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Why Are There Different Coloured Shipping Containers?

With over 827 million containers or TEUs shipping through global ports, it’s not surprising that many companies need to keep them in good working order while also rising above the competition.

A lick of paint is not only useful in protecting shipping containers and their cargo but is also useful in other ways. So even for cargo shipped in and around Australia, why are there different coloured containers?

This article will take you through why it’s common to see a brightly coloured collage of colours on container ships and what it all means.

Shipping containers are often in various colours from blue and orange through to brown and white for various reasons. The main ones allow port staff to easily identify them for storage purposes, company branding and show their shipping direction. Dark colours also age well for selling containers.


Container ColourMain Purpose/Use
WhitePerishable Contents
Maroon/BrownContainer Leasing Companies
Yellow/Red/Magenta/Grey/Orange/GreenPredominantly Company Branding


If you live by the coast, as many of us do in Australia, it’s not uncommon to see some of the largest container ships rolling in with a colourful array of cargo containers.

Although shipping containers seem to have been around for some considerable time, they are relatively new to the world of transportation.

The modern container as we know it was conceived in the 1950s and was originally the brainchild of a former truck driver called Malcolm McLean.

This entrepreneur was looking for a way to maximise sea transport which was a far cheaper option than using land-based cargo and freight.

These colourful containers were seen on some of the largest cargo ships in the world, and revolutionised the process of loading, storing and shipping goods. They maximised the use of space, while also helping to increase reliability and, crucially, minimise theft.

Although for anyone wondering why there are different coloured containers, no one knows for sure what colour the first containers were. However, we know that the first types were made out of steel similar to those manufactured today.


There are two main reasons why shipping containers are painted in various colours, from white and maroon to bright blue. Shipping containers can be seen on cargo ships worldwide sporting a variety of shades.


One of the main reasons for different colours on containers is a type of coding. The different colours help the depots and other facilities when storing containers. This is done in part by the type of container. It solves the lengthy process of checking individual owner codes marked on the container.


Along with the type of container, colours also quickly identify a particular brand.

As with most products, colours can help you associate with a specific company. With blue being used in a third of the most successful companies branding according to market specialists, it’s not surprising many shipping companies choose this colour.


Alongside company branding, some containers are also painted in colours that show the type of container.

A good example of this is refrigerated containers, known in the industry as ‘reefer’ containers.

These are traditionally white, representing the colour of ice, an additional reason why containers are coloured for identification purposes.


There are no hard and fast laws that stipulate particular colours on containers for shipping cargo.

However, it is important that all containers can have colours, logos and other markings, providing they are compliant with the industry-standard ISO 6346.

So although it’s fairly common for most shipping containers to be painted in brand colours, there are also different colours used for other reasons.


White containers are often used for shipping cargo that needs to be refrigerated, such as food and other commodities.

As we found out earlier, the colour can help those at ports and other depots know the type of storage necessary for each type of cargo.

If they are not carrying refrigerated items, white containers can often signify the direction of the cargo. These are known as ‘one-way containers’ and show goods for shipping in one direction only.


It’s not uncommon to see shipping containers at seaports that are painted maroon or brown.

Although it’s not a requirement, many leasing companies use these darker colours. As leasing companies tend to own many containers, it is a popular colour you might see regularly.

One of the reasons these darker colours are popular is that darker colours age better than lighter shades. They also help save money as they don’t need repainting as often.

Painting containers brown or maroon also means that they are easier to sell to other leasing companies.


Although there’s usually a larger number of brown shipping containers at most ports, it’s also not uncommon to see many coloured shipping containers at freight ports.

There is a broader range of colours, such as

  • Yellow
  • Red
  • Magenta
  • Grey
  • Orange
  • Green

Generally, coloured containers – other than white, maroon and brown, signify a particular brand and usually serve no other purpose.


It all depends on the seller and the buyer whether new owners will repaint a shipping container in a different colour.

As we found out earlier, it’s easier for container owners to sell to similar companies.

This means buyers will be more likely to purchase from sellers who share the same industry, such as leasing, for example.

They are usually auctioned and could be used similarly by the new owners, or repainted for shipping or repurposing uses.


As we’ve found out, there are many reasons why containers are found in a rainbow of colours. It’s worth knowing that specific colours can affect cargo.

We don’t know for sure whether this is one of the reasons that companies choose particular colours, but there’s a good chance it will be on the list of factors.

Colours can change the temperature and humidity inside containers.

So any container exposed to sunlight for an extended period is likely to have absorbed some of the sun’s heat, increasing the humidity and temperature.

Whereas lighter colours such as white, yellow, and grey refract the sun to keep the contents inside a container cooler. This is one of the reasons reefer containers with perishable cargos choose white.


We hope that’s given you all the information on why you might have noticed shipping containers with various shades and what it all means!

Our specialists here at Tiger Containers have supplied containers for over 30 years and offer the best quality containers with super fast delivery.

If you want to purchase or hire the best shipping containers in Australia, head to our website for more details.

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