About a year ago, I was curious to see how the colors in LEGO had changed over the years. That is, as a kid, I remember grey bricks
being pretty rare (I had a bunch of grey plate from space ships, but only a few bricks), until 1984 when the castle sets came out. And now, grey is everywhere. Similarly, dark grey and brown were only occasionally used, until they started becoming more common in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
So, I did what I always seem to do-- I wrote a program to do some analysis. Using BrickLink inventories, and ignoring things like DUPLO, Fabuland, and Dacta/Education, I tried to do a breakdown by year from 1975 - present (then 2014). Here's what I found:
I haven't tried doing an updated one yet, but I may give it a go. I know there are a few colors like Dark Tan which are quickly becoming much more mainstream. And there are enough colors now such that the pie graphs probably aren't the best way to represent these!
One thing to consider though is the amount of pieces and the size of them in sets, for example I have #375 (aka the yellow castle) from 1981, which has a heck of a lot of smaller yellow pieces (1x1, 1x2). Compare this to #6073 (from 1984) which, while mainly grey, contains fewer parts as 2x5x6 panels are used extensively for the castle walls.
Also, I have the first Millenium Falcon #7190, one thing that confused me when I got this out after my dark ages was the variety of colours - there are red and brown bricks which are mostly hidden in the final build. It made me wonder why Lego put those colour bricks in, as in older sets I'm sure these would have been colours more fitting to the main build colours.
By my stats, white was at around 8.7% of production in 2014-- and they supposedly made about 60 billion pieces, meaning there were in the ballpark of 5 billion white pieces made in 2014. But in 1987, when white was peaking at 22.2%, they were probably only making about 5-10 billion per year, which is in the ballpark of 1-2 billion white pieces.
But ultimately, it depends on your buying habits. If you don't buy Star Wars or LOTR sets (for instance), you'll probably have a much lower amount of gray and dark gray than the rest of us!
I considered adding the size of the pieces based on the weight in BrickLink, but it seemed like there were too many elements that didn't have weights. I did a similar breakdown by subtheme in LEGOLAND Space sets*, where I DID include the element weights, but that was much easier, since the scope was smaller, and I could put in reasonable guesses for the half-a-dozen or so elements with no weight.
* See this thread: http://www.bricksetforum.com/discussion/20734/how-well-do-you-know-legoland-space-colors
Good work on that too!
also, I think I figured where most of the bright yellow is. probably in the minifigs.
Curse you, I had to go and re-read all my code from a year ago to check! Turns out, I DIDN'T exclude anything except stickers. So all the above includes DUPLO, Scala, Fabuland, Technic, Galidor, Dacta, etc.
So, yes, it includes tires. But, I think more importantly, it includes things like Technic pins and axles, which are VERY numerous, and might be pushing the numbers out for black and grey. Almost makes me want to go back and re-calculate using weight to balance it out! ... Almost.
I basically took every set that had an inventory over at BrickLink (and a release year), counted up each individual element in the inventory, and then made a pie graph of each color's percentage in terms of number of pieces. Also, there's a limitation of the pie graph software that it can't represent less than 1/360th of the total, so essentially nothing less than 0.2777% is represented in the images.
There's a LOT of room for improvement!
- Some sets in the BrickLink database don't have valid release years, and so couldn't be counted at all. I might be able to guess a few of them, but I'm not sure.
- Some sets are maintained over several years (like, say, the NXT). So I counted them for a particular year, but they should have been valid for several years, because they were still in production. That's pretty difficult to guess for everything up to recent years, when fans started taking notes on when things go out of production.
- Some sets CHANGE inventories drastically, but maintain a set entry, like #9320 (the inventory between 2003 (when I bought my first copy) and... 2006? was so drastic it was a completely different set!)
- Small elements shouldn't be counted the same as large elements (but they were). I've been tempted to address this using element weights (which BrickLink has data for), but a lot of the data is incomplete. I actually plan to make a 2nd pass at it this way, but I first have to make an algorithm for estimating unknown element weights (there are too many to do by hand!)
