Written by: Peter Goulding | October 25, 2009
Following last weeks post outlining the elements of graphic design, this week we´re going to take a more in depth look at the element of color.
I’ve dedicated two posts to color because its such an important and fundamental part of design and its needs serious attention. Color creates mood within a design and contributes to the overall experience for your audience. Human emotions are very often triggered by color and you need to know what colors trigger which emotions.
Cool colors like blue and green can evoke a sense of tranquility and calm, while warm colors like red or orange can evoke feelings of excitement and energy. Color is the first thing to catch our attention and the last thing we forget. I ´m a 100% you can tell me fairly quickly the colors Vodafone, Heineken, Coca Cola, and Skype use. Color is to our eyes what taste is to our mouths.
Everyday we experience mountains of color and without a second thought we classify them into certain moods and emotions. When designing if you don´t understand color and how to use it, you might as well be blind. Color gives meaning, helps create mood and triggers emotion.
Color wheels are based on color theory, which is based on the physics of light. Without light, no perception of color is possible, we´d be surrounded by blackness. Light contains a spectrum of color, from red through to violet, with orange, yellow, green and blue in between, and when all these colors are present in equal amounts we see color as white.
An object is considered a certain color by the way it reflects or transmits some of the color spectrum and absorbs the rest. When any portion of that spectrum is missing, the object containing the remaining portions of the spectrum gives the object a specific color.
When light is present, the eye can read color in one of three ways, reflected light, transmitted light, or a combination of reflected
and transmitted light.
1 – Reflected Light
Reflected light is created when light from a light source, reflects off an object. The amount of light reflected depends on the surface area of the object and the brightness of the light source.
2 – Transmitted light
Transmitted light is created when light from a light source, passes through an object. The amount of light transmitted depends on the density of the object and the brightness of the light source.
Color is made up of Hue, Saturation and Value. By combining these visual properties together we can determine what makes color.
Color and hue essentially mean the same thing. It is color with no Black, White or Grey added. It is the pure form of color, red is red, green is green, no variations. When we look at the color wheel we are looking at hues.
The primary colors Red, Yellow and Blue are all hues and it is from these three colors that all other colors are derived. Mixing other colors together can not re-produce primary colors. Children seem to gravitate towards primary colors, check out a childrens toy or clothes shop, the color schemes usually contain predominately primary colors.
I read somewhere it has to do with their eyes, not being fully developed and primary colors being the first colors they can interpret, has sense I suppose.
When we mix two primary colors together we get what is called a secondary color.
These secondary colors are, Green, Orange and Purple so when we mix the primary colors red and yellow we get the secondary color Orange, likewise, when we mix the primary colors yellow and blue we get the secondary color green. When we mix Secondary colors together we get what are called Tertiary colors, the six tertiary colors are: Red-orange, yellow-orange, red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green and yellow-green.
2 – Saturation:
The intensity or purity of a color is called Saturation. Adding or subtracting grey determines the saturation of a color. The grayer a color is, the less its saturation. A color completely absent of gray is fully saturated.
The primary colors are considered fully saturated. If colors appear dark, they are over saturated while colors that appear washed out or faded are said to be under saturated.
3 – Value
The lightness or darkness of a color is called its value. Simply put, it is how much white or black is contained within the color. Adding white to a color is known as tinting while adding black to a color is known as shading.
Toning a color means adding either white or black. Midtones are the medium values between black and white.
How a color is perceived is influenced greatly by its value or saturation.
Additive and subtractive colors
There are two common types of color referred to as additive and subtractive colors. Red, Green and Blue (RGB) are considered to be additive colors, you add them together to produce white. RGB values is how a computer or TV thinks about color.
While Cyan, Magenta and yellow are considered to be Subtractive colors, you subtract them to get white. These colors are usually made up of ink or paint and they produce color by subtracting white. The offset print process that involves CMYK works along this principle.
So lets say, we subtract the additive primary color red from white, and we are left with the primary additive colors blue and green, combining these two colors gives us the subtractive color cyan. In essence, a subtractive color is a mix of the two additive primary colors when one additive primary color has been removed from white.
Print color and Monitor color
The color space of light is RGB, as mentioned above monitors and T.V’s use this color space. So by adding color we get white and by removing color we get black, hence RGB values of R 0 G 0 B 0 produce black and values of R 255 G 255 B 255 produce white.
The color space CMKY is used for offset printing, the absence of ink on paper is white and by adding Cyan, Magenta and Yellow on top of each other the result is black. Because inks don’t absorb light fully, black ink is necessary, hence the “K” (Black) in CMYK.
Color combinations will either make or break a design. Overloading a design with to much color can be uncomfortable and off putting while using to little color can be dull and boring. Like everything in design its about balance.
The use of a single neutral color describes a monotone achromatic scheme. It consists of colors ranging only from black to white.
The use a single color from the color wheel and the different tints, shadows and saturation of that particular color. A color scheme like this can unify a design because all elements work in harmony together sharing different variations of the same color but on the down side, it sometimes can be dull and monotonous.
Analogous colors are neighboring colors on the color wheel, for example Red, Red-Orange and Orange. That particular group can communicate a warm, cozy feeling in a design while Blue, Blue-Green and Green can communicate a cold, icy feeling. In a design cool colors can appear farther away while warm colors can appear closer.
Complementary colors are total opposites of each other on the color wheel. They compliment each other and as a result work well together. Blue is complementary color for orange. Purple is complementary color of yellow. Placed together they grab attention and seem to energize and contrast each other. The act to balance each other, one is always warm and the other always cold. Red placed with Green seems even redder, as with blue placed with orange or yellow placed with purple.
I know for some the above isn´t the most interesting or exciting but to understand color and how to use it, you must first understand what is and how its made. So, Having gone through the most mundane part of color, next week, we´ll look at the individual hue´s and what feelings and moods we associate with them and what they communicate when used as an element of design.