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I've recently been thinking of building in dark red because it looks so nice, but as I've been looking at how much it would cost to get the bricks, I found that 1x4 dark red bricks are almost non-existent.

I was considering buying a big set to get the parts, and the most obvious choice seems to be 10197 Fire Brigade. Unfortunately, while this set has a good number of dark red bricks, it is awkwardly missing the 1x4. It has 15 1x1, 42 1x2, 34 1x6, but not a single 1x4 brick. It seems like the designers would have had to go to extra effort to not use any 1x4 bricks.

I checked bricklink to see if I could get these bricks there, but at the time of writing this, there are fewer than 100 total 1x4 dark red bricks listed on Bricklink. Looking at the part info on peeron, it seems that this part in this color was only used in a few sets that were produced back in 2005.

So, why are there so few of this part? It seems like with large sets like 10197 making heavy use of dark red it would be worthwhile to produce this part, but it appears that TLG thinks differently.

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2 Answers 2

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Kramii's analysis is quite interesting and it's certain that some colors are more popular than others - as you point out yourself, you find dark red to be more suitable for some buildings, and you're definitely not alone.

I do disagree however on the fact that LEGO has a strategic position with regards to certain bricks or colors, or that they find that a product with 1x4 dark red bricks would disinterest children.

I do believe this is more a manufacturing issue. Keep in mind the number of elements (that is, one specific shape in one specific color) in production at a current time is limited (by the number of machines), and those are the elements that are available to designers. As you remark, the 1x4 dark red brick was last seen is sets from 2005, so we can safely say that it's not currently in the palette of elements in production.

This doesn't mean that designers may not use it, however; if that was so we'd never have new elements, or new colors, and that wouldn't make sense. But they aren't free to use it at will either. All elements in production have a production cost which is taken into account during the design phase, as a designer has a specific "budget" to work with. I think the costs implied here are not actual costs, but I don't know the exact details.

But new elements do have a higher cost, depending on a lot of various factors. In this specific case, there is no new mould involved, so that doesn't account for much, but the price is definitely higher than if the part was currently in production. So, most of the time, it's the designer who will try to assess if the extra cost is worth reintroducing the part. It could very well be that using 2 1x2 bricks is cheaper (again, in terms of design cost) than asking for a 1x4; more so if they already use some in the set (there is also a cost for just having a part in the set, which is why some firefighter stations have 1x2 bricks and use 1x2 bricks with groove instead - as they already had to use them for doors).

All in all, while I don't know the exact details, I know that the design process has to take the cost of parts into account, and that parts not currently in production cost more. What I don't know is, if a designer asks for a 1x4 dark red brick, whether it's automatically accepted or not, or if he has to defend the case or something, but I believe even that is mostly reflected in the part cost.

The good news is that more and more designers are either from a strong AFOL background, or at the very least are very aware of what the AFOLs want or not. That's why we see more of dark red, dark green, dark blue, or other nice colors nowadays - the designers know we like them, and they like them too.

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It's worth adding to this that LEGO knows that people want certain parts and can't get them, which is why a lot of the new sets aimed at adults (Tower bridge, architecture, Sopwith Camel, etc) often come with a lot of a specific part. eg: the Sopwith Camel comes with 63 3x1 tiles in dark green. I wouldn't be surprised if a set comes out with a ton of dark red parts at some point, specifically to appease people like the OP. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jan 11 '13 at 13:31
    
Well, that's what I implied in my last paragraph - a lot of designers are AFOLs themselves and do indeed know what AFOLs want, so they can push for it in their design. Now, maybe it also happens at another level within LEGO, but I really feel the designers are the primary responsibles for that. That said, there are quite a few sets which use Dark Red intensively these days. –  Joubarc Jan 11 '13 at 13:48

I don't know if there are any particular issues with manufacturing 1 x 4 bricks in Dark Red, but I suspect not. Instead, to understand why dark red 1 x 4s are relatively rare, it is interesting to consider why other colours might be relatively popular.

Popular Colours

Younger children like strong primary colours + black and white. At the same time, older children rarely object to primary colours. For this reason, there is a bias in LEGO's colour selection towards the primary colours. For this reason, Red, Yellow, Blue, White and Black have been part of the LEGO spectrum for a long time. This means that there is already a large number of bricks in these colours in circulation. Indeed (at the time of writing) there are well over 1,000 1x4s in each of these colours available on BrickLink. Green bricks have not been around quite as long, but you would expect them to be popular with children for a similar reason. Indeed, there are a good number of these available, too (over 700 lots today).

Space, Star Wars, castle etc. have required lots of Greys, so these are available in larger quantities. As you would expect, these are also available in larger quantities (over 700 lots each for the modern greys, around 300 - 400 lots for the older greys).

You would expect newer, bright colours to be popular with children. In addition, Lego aimed at girls has resulted in increased quantities of pinks, purples and pastel shades. This would account for why Orange (600+ lots), Lime (500+), Dark Purple (250+), Bright Pink (250+), Medium Blue (250+), Dark Pink (100+) and Purple (50+) are relatively popular, but less common than the primaries and the greys.

Transparent 1x4s used to be used as windscreens etc. in older models, so there are quite a few of these in circulation (200+ lots on Bricklink).

Less Common Colours

Earthy colours - browns, tans and - have been required for a variety of models, typically representing desert or other natural phenomena. Tan, for example, has been a feature of Pharoah's Quest, various Star Wars sets, etc. This is why there are relatively large quantities of Tan (600+), Reddish Brown (600+), Dark Green (200+), Brown (100+) and Dark Tan (50+) lots available.

The quantity of Maersk Blue (100+ lots) is a special case, in that the licensed models that require this colour also require 1x4s in larger quantities.

Rare Colours

Then there are the rarer colours for 1 x 4s, where there are less than 50 lots of each colour available on BrickLink at the moment. These include Light Yellow, Medium Orange, Light Purple, Pink and our friend Dark Red (+ a few others). I suspect that there are so few of these simply because TLG have had not identified a market for models that contain 1 x 4s in these colours.

Ultra-Rare Colours

For completeness, it is interesting that there are a few colours that are ultra-rare (<10 lots available) in 1 x 4 brick format: Magenta, Transparent Green and Chrome Gold, for example. Sometimes these ultra-rare bricks exist because they were used in a small number of sets that are themselves very rare, or because they were prototype bricks, because they were used in "special" models like the ones in theme-parks, or because the person listing them on BrickLink has misidentified their colour.

(The astute reader will notice that I've omitted Dark Blue, Sand Green and Sand Blue from this analysis, each of which has 200+ lots of 1 x 4s listed on BrickLink as of today. To be honest, I have not yet investigated their relative popularity compared to Dark Red. Suggestions would therefore be welcome.)

Conclusion

In conclusion, I suggest that the relative scarcity of Dark Red 1 x 4 bricks can be explained in terms of TLG's marketing strategy, both current and historic. TLG has always sold bricks in sets that are designed to appeal to children, and its marketing people appear to think that children are disinterested in a product that contains large numbers of Dark Red 1 x 4 bricks.

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