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The (very) basics of Color Theory

The (very) basics of Color Theory

Humans can see approximately 10 million different colors. That means you've got a wide selection when choosing the color for your label, logo, brand or even tint on photos. What you need to know is your choice can emotionally and subconsciously affect your customers, so make it an educated one!

Color is such a dense topic we’ve decided to break this topic into a three part series. Over the coming weeks we’ll cover:

  • The basics of Color Theory
  • Marketing with color
  • Experimenting with color

HERE WE GO!

SteamWorks range of bottles and clever use of secondary colors - Art Direction Laurie Millotte

SteamWorks range of bottles and clever use of secondary colors - Art Direction Laurie Millotte

What is color?

Our colorful friends at Crayola define color as “the aspect of things that is caused by differing qualities of light being reflected or emitted by them”¹. We only see color if there is light and all light contains color. Light is made of waves and without getting too deep the fun facts are:

  • The longest wavelength of light a human can see is red while the shortest is violet
  • The primary colors (remember elementary school class now?) are red blue and yellow
  • We use color models, like RGB and CMYK so we don’t have to remember the 10 million variations of color names like Fuscia or Mauve

But why does color make us feel?

Although we can’t presume the emotional impact of a specific color on the masses, we can acknowledge basic reactions to large studies on color. Let’s break it down:

The good: passion, energy, power, love The ugly: warning, danger, alert, fear

The good: passion, energy, power, love
The ugly: warning, danger, alert, fear

The good: success, friendliness, fun The ugly: sluggish, less serious

The good: success, friendliness, fun
The ugly: sluggish, less serious

The good: happy, sunny, joy, optimism The ugly: anxious, alert

The good: happy, sunny, joy, optimism
The ugly: anxious, alert

The good: peace, trust, intelligence The ugly: fear, cold

The good: peace, trust, intelligence
The ugly: fear, cold

The good: sophisticated, elegance The ugly: death, evil

The good: sophisticated, elegance
The ugly: death, evil

The good: nature, life, healthy, grow, fresh The ugly: envy, jealous, bile, guilt

The good: nature, life, healthy, grow, fresh
The ugly: envy, jealous, bile, guilt

The good: royalty, luxury, passion The ugly: quiet, mystery

The good: royalty, luxury, passion
The ugly: quiet, mystery

The good: clean, purity, easy, fresh, light The ugly: emptiness, isolation

The good: clean, purity, easy, fresh, light
The ugly: emptiness, isolation

 

Spin the color wheel 

Now you know how color makes you feel it's time to set some ground rules! There are a basic set of rules when it comes to color. We've been using the graphic below since university, shout out to lifehacker.com, to show you the color wheel and it's components. 

Image source: lifehacker.com's Mihir Patkar

The basic points to know are when analyzing color there are:

  • complimentary colors: two colors opposite each other on the wheel. For example blue and orange or green and red. Using this match will create a high contrast and make your graphic stand out
  • split complimentary colors: if you want to use three colors you choose your base color then find it's opposite color and move one either side. For example blue pairs with yellow-orange and red-orange. Using this match will give you more variety to play with.
  • analogue colors: any three colors next to each other. They are like a family of colors so they will blend nicely and will not stand out from each other
  • hue: the pure color without adding white or black
  • tint: the pure color with white
  • tones: the pure color with grey
  • shade: the pure color with black

For our readers on itunes it looks like ColorSchemer does the job as a color wheel inspiration feed right in your pocket!


Next up we'll look at Color theory for Brand & Social Media where you'll start to notice your favourite brands that use orange to convey pleasure and another brand that uses green to convey freshness and fun! It's these little applications of knowledge that can make all the difference!

3 Glasses

3 Glasses

What do these three images have in common?

What do these three images have in common?