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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Basics of Color Theory

The Basics of Color Theory: Head.
Color is the perceptual characteristic of light described by a color name. Each color is a light of particular wavelength and usually each form of light is composed of many colors. When an object is exposed to light, it absorbs certain wavelengths and reflect others. The viewer perceive these wavelengths as different colors. Visual designers often require to combine these colors effectively. The color wheel or color circle is the basic tool for combining colors. Color Theory is a set of principles used to create harmonious color combinations. The relationships between the colors can be represented in the form of a color wheel.

The Color Wheel

The Basics of Color Theory: RGB and RYB color wheels.
A color wheel or a color circle is an arrangement of colors according to their chromatic relationship. The most common version of the color wheel is the 12 color version. The primary colors are positioned equidistant from one another and the secondary colors are placed in between the primary colors. Tertiary colors are then generated and placed between each of the primary and secondary colors. Primary colors are pure colors and it is not possible to create these by mixing other colors. Secondary colors can be made by mixing any two primary colors. Tertiary colors are achieved by mixing primary and secondary colors.

The Basics of Color Theory: Cool and warm colors in a color wheel.
Two types of color wheels are generally used, the RGB color wheel and RYB color wheel. For scientific purposes often people rely on the RGB version and for artistic purposes they stick to the RYB color wheel. Color combinations can be derived out of these color wheels based on the relationship between the position of the colors in the wheel. There are a number of color combinations that are considered as aesthetically pleasing. These are called color harmonies.

The color circle can be divided into warm and cool colors. Warm colors are vivid and energetic, and tend to advance in space. Warm colors are hues from red through yellow, browns and tans included; cool colors are often said to be the hues from blue green through blue violet, most grays included. Cool colors give an impression of calm, and create a soothing impression. White, black and gray are considered to be neutral.

Color Harmonies

Color harmonies consist of two or more colors with a fixed relation in the color wheel. The color scheme used in a design is important to communicate an idea effectively to the audience using a visual design. Colors can be used to set a specific mood, attract the attention of the viewer or to make an emphasis on a particular information. Colors can bring warmth or coldness, excitement or tranquility, elegance or luxury to each design. Selection of right colors and color combinations is important to present a design as best as possible. It can be concluded that the color is the most powerful design element if we use it effectively. The different basic techniques widely used to define color schemes based on the color wheel are illustrated below.


The Basics of Color Theory: Analogous color scheme.
Colors that are placed in adjacent positions of a color wheel are used to form an analogous color scheme. They match well to form serene and comfortable designs. Designing using this color scheme are generally pleasant to the eyes. Colors in an analogous scheme share a common hue which makes these colors relative. Usually one color will be dominant in these schemes and other colors serve as an accent to the dominant color. Analogous color schemes are often found in nature and they are very harmonious.


The Basics of Color Theory: Complementary color scheme.
Complementary colors are a pair of colors that are placed across the color wheel. In color theory, two colors are complementary if they are mixed in correct proportions, they will produce one of the neutral colors - Grey, White or Black. Apart from the primary, secondary and tertiary colors; shades and tints of these colors can also form complementary colors. When used at full saturation the high contrast of the complementary colors give the designs a vibrant look. This scheme looks best when a warm color is placed against a cool color.

Note that the hues vary drastically in the two color models. In RGB color wheel the colors are red and cyan while in RYB it is red and green.


The Basics of Color Theory: Split-complementary color scheme.
Split-complementary is a variation of the complementary color scheme. This color scheme uses a base color and two colors from the two adjacent sides its complement color. Similar to complementary colors, colors in split-complementary scheme also has the same strong visual contrast but it has less tension. As a result it is easy to balance the colors when compared to the complementary shades.


The Basics of Color Theory: Triadic color scheme.
A triadic color scheme consist of a base color and two colors placed equidistant from the base color on the color wheel. Thus the shades will be evenly spaced around the color wheel. Even if we use pale or unsaturated shades of hues, the triadic color harmonies will look vibrant. Balancing is important while we use a triadic color scheme. Usually designers will use a base color which will dominate and two other colors for accent. An example for a triadic color harmony is red, green and blue in a RGB color wheel and red, yellow and blue in a RYB color wheel. The contrast between triad colors is not as strong as that between complements.


The Basics of Color Theory: Tetradic color scheme.
Tetradic color scheme is also a variation of complementary color scheme. To form a tetradic color harmony we are picking two complementary color pairs. The advantage of using a tetradic color scheme is that it offers plenty of possibilities for variation.


The Basics of Color Theory: Square color scheme.
The square color scheme is similar to the tetradic color scheme, but the complimentary colors are spaced evenly around the color wheel. You should also pay attention to the balance between warm and cool colors in your design.

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