- Some sets are inventoried multiple times, as part of larger "sets" like package deals, or Advent calendars (Each small "window" is a separate "set" within the master set). The program doesn't deal with this currently, although it probably could if I re-engineer it a bit.
- Production quantity isn't known. So a set that sold 50,000 copies is counted the same as a set that sold 500,000 copies. As far as I know, there's no good way of guesstimating that. It doesn't really skew things in terms of rare elements, but more like rare sets, since a rare element probably doesn't show up in a whole bunch of sets. There is data in the collector books on general rarity, but it doesn't really give much in the way of "how much" it constitutes, and as far as I know, it's not available to download (you'd have to load it in by hand, oof!)
- It doesn't take sub-elements into account. So if you have a minifig torso that's blue, with orange arms and yellow hands, it only counts that element as blue. That's also something I could probably fix, although it would take a lot more doing. Right now, I don't have a mechanism to load "part" inventories-- just inventories of sets, gear, books, and minifigs. :(
Ultimately... I guess I'm not sure how much all those points matter. I think the biggest thing that needs to be dealt with is the "small vs large" pieces thing. The other issues... not sure they'd really affect the overall results too much. The sub-parts might affect things like minifig hands (lots of yellow hands!) and black tires (all the parts that come with attached tires). Not sure how much of an impact that would make.
Anyway, if I give it another go, I'll be sure to post it!
I'm also surprised green doesn't show up in 75, since base plates were pretty much universally green at the time.
Thanks for the interesting and thought provoking post.
What dark grey parts was around in 1975?
Actually, it does! It's just such a small sliver that it's barely noticeable. Only 0.87% in 1975! (Zoom way in and you'll see it)
Nothing really that I'm aware of. I think according to BrickLink data, dark gray started showing up in 1978. However, if you take the BrickLink data literally, then it showed up before (but not really).
For example, they had the old-school HO-scale cars in the late 50s and early 60s, which BrickLink says were in dark gray (as well as other colors):
And, while technically true that they did have "dark gray" cars, I don't think it was the same color of plastic that was used later in 1978. They weren't even using ABS at that point, so it definitely wouldn't match!
I did these for a lecture series in February 2012. I did the top one first, basing the colors for the Hokusai rendering on a 2010 LEGO palette that I found somewhere on the net.
Love the analysis, DaveE!
No BL, does not say WHEN a certain part was available in dark grey IF you just search 'colours' .. then you'll just see a part that WILL be released in dark grey much later on
So in 1975, the 3624 hat was NOT released in dark grey, it was made in other colours that year surely, but not dark grey
Even if 3001 was made in 1980 (that particular version) it was only made in old dark grey in 1998 .. and so on
Do your graph take that into consideration?
I see NO dark grey parts at all until '77 and then not common until '84 and proper bricks much later ...
So, you CAN go through that list, finding the earliest year that a particular part was released in a particular color (at least, as far as BrickLink knows). But it takes a lot of effort. Yep! I didn't use their interface to do this by hand-- I downloaded their inventory data and derived it from that using a computer program. If BrickLink said "here's a set from 1979 that has dark gray in it", then I'd include that in the final tally. It's not derived using the color chart for each part that BrickLink provides on its website. That would be pretty inaccurate!
My data actually shows no dark gray until 1978-- which elements do you see in 1977 that are dark gray? (My data is from 2014, so it may be out of date if something's been updated on BrickLink in the last 12-ish months or so) Maybe you're confusing light gray on my graphs for dark gray? Just in case, here's a zoom-in of the colors I found from 1975:
My data shows dark gray as a very small blip starting in 1978-- sometimes not even showing up at all-- and finally starting to explode in 1998. There's a big blip in dark gray in 1980, when dark gray was used in 4.5v and 12v trains as the railroad ties. It jumps from 0.09% to 2.23% between 1979 and 1980! ... But then back down to 0.55%.
