Added 23/11/05 Thanks to Chris Sullivan who has discovered that the current paint code as set out in TfL tenders is   ICI London Bus Red P498 FPF 3



Thanks to Phil Wilson who has obtained the following information from the Curatorial Department of the London Transport Museum
Information about paint colours used on London Transport buses


Our understanding about LT paint standards is based on ex Chiswick Works Laboratory documents and conversations with laboratory staff.

Paint colours were controlled closely by the LT Chiswick Works Laboratory probably from the early 1950s onwards until the closure of the facility in the mid 1980s. They did not use a master colour as such but maintained a set of painted cards from which paint manufacturers samples were compared and life tested for quality control purposes. Consequently it was possible for the defined colours to drift a little as the earliest cards were not used as a reference point and there appeared to be no recipe defined as a master. The system was intended to get manufacturers to provide paints that were durable, consistent and with a colour that matched to the current Chiswick colour standard.

Quality control of paints in the earlier days of motor bus operation (c1910-c1945) has not been researched however we hope some information will become available in time.

In the 1970s and 80s paints generally started to include larger quantities of white to improve coverage and reduce the cost of pigments. As many were originally lead based legislation had the effect of reducing toxic ingredients and powerful dyes were increasingly used to provide the required colour. Bus Red therefore took on a slightly pastel appearance instead of the bright purer red of the 1950s (and pre-war judging by original surviving paint chips). Bus Red was also known by LT as Mail Red. To add to the confusion Post Office Red, a defined British Standard (BS) colour, is similar but not the same as Bus Red.

Sourcing paints

The enquiries that the Museum receives are mainly from the owners of privately owned buses seeking a source of paint that can be applied by brushing and matched to original LT colours. At time of writing a number of these enquiries have been prompted by problems with paints not covering properly or colours being poorly matched.

Most of LT's paints were applied by spraying and these days purchasers of small quantities need to be careful to specify the method of application when ordering from ‘transport’ type paint suppliers. Synthetic enamels, the most common type for brush work can be formulated for either method of application.

There is anecdotal and some material evidence that a number of colours used by LT and its predecessors, both bus, tram and railway used colours from, or very close to, those in the BS 381C range. This standard is always used by LTM as a first check or reference point in case a close match is available.

Bus Red

In response to an enquiry to try to obtain a more easily obtainable standard for LT Bus Red (at least for the 1980s onward) comparisons have been made with RAL colour standards.

Dulux Autocolor cards were used as they include a number of RAL colour references including RAL 3001 "Signalrot" KA41 (signal red). The comparison is made by eye in north light using a black mask with two equally sized apertures to prevent the eye being saturated with light from one colour card compared to another of a different size.

Comparing a 1985 ex Chiswick LT Bus Red card with:-

RAL 3001 is a little lighter and more orange
RAL 3002 is slightly more orange
RAL 3003 is darker

RAL 3002 is judged closest.

Comparing 1985 Chiswick Bus Red with:-

Sample card of PPG Bus Red (as supplied to LT, PPG code FLT 1123) - no discernable difference.

BS 381C Current Red 539 is slightly more orange

Joseph Mason ‘Ayre's Red’ 503/22 is slightly bluer.
Note: Masons latterly supplied London bus operators with LT Bus Red as a special mix but since the firm was taken over supplies of paint in smaller quantities have been harder to get. Masons were based in Derby.

As a cross check BS 381C Current Red 539 compared was with RAL 3002 as both appeared slightly more orange than the Chiswick card. In theory they should appear very similar to each other, and they do, but it is then possible to notice other slight variations and in this case RAL 2002 has a hint more blue in it than BS 381C 539.

All of these comparisons are of course only as good as the printed representation of the colour on the card.

Other colours

There are no numbers or codes for LT paint colours that are readable by any paint manufacturer. PPG is the only firm that we are aware of that published a list of fleet colours. T R Williamson of Ripon (specialist in paints for the rail industry) also lists their colours and PPG still make transport finishes mainly for spraying. They can be contacted on 01449 771775 for advice. PPG paints are distributed by Brown Brothers and also ATA Ltd below. Most specialist paint suppliers will make special mixes based on a sample supplied.

PPG prefixed their codes FLT (for fleet) followed by the colour number e.g.:

FLT 1123 Bus Red
FLT 3444 Dark Chocolate Brown
FLT 3445 Indian Red. (most LT bus wheels)
FLT 3464 Lincoln Green
FLT 3688 Brown 1946
FLT 3692 Chiswick Cream*
FLT 3994 Sung Yellow (RM ceilings)
FLT 4771 Porcelain Green (RCL relief band)

* NB some paints such as Chiswick Cream were originally specified as a semi-gloss (about 60%). Most paint firms will supply a reduced gloss on request.

ATA Ltd say they can supply a brushing mix to some but possibly not all
of the old FLT numbers.

ATA Ltd (Spray Store)
Unit No 1
Clearways Industrial Estate
London Road
West Kingsdown
TN15 6ES

01474 853869


London’s Transport Museum does not endorse the use of any manufacturer’s products and users must satisfy themselves that a product is suitable for the proposed use. The manufacturers mentioned above are listed because of their previous experience of supplying LT paint colours. Other transport type paint suppliers can be found in trade directories.

C.O.S.H.H. (health & safety) sheets should always be requested and application advice adhered to. Paint should be checked for correct colour against a dried sample first. It is best to request a sample paint-out at time of purchase.

These notes will be updated from time to time. Matters relating to paint finishes not covered by these notes can be raised as a separate enquiry to the Museum.


More details required, please email me


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