Understanding Color Theory

Color is all around us, yet many people tend to take it for granted. After all, most of us experience it each and every day! It usually takes looking at a photo in black and white to really appreciate the beauty surrounding us. In order to improve your understanding of color and use it in the best ways possible, it’s important to understand the basics of color theory.

Color Doesn’t Exist

This sounds like it doesn’t make much sense, but it’s true! Color is created when our brains process the light signals it takes in from the outside world. Without our brains, we wouldn’t be seeing the color all around us the way we do now.

Three Color Receptor Cells

Have you ever wondered why humans can see colors that dogs and other animals cannot? It’s because of the trichromatic theory, which basically states that we see all colors through three color receptor cells in our retina: one for blue, one for red, and one for green. With just these three receptors, we are able to see approximately 10 million different colors! As crazy as this seems, we are actually quite color blind when compared to other animals on our earth. For example, the mallard duck has five color receptor cells. Even though this is only two more than what we have, that is almost 170 percent what we can see.

Two Ways to Create Color

Humans have found that there are two different ways to create color. The first is to mix light, and the second is to mix paint on paper. Mixing light allows you to create colors by combining green, blue, and red light in different increments to create a new color. The more light you add, the brighter the mix becomes. This process is called “additive.” The other process, called “subtractive” color mixing, is called such because it subtracts light from the paper by adding more color to it. This is why printers use cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink to create the colors we see on paper.

Describing Color Through Models

While you might say that a color is “fuschia,” your friend might describe a similar (but not identical!) color as also being fuschia. While these are useful for labeling items, they aren’t helpful when it comes to making an exact match. That’s why we have different models that help us understand color for the true shade it is.

  • RBG - This model is one of the most popular, and it describes all colors as a set of red, blue, and green from a scale of 0 to 255.
  • HSB (HSL/HSV) - This model is based on RBG but is more useful to designers. The colors are described with a hue, the saturation, and the brightness values of a color.
  • CMYK - This model is the printing color model. All colors are determined by the amount of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink that they need.

Types of Colors

The color wheel divides colors into three different types:

  • Primary colors - These are red, yellow, and blue.
  • Secondary colors - These are the colors made by mixing primary colors, and they include green, orange, and purple.
  • Tertiary colors - These are the hues of secondary colors that are made by adding primary colors to secondary ones. They are usually named with two words: blue-green, yellow-orange, and red-violet.

Shop Our Color Matching Tool

This was just a basic overview of color theory, and we will be happy to discuss the color wheel and other useful color tools in future blog posts. For now, if you want help matching the perfect colors together, look no further than the Color Muse color matching tool! Shop today for one of your own.