I’m Chanpory, and this is my site on how to live and work better as a designer.

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Color CirclesI have a secret. I’m a designer, and I suck at color.

Maybe it’s because color theory wasn’t part of my graphic design curriculum in college…

Thankfully, it’s never too late to learn. If you’re color-challenged like me, here’s two sources that can help:

Mark Boulton’s Five Simple Steps to Designing with Color

This is Mark’s latest addition to his online Five Simple Steps series on design.

The first part recommends starting color projects in grayscale. Once you get the right balance of tones, you then apply colors.

Next, Mark explains those weird color terms such as triads, subtractive primaries, and complimentary colors. As usual, Mark’s writing is clear, concise, and never too technical. Of course, the plentiful illustrations help.

Part 1: Designing without color
Part 2: Color basics

Josef Albers’s Interaction of Color

Interaction of Color This slim book is based on Josef Albers’ famous color theory class taught at Yale University. Many consider this the only color theory book you should own.

Rather than presenting color wheels and loads of technical terms, Josef Albers focuses on how your eye perceives color.

Most intriguing is his demonstration of color relativity–how a color, and your perception of it, changes when next to other colors. As an example, the cover of the book shows how the same brown can look drastically different depending on what’s around it.

Sadly, Josef Albers is no longer alive. Fortunately, his legacy lives on in his book and through his students who are teaching his course at various schools across the country.

Interaction of Color

What other online and offline sources on color do you use? Please share!

22 Comments

  • Nabeel

    gravatarNov 10, 2006
    2:16 pm

    I am a designer too .. although I understand somewhat about the color theory .. and ofcourse the psychology of each color .. still i require various color combination applications when I am choosing colors for a brochure or a print work or even a website ..

    I have always used Easy RGB website for color harmonies and combinations .. can’t remember the exact address right now.

    Nabeel http://nabeelzeeshan.blogspot.com

  • BH

    gravatarNov 10, 2006
    6:42 pm

    But the two brown squares are different colors. Copy and paste in MS Paint and see.

  • Chanpory

    gravatarNov 10, 2006
    6:53 pm

    BH, it’s a scanned image and it’s been compressed using JPEG, so the colors won’t be accurate to the actual cover.

    Check out the cover of a real life copy of the book. It will show the relavitity of the colors. Other examples are also included as the colored plates in the book. Borders bookstore often carries it, so you can see it next time you’re there.

    You can use MS Paint to achieve the same effect, by using the same brown and surrounding it with colors as on the cover.

  • Daniel Schutzsmith

    gravatarNov 11, 2006
    6:00 am

    Thanks for these links! I, myself, have always struggled with good use of color as a web designer. I guess its nice to know that there are others out there in the same boat.

  • Brian Flanagan

    gravatarNov 11, 2006
    1:10 pm

    Prior to Euclid, our understanding of spatial geometry consisted of a number of rules of thumb.

    Our current understanding of the geometry of color awaits an heir to Euclid.

    “It seems useful to me to develop a little more precisely the “geometry” valid in the two-dimensional manifold of perceived colors. For one can do mathematics also in the domain of these colors. The fundamental operation which can be performed upon them is mixing: one lets colored lights combine with one another in space…”

    Weyl

  • Adam

    gravatarNov 11, 2006
    9:35 pm

    John Kricfalusi has had some wonderful color tutorials on his blog in the past couple weeks. Google him.

  • Jestu

    gravatarNov 16, 2006
    5:42 am

    I’m not a designer. My roommate’s an art student and has been trying her hardest to teach me color theory to help with the churches website. i’m not ‘feeling’ it even to make it fun and just match anything. This sucks. So I’m hoping these sites can enlighten me to another level.

  • Setter

    gravatarNov 20, 2006
    10:25 am

    I also recommend the book Pantone Guide to Communicating with Color, by Leatrice Eisemann… It helped me in so may ways.

  • Liran

    gravatarDec 1, 2006
    1:06 pm

    Hello, I was wondering if you could help me with this question:

    Red, yellow green blue and purple are the five principal colours associated with: A) Albers’ theory of colour B) Munsell’s theory of colour C) all light based or screen based theories of colour D) none of the above

    Seems to me like the answer should be D. Munsell’s theory comes close but he refers to these colours as hues. Would you be able to help me?

    Thank you, Liran p.s. pls send your response to this e mail: vampaloona@hotmail.com

  • Mark333

    gravatarJan 3, 2007
    12:20 pm

    the answer is munsell’s. hope to see you at york ;-)

  • Brian Flanagan

    gravatarJan 4, 2007
    8:13 am

    OK, I’ll bite: What’s happening at York?

  • Vick

    gravatarJan 12, 2007
    10:43 pm

    I’m doing the same questionnaire. :-P Here’s hoping I’ll do a decent job on my essay portion!

  • Janice

    gravatarJan 13, 2007
    8:49 pm

    Oh cool, I was just doing a search for that York Questionaire question too lol, looks like I found it :) Thanks

  • Sahaj

    gravatarJan 16, 2007
    12:34 am

    yay!.filling for york too. hey..im an international student and dunt know much about york apart from hearsay, is all this application work really worth it?

  • Vick

    gravatarJan 16, 2007
    2:31 pm

    If you’re dedicated to doing a program at york, then yes. The questionnaire and portfolio are a critical part of the design admission process. Ultimately, the decision is yours. I’m doing it because I want to do it. Who knows, maybe I’ll see you there.

