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I was doing a demo recording for a friend a few years ago.
The subject of choosing colors came up while I was working on the CD
cover design. I remember her saying that she was impressed with my
choosing a good color scheme, claiming that it is a talent that few men
possess. While there is "method to the madness" of choosing
compatible colors for use in design work, I didn’t mention it to her at
the time. I preferred to let
her believe that I had creative talent that few men possess. While an exhaustive study of color theory could fill many
books, I will cut to the chase and try to
offer a concise and useful overview.
Specifying color is largely a matter of understanding the
color wheel – first developed by Sir Issac Newton (a man) in 1667 – which is
centered on a logically organized sequence of pure color hues. It
was refined by Albert H. Munsell (another man) in 1905.
Munsell also introduced the concept of Hue, Chroma (Intensity or Saturation) and
Value. The order of
colors on the color wheel follow the order of colors seen when light is
shown through a prism. The color wheel is made up of three primary,
secondary, and six tertiary colors – a total of 12 basic hues. The
primary colors are red, yellow and blue. Mixing them creates the
secondary colors; green, orange
and purple. The Tertiary Colors are formed by mixing a primary color
secondary color. They are yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple,
blue-green and yellow-green.
When specifying color, it is necessary to understand how color
Here are a few examples:
* Color choices should reflect your target market
(women -- far more "color conscious" than men -- like red while men like blue) as
well as the other strategic factors mentioned in my blogs, depending
on the mood you want to convey and the emotional response you want to
* Color choices should reflect the culture and religion where your
work will be seen as color can have different meanings in different
the world (there is no proven “universal reaction” to colors). For
example, white is associated with death in eastern cultures as black is
in the west.
* An object shown in a bright color looks larger than the same object
shown in a dark color. Bright color "radiates," drawing the eye outward
and expanding the object. If you are selling "size," you might consider
using a brightly colored sample of the merchandise.
* Hermann Rorschach, the Swiss psychologist found that cheerful
people are more responsive to color while melancholy people respond
better to shape. If you want to limit your market to those who
have a more serious
interest, you might want to keep the color subdued as
color allows the viewer to be somewhat more passive... weeding out
* Color has been proven to be far more effective (up to 70%) in advertising than
black and white... the added cost in printing color is marginal by
Red is considered to be a “Hot” color.
It can stimulate physical activity and sexual desire… passion,
aggression and anger. It can make people feel hungry and increase
respiration and blood pressure. You
can use it for emphasis, although it was drilled into my head in art
that yellow is the “most advancing color” – it will draw the eye first.
Yellow can symbolize joy, happiness, wealth, hope, weakness, greed and
and Black symbolize danger or caution. White is purity and truth.
Violet is royalty... and loneliness. Green is fresh and fruitful...
envy and guilt. "True blue" is fidelity. In fact, every color has symbolism that can be used to
affect your market (color can also be used to implement
principles of design, but it is subordinate to shape).
Blue, Green and Blue-Green are considered to be “Cold”
colors. They denote coldness, cleanliness and freshness -- explaining why these
colors are so popular in laundry detergent package design. Warm colors are based on red but “softened” and suffused
with orange and yellows. Cool
colors are based on blue and suffused with reds and yellows. Warm colors cheer and stimulate while cool colors calm and relax.
Combinations of warm grays and cool grays are often used for shadows
in renderings; usually resulting in more a realistic look when compared
black. Artists also use a color’s complement to create shadows (sunlit
objects in nature will have shadows with a hint of the object color's
complement). When you stare at a color and then look at a white sheet
of paper you will see a "ghost" of the color's complement.
any color can be combined (as in nature) if you choose the correct
value and intensity, aesthetically pleasing color combinations have
been found to lie with colors on opposite ends of the color wheel
(complements), equidistant from each other (triads), those that lie on
either side of the color (blended) or on either side of the
complementary color (split complementary).
The closer colors are on the color wheel, the more harmonious they are.
Colors on opposite sides complement each other. Use of color in design
should be mostly harmonious or mostly complementary; mostly cool or
There are numerous color
schemes -- achromatic, monochromatic, analogous, complementary,
rectangular, pentagonal, etc. Achromatic schemes consist of blacks, whites and neutral
grays. Monochromatic schemes are based on one color and its
various tints and shades. Analogous schemes are three colors that are adjacent to
each other on the color wheel. The Primary color scheme is made up of the three primary
colors… strong and energetic, it is often used in
designs targeting children. Secondary color schemes are also
strong and energetic but more sophisticated.
Here are a couple of links that help to make the task of color specification easier, if not a "no brainer." Check out Color Blender and Kuler.
They are awesome resources for specifying color. With tools like these,
(and my blog) there is simply no reason for not having beautifully
spec'd color schemes in your designs. Of course if you are a woman you
won't need them.
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