*This article has been updated in January 2020
How confident are you about your color sense? Have you tried to paint or draw? Have you tried to design your own textile project? How about choosing a paint color for your house or bedroom, or just getting dressed every day? I am able to dress myself without too many color gaffes, but I find that in any artistic endeavor or house-related project, I have very little color confidence. I usually rely on others to guide me.
Color theory is a complex topic. According to one explanation, it is made up of three parts. The color wheel, first created by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666, is a logically arranged sequence of color hues. The second part in color theory are the colors. Primary colors (red, yellow and blue) are the three pigment colors that cannot be mixed or formed by combining any other colors. In other words, all other colors come from mixing these three colors. Secondary colors (green, orange and purple) are the colors formed by mixing the primary colors. Tertiary colors (yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green & yellow-green) are the colors formed by mixing a primary and a secondary color. The final component of color theory is color harmony which is a visually pleasing presentation of color. This is the area that is manipulated by color-oriented industries to induce consumers to be attracted to their products.
Humans can perceive over 2.8 million different color hues which means that the number of possible color combinations is almost infinite. As long ago as the Greek philosophers, theorists have assigned color associations and meanings to specific colors. While color psychology is widely used in marketing and branding, it does not usually take into account cultural differences or personality types. Nevertheless, generally speaking, here are the broad assumptions made about colors. Basically calm colors like green and blue settle us down while warm colors like red, orange and yellow, rev us up. What companies are looking for primarily is color appropriateness. If consumers buy large motorcycles to be rugged and manly, then pastel motorcycles probably won’t sell.
- Blue is supposed to make us feel safe and secure. Have you noticed that Twitter, Linkedin, Skype and Facebook logos are all blue?
- Green is supposed to make us feel calm and confident.
- Red makes us energetic and vigorous. Target wants you to have a lot of shopping stamina!
- Yellow makes us more optimistic and cheerful.
- Pink makes us romantic and dreamy.
- Orange makes us willing to take action.
- Brown communicates ruggedness, or comfort (think chocolate).
- Purple communicates sophistication.
- Black comes across as powerful and wealthy.
Businesses want their brand’s colors to communicate the brand’s personality and some interpret colors in the following ways: The beauty industry uses pink to make us associate it with youth and black to associate with wealth. Banks and financial institutions use green and blue to help customers feel the financial institutions are trustworthy and to feel secure and safe. The gambling industry uses red to energize and encourage people to take risks and black to associate with wealth. The auto industry also uses red to make consumers think of speed and energy and black to associate with luxury. Maybe that’s why there are no orange limousines? For more information about color associations, read this study.
Pantone is a company that is THE authority on color. It provides color systems and technology for “the selection and accurate communication of color across a variety of industries”. Founder Lawrence Herbert understood that color was seen and interpreted differently by each of us. In 1963 he created a system to accurately match colors for the graphic arts community. Since that time, Pantone has expanded its color matching system into many color-oriented industries, most notably the fashion industry.
Every year Pantone chooses a color to be the “Color of the Year’. The color is supposed to connect to the Zeitgeist (the spirit of the time). For example, in 2011 the chosen color was Honeysuckle which was supposed to lift spirits and be stimulating. The color for 2015 was Marsala which Pantone says “exudes confidence and stability”.
The ‘Pantone color of the year’ not only influences fashion designers but the beauty industry, florists, home furnishings companies and other consumer-related industries as well.
If you are interested in learning about color, there are many helpful websites.
With Adobe Capture you can find colors that work together. Use color theory principles to create color combinations for projects. This app has some very cool aspects. For example, if you find a room whose colors you like, launch the Adobe Color app and the camera will detect the colors around you. You will see interactive dots of each color in the room. You can manipulate those dots until you get the color scheme you are looking for. You can save and name the color scheme. If you have an image on your device you can create a color scheme from that as well. To refine the colors, use Adobe Color’s sliders to change a color’s values. 4You have access to other users’ color themes and you can share yours.
This Color-Collective website is an online color resource for designers. The color palates come from works by artists, designers, and photographers. It’s a good browse.
Coolers is a website and iOS app that lets you tap through endless color palettes. It is really fun and very easy. There are five hue-filled rectangles that appear on the screen. If you like any, tap on them and they lock into place. If you keep tapping, other possibilities will fill in the unlocked areas. Each color has button sliders that let you adjust the values. You can save your choices or send them to someone.
Want to sound like you are a professional ‘colorista’? Use terms like hue, saturation, tone, intensity and value.
- Hue has technical definitions, but you can pretty much use it in place of the word ‘color’.
- Saturation is a term used a lot by digital image professionals. It defines the purity of the color from pure to gray. You can use it interchangeably with ‘the vividness of a color’. A saturated color is strong, a de-saturated color is pale and dull.
- Tone refers to the use of color plus added gray. If you’ve changed the tonal value of a color, you’ve added some gray and ‘toned it down’.
- Intensity describes the strength of the color. You can use it interchangeably with ‘saturation’.
- Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a color. Colors with light values are tints (think, add white to a color) and those with dark values are shades (think, add black to a color).
More? When you describe a collection of neutral colors from black to white, call them ‘grayscale’.
Add science to the mix when choosing your next “hues”;