Color Theory
Why Study Color Theory?
an understanding of color will help when
incorporating it into your own designs.
Do not base decisions on "it looks right."
Application - painting - The Fauves
Whereas other artists had used color as
the description of an object, the Fauves let
color become the subject of their painting.
A painting in the "Fauvist Manner" was one
that related color shapes; rather than
unifying a design with line, compositions
sought an expressiveness within the
relationships of the whole.
What is red? Candy apple red, blood red,
catsup red, rose red... to try and
communicate a specific hue is difficult
without some sort of coding system.
Early in the 1900's, Albert Munsell, a
professor at an art school in Boston
developed a color system
Munsell's system has been reworked for
today's use with the Pantone color system,
TRUEMATCH, CIE systems and others.
Color Systems
today's use with the Pantone color system,
TRUEMATCH, CIE systems and others.
Pantone® Red
Pantone® Warm Red
Chroma, Saturation, Intensity.
These terms are all interrelated
and overlap in definition.
Chroma: How a hue relates to
Saturation: The degree of purity
of a hue.
Intensity: The brightness or
dullness of a hue. One may lower
the intensity by adding white or
Shade and Tint
Shade: A hue produced by
the addition of black.
Tint: A hue produced by the
addition of white
Color Methods
When painting, an artist has a variety
of paints to choose from, and mixed
colors are achieved through the
subtractive color method. When a
designer is utilizing the computer to
generate digital media, colors are
achieved with the additive color
Subtractive Color
Subtractive Color. When we mix colors
using paint, or through the printing process,
we are using the subtractive color method.
Subtractive color mixing means that one
begins with white and ends with black; as
one adds color, the result gets darker and
tends to black.
The CMYK color system
is the color system used
for printing.
Those colors used in
painting—an example
of the subtractive
color method.
Additive Color
Additive Color. If we are working on
a computer, the colors we see on the
screen are created with light using
the additive color method. Additive
color mixing begins with black and
ends with white; as more color is
added, the result is lighter and tends
to white.
The RGB colors are light
primaries and colors are created
with light.
Percentages of red, green, &
blue light are used to generate
color on a
Reproducing color can be problematic with
regard to printed digital media, because
what we see is not what we get.
Although a monitor may be able to display
'true color' (16,000,000 colors), millions of
these colors are outside of the spectrum
available to printers.
Working within the CMYK color system, or
choosing colors from Pantone© palettes
insures proper color rendering.
Photoshop RGB and CMYK
Color Sliders
We determine whether or not we are
successful by critically assessing the
visual balance and harmony of the
final composition—balance and
harmony are achieved by the visual
contrast that exists between color
combinations. Planning a successful
color combination begins with the
investigation, and understanding, of
color relationships.
Color Relationships
There should be thought and reason
behind every design decision from
color to layout to choice of type and
Using a color wheel and a template,
the relationships between colors are
easy to identify.
Choose a color relationship based
on what you are trying to convey,
whether it is feeling or information.
Colors that are shade or
tint variations of the
same hue.
Those colors across from
each other on a color
More Relationships
One hue plus two others
equally spaced from its
Two complementary color
sets; the distance
between selected
complementary pairs will
effect the overall contrast
of the final composition.
More Relationships
Analogous Relationship
Those colors located adjacent to
each other on a color wheel.
Triad Relationship
Three hues equally positioned on a
color wheel.
The contrast is formed by
the juxtaposition of light
and dark values and their
relative saturation.
The contrast is formed by
the juxtaposition of light
and dark values. This
could be a complementary
The contrast is formed by
size in relation to the
visual weight of a color.
Working with Systems
The Visible spectrum consists of
billions of colors, a monitor can
display millions, a high quality
printer is only capable of
producing thousands, and older
computer systems may be
limited to 216 cross-platform
Pantone Matching System
The accuracy of color is critical in design. Because what
you see on your monitor is never what will appear on a
printed sheet, designers need a standardized color key.
A logo can be deep blue on the client's letterhead, bluegreenish on his business card, and light blue on his very
expensive envelopes.
A way to prevent this is by using a standardized color
matching system, such as the PANTONE MATCHING
SYSTEM. Though PANTONE is not the only color
standardization system, it is the most widely used and the
one that most printers understand. Aside from being able
to have consistency, PANTONE Colors allow you to use
colors that cannot be mixed in CMYK.
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