What do the colours of cargo containers mean?

Explore the significance of cargo container colors. Decode the meaning behind container hues and their role in logistics and international trade.

Colours of cargo containers

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Colour is an essential element in freight containers for international intermodal transport. The meaning of the colours of cargo containers varies based on purpose and helps facilitate container handling anywhere across the globe. Although colours also enhance the aesthetic of containers, they also define the identity of containers. The classification of containers based on colours makes it easier to handle at transport hubs and during cargo loading and unloading. Therefore, you can see ports and other transportation hubs loaded with different colours of containers. Let us delve into the role of colours in shipping containers.

Is there a colour code for shipping containers?

You may have come across different colours of cargo containers loaded onto vessels, trains or trucks during transportation. Colour-coded shipping containers help categorise and easily identify freight containers based on the significance of colours accorded to them. Different colours represent brands, cargo, container states- old or new, and ownerships. The colours of sea containers may vary as they do not follow the same code as other modes of transportation. Container colours at sea are primarily based on the brand colour, which signifies the shipping line or company. Containers are often marked with their brand name or other vital markings with different legible colours to improve visibility. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain a colour scheme for containers to be easily read even from a distance.

Why are cargo containers painted in specific colours?

Shipping containers are painted in dark hues of red, green, blue, yellow, brown and white and have different reasons why they are given a specific colour. 

  • The colours of cargo containers indicate the brand colours, type of cargo, state of containers, or the shipping company. 
  • The colour distinction in cargo containers is a visual distinction mechanism that distinguishes one shipping line or carrier from the other.
  • Temperature-sensitive container colours distinguish isolated and reefer containers from other standard containers.
  • Different brands have patented a hallmark colour for themselves and use containers of similar colour to build an association.

How do colours affect container temperature?

  • Light-coloured shipping containers reflect solar radiation instead of absorbing them. Whereas dark colours have a lesser albedo and thus absorb heat from the sun or environment. 
  • Temperature-sensitive container colours used in the shipping industry are white and grey, reflect most of the heat into the surroundings, and help maintain the shipment temperature inside the containers. 
  • Grey-coloured containers are generally used in military shipments. Shipping companies use UV-resistant colour paints to prevent container damage and shipment damage. 
  • The weather-resistant container colours help prevent rust and reduce the risks of container rusting. Container repainting helps in expanding the lifespan of shipping containers.

What role does colour play in container identification?

Based on the freight container colour schemes, these are the few purposes of shipping containers defined through colours.

  1. White-coloured containers – These containers are often one-trip containers with limited movement, i.e., from the origin to the destination. Reefer and insulated containers are painted white to absorb less heat from the surroundings. They are white since the colour is closely associated with ice or cold.
  2. Maroon or brown-coloured containers– It helps establish ownership that a shipping container belongs to some container leasing company. However, not all leasing companies must have their containers painted maroon or brown since they have palettes for cargo container colour variations. The leased containers often chain their lessee, and the dark colour helps hide any scratches, dents or rusts, keeping their aesthetics maintained.
  3. Blue-coloured containers– Such shades are usually used for standard shipping containers transporting dry cargo. For example- automobiles, grains, appliances, etc.
  4. Red-coloured containersHigh cube containers are often painted red to help distinguish them from regular standard container sizes. Colours like red and orange also indicate the presence of hazardous or toxic goods inside the container.

This is how the different colours of cargo containers help categorise and create an identity for brands and shipping lines.

LOTUS Containers is a global marketer of shipping container services equipped for selling and leasing different types of shipping containers, including reefer containers.

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