours visually the system allows you to describe any imaginable surface colour and be given a NCS-notation. This has made the colour system a global standard for the definition, quality assurance, and communication of colour.


The NCS system is used by architects, designers, and material manufacturers, the colour industry, product manufacturers, and retailers the world over.


The NCS system gives a unique opportunity to communicate colour between all those involved in a colour process, to ensure that the end result is precisely as it should be.

1. Elementary Colours

The system starts from six elementary colours, which are perceived by human beings as being “pure”. The four chromatic elementary colours are yellow (Y), red (R), blue (B) and green (G), and the two non-chromatic elementary colours are white (W), black (S). All other colours can be described in terms of their degree of resemblance to the elementary colours. Not again that these concepts describe the purely visual properties of the colour and not how the colour is mixed.

2. NCS Colour Space

Beginning with the elementary colours, it is possible to construct a three-dimensional descriptive model called the NCS colour space, which includes the whole colour world and makes it possible to describe any conceivable colour percept. All imaginable surface colours can be placed and thus be given an exact NCS-notation. For the sake of clarity, it is usually shown in two projections – the colour circle and the colour triangle.

3. NCS Colour Circle shows the hue

By taking a horizontal view through the colour space, we see this circle where the four chromatic elementary colours yellow, red, blue and green are placed like the points of the compass with the space between them divided into 100 equal steps.

Here you see the hue (the colour family) R90B. This means that all colours in this hue have 90% resemblance to blue and 10% resemblance to red. It is a slightly reddish blue colour so it is almost a pure blue colour.

3. NCS Colour Triangle shows the nuance

The NCS Colour Triangle is a vertical section through the colour space. Here you find different nuances of the actual blue hue R90B. The base of the triangle is the grey scale from white (W) to black (S) and the apex of the triangle is the maximum chromaticness (C) within each hue, in this case R90B. The chromaticness specifies how strong the colour is. Colours of the same hue can have a different blackness, chromaticness or whiteness values, which is different nuances. The scales for blackness, whiteness and chromaticness are divided into 100 steps, which as well as in the colour circle can be perceived as percentages. In the triangle is the nuance 1050 selected.



S means that the colour is part of the visual selection of NCS 1950 standard colours, which illustrates the NCS System. The first part of the code (e.g.) 1050 describes the nuance of the actual colour R90B.

  • This has 10% blackness
  • 50% chromaticness (colour strength)
  • The remaining 40% out of 100% is whiteness which is not printed out in the NCS notation

The second part of the NCS notation, e.g. R90B, is the hue, which can be described as the position within the NCS colour circle. Code R90B is a reddish blue colour described as:

  • A red (R) with 10% resemblance to red and
  • 90% resemblance to blue (B).

Another example: B40G is a blue colour with 40% green, and so on.

S 1050-R90B gives you an unambiguous definition of a colour and any surface colour can be described with the help of the NCS System. For example a colour can be given the notation 1143-Y85R. This colour does not belong to the NCS 1950 standard colours. It can though still be described with the NCS system without no S in front of the notation.


The same colour must be possible to produce on different materials and products from different manufacturers. The function of the exact colour is very important. This can be everything from the colour of emergency exit signs, colour marking of needles within the healthcare segment to the colour of our Swedish flag. What all of these examples have in common is that the colours must be the same regardless of manufacturer in order for people to recognise them. This is made possible by national and international standards that authorities and industries mutually agree on, and which describe the colours in a precise and unambiguous way. (SIS, ISO, CEN and CIE are some of the most important standardisation organisations).

NCS is a standardised colour communication system with its colour notations and accurate colour samples that provide the industry with the tools needed in order to always achieve the right colour on significant products.

The NCS System and its colour samples are standardised in Sweden and several in several other countries (see list below). Furthermore, the NCS Notations are used in countless standards and instructions for accurate colour specification.

Swedish standard for NCS:
NCS Colour Atlas; SS 19102:2004
Colour notation system; SS 19100
NCS Colour Samples (assessment and measurement conditions and tolerances); SS 19104

NCS is also a national Colour standard i following countries:
Norway; NS-SS 19102:2004
Spain; UNE 48103:2014
South Africa; SANS 1091:2012
USA; ASTM STM E2970 – 15

Click here for a complete list of NCS Literature References.