There's a science -- and a fine art -- behind the choices for colors in court surfaces.

By Aimee Desrosiers

(Published May 2005)
Pacific Life Open

Color affects our lives in almost every way. It can be pleasant and soothing, such as a sky blue or seafoam green; it can signal warning or danger, like a yellow or red light; and different colors can be used to distinguish among a group of items, such as color-coded folders in a file cabinet. Colors can indicate events (red and green at Christmas, black and orange at Halloween), can be a sign of tradition (wearing white for a wedding or black for a funeral), or can describe your emotions (red hot, blue mood, green with envy). Colors are even used to indicate economic levels (a blue-collar worker, a white-collar job).

Tennis Court

Most industries, from automotive and home goods to graphic design and fashion, employ color experts to help them with their products. These color experts come from varied backgrounds -- fine arts and design, marketing, sciences such as chemistry, and more. Color experts interpret, create, forecast, and select colors to enhance function, salability, and quality of a product.

At California Products, we take color seriously: Although we are best known in the sports industry for our DecoTurf and Plexipave tennis courts, we also have a third division, California Paints, which manufactures paints, stains and other coatings. Our chemists are not only experts in the formulation of performance materials, they are also experts in color as a result of our varied product offerings. Additionally, I am an official member of the Color Marketing Group (CMG), which is an international, not-for-profit association of 1,400 color experts. Having a CMG color expert is not necessarily a unique criteria for a paint company. Most paint companies employ color experts to identify the direction of color trends and work to develop annual color forecasts.

But over the last several years, color has become an increasingly important component of our recreational products divisions: DecoTurf and Plexipave. We consult with tournaments and facilities on sports surfacing and facility color, such as at the USTA's National Tennis Center, home of the US Open; the 2004 Olympic Tennis Center in Greece; and the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in California.

Why the increased interest in color? The reasons to apply color to tennis courts -- or any other manufactured product, for that matter -- are much more than aesthetic. Many strategic marketing initiatives can be enhanced through the educated application of color, such as:

  • Improve Product Performance: Manufacturers can use color to enhance the performance of a product, such as extending the life of the material, improve visibility of a feature, make the product more lightfast, etc. When California Products started manufacturing purple tennis courts, we knew there was a science behind this color choice, which goes all the way back to Sir Isaac Newton's original color wheel. Color theory states that colors opposite each other on the wheel have the greatest contrast when viewed simultaneously. Thus, the complementary color to the yellow tennis ball is purple. It may seem like an unusual choice for a surface that by tradition has been green, but if considered scientifically, a purple court allows you to see the ball better.
  • Build Market Share: Color is a strong distinguishing feature in the marketplace. For example, when Apple introduced the iMac computer in 1998, it was a teal color, when all that had been available previously was a neutral putty. A year later Apple came out with other colors: blueberry, grape, tangerine, lime, strawberry. Using color grabbed consumers' attention and boosted the company's reputation for innovation. For tennis facilities, or tournament directors, using consistent color combinations can help "brand" your location or event.
  • Make a Statement, Wordlessly: Humans learn non-verbal color meaning and associate certain colors and color combinations with certain types of messages, such as wearing a yellow or pink ribbon.

When applying color to any material, whether it is acrylic coatings, cloth, plastics, or even glass, we are bound by the laws of chemistry and physics. In the case of tennis courts, the courts are colored using pigments that are very small, relatively insoluble particles. While we can formulate nearly any color, certain pigments (and therefore colors) are better suited to horizontal, outdoor surfaces -- particularly those with better UV resistance and color fastness.

In addition to ensuring a color-resist fade, it is important to be certain that you can produce consistent color. The manufacturing process is highly monitored to make sure that the pigment is evenly dispersed throughout the entire coating. It is vital that the "recipe" is measured and reproduced exactly so that there are no inconsistencies in color.

Color can also have an effect on the performance of an acrylic tennis court. For instance, California Paints has been asked to produce a fire-engine red court. In order to achieve that color, we need to lose much of the opacity of the mixture, and when you lose opacity, you have to increase the number of coats of material needed to cover the surfaces underneath. Changing the manufacturer's recommended coats for an acrylic system may alter the speed of play, and it could even have an adverse affect on dry-time. Conversely, there are other colors that compliment the nature of the surface and are recommended by the manufacturer.

When it's time to re-coat your courts, you should consider both the science, and the art, behind choosing the right colors for your facility.

Choosing the Right Color for Your Courts

  • There are many criteria to consider when choosing which colors will work at your facility, but these tips can help the process along.
  • Use the standard colors: These colors are proven formulations that have been applied in a multitude of locations.
  • If you require a custom color, partner with an expert. Be sure the company can address your concerns about material physics and characteristics, TV broadcasting, lighting, indoor vs. outdoor application, performance etc.
  • Custom colors may be higher in cost. For example, this may be due to increased raw materials (pigments, etc).
  • If time allows, test your custom color before applying. Look at the color under the conditions in which it will be used. One color will appear differently when viewed in an office under fluorescent lights than when it is viewed outdoors. Put some material down and expose it to the sun, snow, and rain.
  • Try a "variation" of a standard color. A small tweak of a standard color carries less risk than a completely new formulation.

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