In my last blog, I covered the basics of color theory, what it is, and why we use it. In this second installment of the series on color, I’m going into more depth with tools and terms so that you can use color effectively in your work. Now, it’s important to distinguish color theory from color psychology, which is a completely different topic, though both are potent in their effect on branding, marketing, and sales.
Color can be overwhelming. Don’t believe me? Think back to being a child and getting a new 64-count box of crayons. It’s tempting to try every color in the box, but an understanding of the color wheel and color harmonies will help us to see what works, what doesn’t, and how color communicates. There is no right or wrong way to use color, but there are ways to use it where it is more pleasing to the eye and more enticing to potential customers; this is what I mean when I refer to using color effectively. Furthermore, understanding these terms and the processes that go with them will help you knowledgeably communicate your vision with your designer or printer.
The first color wheel was designed by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666 and remains an indispensable tool to this day for artists and designers who use it to mix colors, develop color harmonies, and palettes. It consists of three primary colors that cannot be created by mixing (red, yellow, blue), three secondary colors that result from mixing primary colors (green, orange, and purple), and six tertiary colors that come from the mixing of primary and secondary colors (think red-orange or blue-green). If you were to draw a line through the middle of your color wheel, you would separate your warm colors (reds, oranges, yellows) from the cool colors (blues, greens, and purples).
Warm colors are often associated with energy, brightness, and action, whereas cool colors convey a sense of peace and serenity. Understanding the moods associated with color temperature, you can understand how your usage of color can impact the message you are trying to communicate.
How do we get from 12 colors on the wheel to the full spectrum that we see? This is where a few key terms come into play. The first term to know is hue, or pure colors. Tint, shade, and tone help to adjust a color’s value (how light or dark it is) and its saturation (how bright/muted it is). Adding black to a color to darken it creates a shade, whereas adding white to it will create a tint. When you add both white and black (or, simply put, gray) to a hue, it results in a tone, which makes the color appear less intense.