Anybody who collects or deals with vinyl, most probably owns or has sold coloured records at one time or another, but from a technical point of view do they know how they are made or what is their purpose.
The term vinyl is the plastic material or PVC that is used to make the record. It originally exists in the form of a white powder before being processed, if you add a different colouring to the white powder, it will take on the colouring of the powder, for example, add red and the record will turn out red.
So why are most vinyl records black? most people believe this is because black vinyl just basically sounds and plays better, that is not entirely true, the real reason is that the composition of the black colouring gives it a special viscosity that other colours don’t possess. When vinyl is black it is oilier, which basically means that during the printing process the record detaches more easily from the press. This makes it more unlikely for bubbles or stray granules to form which would in turn affect the sound quality. In truth if the record is pressed properly the sound quality should not be affected whatever the colour of the vinyl. Another reason for using black when pressing is that recycled vinyl can also be used, which again would not affect the colour black. Recycled material could not be used in other colours, you would have to use the proper coloured pigment, red, blue, yellow etc to get the desired effect.
The First Coloured Vinyl.
As far as I know it is not actually known when the first coloured vinyls were produced, it is widely thought though that some discs were produced as early as the 1950’s and originated from the USA. The majority of coloured vinyl was produced in the 1960’s again in the USA and more importantly in Japan. The early Japanese pressings are extremely collectable because of the cost of producing these items and the materials used. For example the USA counterpart was produced in a deep red vinyl at relatively low cost, while its Japanese counterpart was produced in a ruby red colour using more expensive crystals. This effects the cost and collectability of the vinyl immensely, for example, firstly try getting hold of a Japanese pressing from the 1960’s/1970’s of a Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin or a Beatles album and secondly you will probably need a 2nd mortgage to pay for it.
Coloured vinyl though does not come in one particular look, there are different types, just like there is different types of pigment, most vinyl is opaque, which means it does not allow light to pass through it, then there is semi-transparent which does allow some light to pass through and probably the most beautiful of all, crystal vinyl, which allows a great deal of light to pass through.
So Why Coloured vinyl.
The first thought that springs to mind is gimmick, is it the artist who commissions the coloured run or the record label? If we thought it was the artist then why are there so very few (Pink) floyd or Deep (Purple) coloured vinyl floating around. (clues in the name), yes we can find albums by these bands in other colours but I have never come across a coloured namesake so to speak. So maybe it is down to the record companies, most print runs of coloured vinyl were in limited numbers, runs from anywhere between 100 to 5000, depending on the popularity of the artist. After the initial small coloured run, the records were then pressed in black. I can see no benefit to the record company in doing this, except interest, the majority of the time a record would only be pressed in a different colour for either a anniversary or cleverly if the colour of the pressing might appear in the song, for example, Elvis Presley – Moody Blue. Although some record companies usually the smaller unfashionable ones have used coloured vinyl as a signature gimmick, Globus International springs to mind.
Another reason for using coloured vinyl was as a promotional tool. These were editions that were usually printed before the main print runs and small numbers of coloured would be issued and given to the likes of radio stations, music magazines and critics, influential DJ’s and journalists. Really anybody that was in a position to strongly promote the artist or the record.
A splatter effect on vinyl is purely for a visual treat, it does not enhance the sound, it is probably a modern artists dream. Instead of using just the one colour, a different coloured granule is added to the PVC and simply pressed, the heating process melts the granules and spreads them across the vinyl.
The technology we now possess around the world has unfortunately increased the very lucrative bootleg market for coloured vinyl. The popularity of modern music has increased the demand for more and more vinyl and anything that is slightly different or unseen by a collector has become a must have, especially if produced by the collectors favourite artist. The quality of the product that can be purchased now is as good as if not better than the original, by this i mean visually, because unfortunately the sound quality is rarely on par with the original. The means of mass production has advanced to a point where the visual beauty of the item can sway any buyer, until that is they get it on a turntable. Where 6 times out of 10, the recording is usually disappointing. From a personal point of view, I think that if the dealer lists the record as a ‘Unofficial pressing’ then it is down to the buyer/collectors discretion if they want something different to compliment there collection. On the positive side because of the advancements in recording technology, it is becoming a case where the sound quality is getting better, this is not a contradiction, I have had examples of both. Of course the one thing that tips the balance in all of this is of course the colour of the vinyl, a mint Beatles – Magical Mystery tour in semi-transparent yellow to a Beatles collector is extremely difficult to ignore especially if the price is right. Which it usually is, because the majority of these coloured bootleg records are being produced so cheaply in third world countries, fact.