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The word "colour" is problematic. Heralds prefer to use "tincture" for what ordinary people call colours, because "colour" has a different meaning.

There are three kinds of tincture: colours, metals and furs. With one exception, everything on a heraldic device must be in these tinctures.

The five colours, in approximate order from most to least common, are:

The two metals are:

The furs are many, but the most common ones are:

  • Ermine (black ermine spots on a white field)
  • Counter-ermine (white ermine spots on black)
  • Erminois (black ermine spots on yellow)
  • Pean (yellow ermine spots on black)
  • Vair (a regular pattern of blue and white)

(Note that counter-ermine is called ermines in the literature, but we use the longer name to help stave off typos.)

The one exception to these tinctures is called 'proper'. If an creature has a normal, unarguable colouration, then it may be described as proper. For example, a greyhound proper would be grey, or a man proper would be pale pink (in Europe at least). This has some implications for matters of contrast. If there is no normal colour for a creature - lions, for example, can be anything from white through yellow to black - or if it's a mythical beast, then it doesn't have a proper colour, so this exception doesn't apply. ((Need to quote precedent here?))

((Need a way to insert images in this format, to allow illustrations.))