A Visual Glossary of Cat Colors and Patterns
This glossary is written both with reference to breed standards and from my memory as I've studied cat genetics. Though I'm not using them in particular to write this, my favorite general references are Messybeast and The Legacy of the Cat by Gloria Stephens. Though both are out of date in places, I highly recommend checking them out if you are interested in cat color genetics.
Synonyms: Ebony. In solid black cats, the nose and paw-pads will also be black. Some black cats, especially longhairs, may have a reddish cast in the sun, or a brownish tone from sun exposure.
Synonyms: Chestnut. A dark brown cat. There is some variation in shade. The nose and paw-pads will also be chocolate.
Synonyms: Sorrel (in Abyssinians/Somalis). A lighter reddish-brown, "the color of a cinnamon stick". Nose and paw-pads will be the same color or more pink.
Synonyms: Orange, Yellow, Marmalade, Ginger. Anywhere from rich red-orange to a washed out yellow. The nose and paw-pads are pink or coral. "Solid" red cats are generally pedigreed cats, specifically bred to have as few markings as possible, since true solid red cats are not possible.
Synonyms: Grey. A grey cat, with a wide range of colors from pale blue-grey to deep slate. Nose and paw-pads are also blue, but may be darker than the coat.
Synonyms: Lavender. A warm grey-brown, or "grey with a pinkish tone". Can vary in shade. Nose and paw-pads are also lilac, but may be darker than the coat.
Synonyms: Beige. A beige color, lighter and warmer than lilac. Although it is ideally easy to distinguish from lilac, darker fawns can be difficult to identify. Nose and pawpads are warm brownish-pink.
Cream is a pale yellow or tan color, sometimes with a slight pinkish cast. Nose and paw-pads are pink. Like with red, cream cats cannot be solid, and any that appear solid simply have very low-contrast markings.
Synonyms: Taupe. Caramel is a rare color caused by the action of the "dilute modifier" gene on blue, lilac, or fawn cats. It is a grey-brown, similar to lilac. It is difficult to distinguish between blue-based, lilac-based, and fawn-based caramel, so they are usually listed as one color. "Taupe" specifically refers to lilac-based caramel.
Apricot is caused by the same dilute modifier as caramel, but on cream. It is paler than ginger, but more saturated than cream. Because it is derived from cream, there are no true solid apricot cats.
White can be caused by very high amounts of white spotting (see below), or by a gene known as epistatic white. Epistatic white cats have also been noted to have a higher incidence of deafness, especially if they also have blue eyes. White cats also have a higher incidence of heterochromia or "odd eyes", where each eye is a different color.
A tabby cat has pigment deposited in bands along the hair shaft, instead of evenly throughout the hair. This causes a, lighter, speckled "background color". The dark areas of the tabby pattern are composed of fully pigmented hairs, so you can tell what color a tabby is by looking at the color of the stripes.
There are four main types of tabby: classic tabby (also known as blotched or oyster tabby), which has bold stripes that make a "bullseye" marking on the side, mackerel tabby, which has thinner vertical stripes, spotted tabby, where the markings are broken up into small spots, and ticked tabby, which has no distinct stripes except for some residual striping on the legs, tail, and neck.
Silver and smoke
Silver is most often seen in silver tabbies, which have normally colored stripes but a silvery-white undercoat. This is because red pigment in the undercoat is supressed. However, the gene also has a few other forms. Smoke cats are what happens when the silver gene acts on a solid cat. If the cat is shorthaired, it will be difficult to see the undercoat unless the fur is parted, but if it is longhaired you can see the pale undercoat color in the long neck and tail fur. Smoke cats may also show some markings despite not being a true tabby. Breeding of silver tabbies to be lighter also led to shaded silvers, which have pale bellies with colored shading on the back and sides, and chinchilla cats, which look mostly white with a slight dusting of color.
Different colors of silver and smoke are usually named as "x silver tabby" or "x smoke", except for red silver tabbies, which may be called cameo tabbies.
Synonyms: Tortie, Particolor. Tortoiseshells are cats, typically only female, which have patches of a "red" color (red, cream, or apricot), and patches of a "black color" (any of the other colors listed above). Tortoiseshells may show tabby markings on the red patches, but if the black patches are solid they are considered solid. Tabby tortoiseshells are called torbies and show tabby markings across both colors.
Synonyms: Tricolor. Calicos are just tortoiseshells with a large amount of white spotting. For unknown reasons, the white also tends to make the patches of color larger and more distinct. Tabby calicos are known as calibies.
colorpoint and variants
Synonyms: Frost (in Bengals). Colorpoint is the classic "Siamese pattern", with a very light body and colored extremities. They come in all colors, including tabby and tortoiseshell. Colorpoint cats have distinctive baby-blue eyes. There are also two variants of this pattern - the Burmese version, sepia, where the difference between the body and extremities in minimal, and the Tonkinese version, mink, which is an intermediate between colorpoint and sepia.
There are a few unique color names. Black colorpoint cats are known as "seal point", red ones are "flame point", and blue ones may be called "frost point". Tabby points are "lynx points" - for example, a black tabby colorpoint cat would be known as a seal lynx point.
Synonyms: Bicolor. White spotting comes in many degrees. Very low levels of white spotting present as a white chin, chest spot, tail-tip, and/or toes, and as the amount of white increases it progresses to the face, chest, belly, legs, all the way up to the van pattern, which has colored splashes between the ears and a colored tail, or even completely white. Bicolor refers to cats that are about half white.
Some other white spotting patterns are the tuxedo pattern, where the chest, belly, muzzle, toes, and possibly the tail-tip are white, the mask and mantle, where there are two distinct masses of color on the head and body with a colored tail, the cap and saddle, with a smaller patch on the head and one "saddle" patch on the body, and the harlequin pattern, which has a colored tail and other small random patches.
breed-specific colors and patterns
amber (Norwegian forest cat)
Amber is a color particular to Norwegian Forest Cats. The cat is born a black-based color, then gradually lightens until they are similar in color to a ginger cat, usually with some residual black pigment. If they were originally solid, the nose, paw-pads, and markings remain dark.
agouti tabby (abyssinian and somali)
Agouti tabbies are ticked tabbies that have been bred to have almost no residual markings. It is the signature marking of the Abyssinian and Somali. They may look solid at first, but can be identified by the lighter muzzle and eye markings and the darker shading on the back. Abyssinians and Somalis have also been bred to have much more red-toned coats, so their colors look different from what is typical. The "ruddy" color (also called usual or tawny) is actually black ticked/agouti tabby.
asian leopard cat patterns (Bengal and toyger)
Bengals and Toygers exhibit some special tabby patterns, believed to be a result of their Asian Leopard Cat ancestry. Bengals have marbled tabby and rosetted tabby, and Toygers have braided or "candle-flame" tabby. These breeds can also be charcoal, meaning that they are tabby but have a very darkly shaded face and back.