When it was still updated it was reasonably accurate - and when it comes to colours, perhaps more so than Bricklink.
like selecting all the sets which contain a specific color and ranking them on the number of pieces of this color they contain.
I had it in a pie-chart format merely because that's how I had it set up to do the LEGOLAND Space images done. Each theme was pulled into a little pie graph, and it looked pretty good as a representation of a theme. Only took a little tweak to replace each "theme" with a "year", and I could make a swath of pie graphs. Ideally, if the idea is to see changes over time, I'd probably do each color as a separate line, or do one of those "stacked" charts.
I'll see if I can compile the raw data into something easily digestible this weekend and put it up.
So, that's now including all years from 1953 - 2015. I probably actually shouldn't have included anything before 1970, because the data starts getting sketchy around then. But what the heck!
It also counts everything by weight now, so you'll notice that green is much more substantial in earlier years, thanks to its appearance in baseplates and the like.
And if you're feeling frisky, here's the raw data:
Oh, and also thanks to Chris & Iain for posting this via TBB!
You have to wonder whether the Lego designers are taking drugs?
Or maybe it is just easier to make those new colours now.... :)
It's actually a lot harder for designers to introduce new colors now than it was prior to 2003. Since this chart doesn't include themes like Fabuland and Duplo (and since it uses Bricklink data, which conflates some of the more obscure colors with more well-known ones) it's hard to see here, but around 2003–2004, their color palette had really spiralled out of control. However, even if the chart did include those themes, it might not have been wholly apparent, because many of those colors were used for just one or two sets! LEGO had to do a lot of tidying up to get their palette back under control.
While it looks like today there are a lot more colors than there were in the late 90s and early naughts, what you're really seeing is LEGO actually taking greater care to ensure that they actually use all the colors they already have.
Actually, it does include Fabuland and Duplo-- I made an error on that first post (corrected a few posts down). Since I made the original program about a year ago, and made it for other purposes, I had some notes saying that I left out strange themes like Scala, Primo, etc. But it turned out that although those notes were correct at some point, by the time I finished (the state of the data at the end), I had included everything (except stickers, which have a BrickLink color ID of "0").
A bit more info on the element weights, too (for the curious): About 5% or so of the BrickLink elements don't have weights. Mostly for strange things like Scala clothing or Toolo girders or something. I ultimately did 2 things:
For some parts, their part ID is made out of a "base element" or "base combination", like "973p83c01", which is a printed version of 973 (a minifig torso) with a pattern number of "83", and a combination ID "01". So if there was a base combo or base element with a known weight, I'd use that to estimate the weight of the part.
For others where that wasn't possible, I did something sketchy, but that seemed to actually give a reasonable result (I was surprised that it did as well as it appeared to). I took all the known weights for elements in the same BrickLink category, and averaged them out, then assigned that weight to the element. It was probably off by a bunch, but in general did pretty well assigning large weights to large parts, and small weights to small parts. So, for the purposes of this exercise, it probably turned out ok.
But seriously, cool analysis.
I could, in theory, go bigger, but I think I'd have to make it around 30,000 pixels tall before it became fully readable, which is Too Huge (tm). Probably better at that point to annotate something differently. That's the raw output from my program, so sorry it's a little annoying to look at.
I am fresh out of ponies :(
Does your v. 2 chart include tyres and technic? Tyres apart from being black are also significantly heavier. I think this might skew the black.
So, out of curiosity, I just tried another experiment-- what happens if we leave out the tires, and just skip 'em? Turns out, not all that much. And what happens if we leave out technic sets? Also, not too much.
So, ok, I know this has been bugging people, so I did another check. What IS causing all that black?
Top 10 contributers to black (by BrickLink element type):
So, Tires & Treads (the thing that I removed) is a pretty big factor, but it's not overwhelming by any means.
Ok, what about themes? Which themes contribute the most to black?
Ninjago? Seriously? Wow.
oh wait I get it, I was thinking about the average amount of black by set. but you actually have to add them all. about 150 sets in friends and ninjago VS about 20 in ultra agent.