  • Andy

    gravatarJan 28, 2007
    7:09 pm

    Hey guys. Really helped me a lot with that question. Got a bit stuck there. Hopefully Ill see you at York also :)

  • Mike

    gravatarFeb 2, 2007
    2:13 pm

    anyone wanna give me the answer for 24? ;)

  • Kristi

    gravatarFeb 5, 2007
    5:42 pm

    Hahaha thats so funny, Im doing this too… Johannes Gutenberg was famour for the printing press guys :D lol for anyone who cares :P Thanks for the answer to the hues question :)

  • ANDREW ALLEN

    gravatarFeb 9, 2007
    8:52 am

    I am a prepress artist (I work for a flexo printer). I just wanted to add my 2 cents – I get a zillion jobs from designers all the time – some good and some bad – and I have to make sure the job prints accurately. We use a proofing system and press profiles to ensure the digital printed proof matches the final printed product as closely as possible. The particular pigment used to create a color has a strong affect. If two press operators pull up the same job on two occasions they could use different blends to achieve what appears the same color but actually will look different under different lighting conditions. This effect is known as metamerism. It is important to realize that the color of the light affects the color you see not only because it has its own color but also because varying shades of light reflecting off two identical looking colors can give totally different results if the pigments used to get that color are different. The substrate (the paper color when printing or the monitor gamut when viewing online) will affect the metamerism as well. This is true no matter what graphic discipline you work in. Of course, everyone sees color a little bit differently so even the effects of metamerism will vary between individuals. One could write a book on colour but everyone who reads it would see something different as well. ;-)

  • Brian Flanagan

    gravatarFeb 9, 2007
    12:12 pm

    Thanks to Andrew Allen for his learned observations.

    I recommend MacAdam’s ‘Selected Papers on Colorimetry – Fundamentals’; it’s a superb collection of the seminal works by Newton, Helmholtz, Maxwell, Schrodinger et al.

    Also well worth it is Austen Clark’s admirable text on ‘Sensory Qualities.’

    ‘Color for Philosophers: Unweaving the Rainbow,’ by C. L. Hardin is a popular work and does a fine job of introducing basic psychophysics of color perception, but… someone really ought to write a rejoinder, along the lines of ‘Color for Scientists,’ as the philosophical conclusions need to be taken with a large grain of salt (think “Utah”). Hardin concludes that colors are illusory because they don’t fit the prevailing paradigm — a great leap backward to the Greek atomists.

  • john henry

    gravatarAug 18, 2007
    4:38 am

    Further on CL Hardin, he points out that colour on monitors is a highly sophistcated colour illusion (tristimulus), if you appreciate this you will understand that colour on the web is different to real life

  • Brian Flanagan

    gravatarAug 22, 2007
    11:20 am

    I tend to disagree, and regard Hardin’s conclusion as a wonderfully simple-minded regurgitation of the dogma that’s been collecting dust since Galileo borrowed it from Democritus.

    “…the nature of the perpetual things consist of small particles infinite in number… the particles are so small as to be imperceptible to us, and take all kinds of shapes and all kinds of forms and differences of size. Out of them, like out of elements (earth, air, fire, water) he now lets combine and originate the visible and perceptible bodies…” (Democritus)

    “Hence I think that these tastes, odours, colours, etc., on the side of the object in which they seem to exist, are nothing else than mere names, but hold their residence solely in the sensitive body…” (Galileo)

    This odd notion has been passed down to us today:

    “If you ask a physicist what is his idea of yellow light, he will tell you that it is transversal electromagnetic waves of wavelength in the neighborhood of 590 millimicrons. If you ask him: But where does yellow come in? he will say: In my picture not at all, but these kinds of vibrations, when they hit the retina of a healthy eye, give the person whose eye it is the sensation of yellow. (Schrödinger)

    Schrödinger’s remark applies to all the “secondary qualities”:

    “The world as described by natural science has no obvious place for colours, tastes, or smells. Problems with sensory qualities have been philosophically and scientifically troublesome since ancient times, and in modern form at least since Galileo in 1623 identified some sensory qualities as characterizing nothing real in the objects themselves . . .

    The qualities of size, figure (or shape), number, and motion are for Galileo the only real properties of objects. All other qualities revealed in sense perception–colours, tastes, odours, sounds, and so on–exist only in the sensitive body, and do not qualify anything in the objects themselves. They are the effects of the primary qualities of things on the senses. Without the living animal sensing such things, these ‘secondary’ qualities (to use the term introduced by Locke) would not exist.The world as described by natural science has no obvious place for colours, tastes, or smells. Problems with sensory qualities have been philosophically and scientifically troublesome since ancient times, and in modern form at least since Galileo in 1623 identified some sensory qualities as characterizing nothing real in the objects themselves…

    The qualities of size, figure (or shape), number, and motion are for Galileo the only real properties of objects. All other qualities revealed in sense perception–colours, tastes, odours, sounds, and so on–exist only in the sensitive body, and do not qualify anything in the objects themselves. They are the effects of the primary qualities of things on the senses. Without the living animal sensing such things, these ‘secondary’ qualities (to use the term introduced by Locke) would not exist.” (Clark)

    It required a genius of my own transcendent splendor to see the obvious:

    “Whatever the meaning assigned to the term complete, the following requirement for a complete theory seems to be a necessary one: every element of the physical reality must have a counterpart in the physical theory.” (EPR)

    “Well, obviously the extra dimensions have to be different somehow because otherwise we would notice them.” (Green)

    “Now it may be asked why these hidden variables should have so long remained undetected.” (Bohm)

    “The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity.” (Wittgenstein)