Concept: Color: 6

    Master Concepts List

    Concept: Color

    Color is a general category of visual experience that includes the components of hue, brightness, and saturation (see below). Color can be specifically defined as different wavelengths of light. Objects and the materials of which they are made reflect only part of the light spectrum and therefore appear as if they have a given color. The eye interprets these wavelengths as a low level perception, shortly after brightness awareness. As such a low level awareness, color is a dominant component in creating figure/ground relationships.

    Related Concepts

    Hue, Saturation, Brightness (HSB) - Color can be accurately described by defining the hue, saturation, and brightness of the color. Someone could say, "I made the shape blue" but that does not give enough information to understand the blue -- is the blue bright like the sky or dark like the ocean depths? is it vibrant like a neon light or dull like faded paint? To fully understand a color description, all three components of color must be described.
    * Alternate terms: Chroma-Intensity-Value, Hue-Tone-Tint

    Hue - Hue refers to a specific wavelength of color and is typically described as the name of the color. For example, blue, red, green, and yellow each name a specific color. The general guide for what constitutes a color name is the visible spectrum. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, red. All other name variations (pink, brown, cyan, etc.) can be defined as one of the spectrum colors when brightness and saturation are taken into consideration. In normal human vision, the wavelengths of visible hues fall between about 400 nm and 700 nm in the spectrum with the longer wavelengths equating to the red end of the spectrum.


    Visible Spectrum

    Saturation - Saturation refers to the purity or intensity of a color A "vivid" color is a highly saturated color and a "muted" or "dull" color is a low saturation color. Saturation generally diminishes when colors are mixed.


    Brightness - Brightness refers to the relative lightness or darkness of a color. This is generally achieved by adding black or white to a color and will, as a result, affect the saturation of a color.


    The image below illustrates a change in brightness from a low brightness red to a high brightness red. The gray squares below the red squares indicate the brightness of the appropriate red square for comparison. (Note: the saturation of the red changes as well, losing saturation as the brightness increases)

    Brightness Comparison

    The image below illustrates a change in saturation from high saturation blue on the left to low saturation blue on the right. The gray squares are provided for reference as they indicate the brightness of the appropriate blue square. Note that while the saturation changes, the brightness does not.

    Saturation Comparison

    The image below illustrates a change in hue. Note that while the hue changes, the brightness as indicated by the gray reference squares, does not. Some colors are inherently higher brightness (such as yellow) while others are inherently lower brightness (such as blue). To achieve similar brightness, the saturation must be altered. This is particularly noticeable in the yellow square below that appears as a less "pure" yellow when compared to the Hue illustration above.

    Hue-Brightness Comparison

    Additive color -Additive color is color created by beams of light. Red, green, and blue (RGB) are referred to as additive primaries and are the colors of light used in devices such as computer screens and projectors.

    Additive Color

    Subtractive color - Subtractive color is created by light reflected off of a pigmented or dyed surface. Cyan, magenta, and yellow (CMY) are referred to as subtractive primaries.

    Subtractive Color


    Simultaneous contrast - Simultaneous contrast is the optical alteration of a color by a surrounding color. In the image below, the gray square in each quadrant is exactly the same. However, due to simultaneous contrast it appears higher brightness in the blue quadrant and lower brightness in the yellow quadrant.

    Simultanous Contrast

    Spreading effect - The spreading effect refers to the tendency of a color to take on some of the qualities of an adjacent color. This is also called the assimilation effect. In the image below, the gray is consistent throughout the image but it appears more blue on the left half and more yellow on the right half due to the spreading effect.

    Spreading Effect

    Halo effect - The halo effect refers to the tendency of color to take on some of the qualities of an adjacent color, specifically along edges. This is very similar to the spreading effect (see above) but instead of changing the overall appearance of a color region, the halo appears on the inside and outside of edges. In the image below, a thin halo is visible on the inside and outside of the circle, appearing as a brighter circle.

    Halo Effect

    Local color - Local color refers to one manner in which color is used to describe shapes. Local color specifically refers to a use of color that is based on observation. For example, painting a banana yellow would be use of local color. Local color is also referred to as descriptive color.

    Local Color

    Local or Descriptive Color

    Expressive color - Expressive color refers to one manner in which color is used to describe shapes. Expressive color specifically refers to a use of color that is based on the artist's creative choice, whether the choice is based on a design decision or based on a conceptual decision. For example, painting a banana blue would be use of expressive color. Expressive color is also referred to as subjective color.

    Expressive color
    Expressive or Subjective Color


    Color Wheel - A color wheel is an organization of hues around a circle, showing relationships between colors considered to be primary colors, secondary colors, analogous colors, complementary colors, and so forth.

    Color Wheel
    Color Wheel

    Primary, Secondary color - Primary colors are the hues from which virtually all other color can be mixed. Red, yellow, and blue are the subtractive (pigment) primary colors on the color wheel; cyan, magenta, yellow are the print-process primary colors; and red, green, and blue are the additive (light-based) primary colors. Secondary colors are the hues created by mixing adjacent primary colors. In paint, orange, green, and violet are secondary colors.

    Primary Color
    Primary Colors

    Secondary Color
    Secondary Colors

    Analogous - Analogous color refers to a color scheme based on hues that are adjacent on a color wheel. Red and orange are considered analogous colors as are blue and green.

    Analagous Colors
    Analogous Colors

    Complementary - Complementary color refers to a color scheme based on hues that are opposite on a color wheel. Red and green are considered complementary colors as are blue and orange. Highly saturated complementary colors tend to visually vibrate (see also Halo Effect).

    Complementary Colors
    Complementary Colors

    Monochrome - Monochrome refers to a color scheme based on one hue. A monochromatic color scheme can include all brightness and saturation variations of the single hue.

    Warm/Cool -Warm/Cool colors or color temperature refers to the physical or visual heat suggested by a color. Warm colors such as yellow and red make reference to warm objects such as fire and daylight while cool colors such as blue and violet refer to cool objects such as ice and overcast skies. In the visible spectrum, warm colors have higher wavelengths than cool colors. As a result, warm colors are said to 'visually advance' while cool colors 'visually recede. This is due to the wavelengths of the color - higher wavelengths are more difficult for the eye to translate and thus the eye tends to focus on the higher wavelength colors.

    Color Temperature

    Color temperature is measured in Kelvin -- a candle flame is approximately 1850K, daylight is approximately 5000K, and afternoon daylight is approximately 6500K.

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