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Black Vinyl Pellets in a large cardboard box

What to Know About Black vs. Color Vinyl

For decades, colored vinyl was looked upon as some open joke. A way that record companies could charge more while distancing themselves from what many music lovers demanded from their records: high-quality sound. Almost without exception, a colored vinyl disc would play with much more noise and hiss compared to their black counterparts. Well, those times have certainly changed. As we enjoy the non-stop upward momentum of the vinyl boom it’s clear more and more people demand colors that pop.

photo of a Glow in the dark Record with ghostbusters logo on the label and in the vinyl itself

Does The Color Of A Vinyl Record Affect Sound Quality?

If you’re looking for the short version of whether color vinyl is worse, you can walk away with this – vinyl record production has come a long way in the last 20 years and most modern colored vinyl is on par with black pressings. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule. And, yes, picture discs are still more prone to be problematic, at least regarding playback durability. But that shouldn’t deter you from purchasing a new record just because it is not black.

Other steps in the vinyl record production process, such as mastering and a pressing plant’s quality control standards, have a more substantial impact on playback. When in doubt about a pressing’s quality, check out the Reviews section on each Discogs release page. Chances are, other collectors have listened to the pressing and can provide a sneak peek into the quality.

Discogs user Review of a colored vinyl describing the release and that the playback as clean

How Color Vinyl Records Are Made

All vinyl records are made of PVC, which is naturally colorless. To turn this clear material into a solid color, titanium dioxide and other additives are mixed in. To make the standard black vinyl color, black carbon is often added, which strengthens the PVC mix. To make any other color, dyes are used instead of black carbon. These dyes do not strengthen the vinyl in the same way as black carbon, but the difference is negligible unless mistakes are made in the production process.

A few exceptions exist: Clear vinyl, picture discs, and glow-in-the-dark pressings are more susceptible to poor playback. Very few additives can be mixed into clear vinyl without jeopardizing the opacity, which means there is a potential for worse sound quality, albeit this drop is often imperceptible to the common listener.

examples of clear vinyl records, one halfway out of its sleeve that has abstract album artwork on it.

Picture Discs are a different story. They are typically made of 3 layers. The first layer is a clear record with no music, the second is the picture layer, and the third is a clear plastic sheet that contains the grooves. This final thin and malleable plastic layer is not as durable as regular records, which can negatively affect both the playback and long-term durability.

two examples of picture discs.  One in an illustration of a peacock and the other a character from rocky horror picture show

A word of caution for those glow-in-the-dark records too: According to Pirates Press, “Glow-In-The-Dark pigments unfortunately deteriorate the acoustic properties of the recording and do often cause increased surface noise.”

Are Color Records Worth More Money?

The process of pressing multi-color vinyl adds about a dollar to the production cost of each record, so from a material perspective, yes, color vinyl records are worth more. But, of course, that’s only part of the story. The real cost differences come from color releases often being pressed in limited batches. This drives down supply while increasing demand, leading to higher market costs.

Let’s also call out the elephant in the room. Vinyl records are collectible items, with more colorful pressings often increasing the aesthetic appeal. Clever minds have ingeniously paired colors with the vibe of the record. Check 👏 out 👏 any 👏 of 👏 these 👏 releases 👏 for examples of pressings that were thoughtfully chosen to match their music or album art.

We know in some cases that the color variants are worth less simply because the black versions are fewer in number — see Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works II for evidence. But this seems to be an exception from the rule. If an album comes out on color wax, you can almost be certain that it will be more sought after in the future.

Any way you cut it, many collectors will seek out the wacky color variant without exception and color vinyl has reached near ubiquitous levels. For instance, a cursory glance at Oddisee’s discography reveals a full embrace – with nearly every album having at least one color release, many of which happen to be first-pressings. This would have been unfathomable just twenty years ago.

Let’s take a look at some examples of how a color record can affect the desirability and price of an album.

Example 1: Nirvana – Nevermind

Nevermind has been repressed on vinyl more than 180 times over the years and among the many pressings, there are a smattering of colors, gatefolds, trifolds, and billfolds to entice fans to throw down money and hear this album once again on a shiny new piece of wax.

Universal Music Group released it back in 2009 on black wax and the median sale price is around $155. However, going over to the translucent blue counterpart, the exact same release has a median price of $200.

photo of a translucent blue vinyl release of nirvana's nevermind with the record sitting on the inner sleeve

The $200 price tag far exceeds what would be expected in a batch of 4,000 black copies. The album has been released a number of times after this pressing, and even the later four-disc deluxe set on black wax sells for half of the blue variant price.

Example 2: The Clash – The Clash (White Riot / Protex Blue)

The Clash, two colored blue and white vinyl record partially in the album cover

Going the opposite way on the financial spectrum, we have 2015’s Record Store Day release of The Clash’s first album. First off, did we need this repress? Is it really that hard to locate one of the existing 120+ vinyl pressings of The Clash? The median price of $50 on this colored press seems to answer these questions with a defiant “nope”.

With original pressings being relatively easy to find and affordable, this release showcases how badly record companies overthink the success of RSD.

Example 3: Alex North – 2001 A Space Odyssey Soundtrack

A fine example of unbridled financial hysteria is in the case of the Mondo repress of the 2001 soundtrack by Alex North. The black vinyl median price is $27, and while it costs this much to buy new, this is a reasonable price to pay.

However, you then have the “randomly inserted” color vinyl version with a median price of $100, complete with deep and hazy shades as if you were journeying down the wormhole with Dave himself, Hal 9000 echoing in your soul, and chattering in your ear.

photo of the album cover and close up of the colored swirl vinyl of the original score for 2001: a space odyssey

So what is it about this one that holds people’s attention? There is scarcity involved with 2001 copies being pressed, but similar to the Nevermind release, it really isn’t scarce enough to justify the cost. Is it the idea that the color variants are “randomly inserted” and the excitement of actually popping one open and finding the color wax is like discovering a Wonka Golden Ticket?

These are just a few examples — show us your choices!

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