Color Theory: 3 Main Principles To Create Color Palettes
Color theory can be broken down into three primary principles, color mixing, the science of color through hue, saturation, and lightness and finally color harmony. Color theory is a practical guide to the logic and mathematics behind why certain colors possess color harmony with one another to create a pleasing color palette. The discipline of color selection and palette creation is both an art and a science, and color theory helps to uncover the mystery behind color.
Color theory isn’t mind blowing and by no means will it make you a color wizard, but it will create an understanding of color and the foundation that will support your creative process with color in the future. This foundation will be the building blocks on your journey to becoming a color wizard. Color isn’t a discipline secluded to just creative types; it isn’t just about creating color palettes for designs. Color plays a huge role in everyone’s lives and intricately weaves itself into daily decisions. Everything from outfit selection to decorating homes, to creating reports or materials for work, when we understand how color works things tend to come together easier and more complete.
Relationships With Color
My experience with color has always been a very judgmental one. I am quick to identify what colors I like, and what color palettes have cohesion and color harmony, however creating a solid color palette or mixing colors from scratch is a far difficult task. I imagine I share this same color relationship with many others. A color relationship that often has us thinking “I don’t know why I like it, I just like it!” More times than not it is because someone spent a considerable amount of time ensuring that color among other things worked in harmony with one another. Even gray scales with their lack of color can appear to be not quite right if not properly considered.
Let’s begin by breaking down the vocabulary often used, and then jump into the principles and science behind the scenes. Then we will review how we can combine our understanding of color with existing tools to help us create color palettes that make us cheer with color glee inside.
Color is often described with many attributes. Without a basic understanding of these attributes color theory can seem a bit over complicated. I will use these terms periodically throughout the reading to help describe color.
- Hue: Hue is one of the main properties of color and defines an element on a color wheel. Hue’s are often referred to as a pure color having no tint or shade applied.
- Saturation: Saturation refers to a colors intensity or colorfulness. Colorfulness is the difference between a color at full saturation and a color completely desaturated resulting in a gray color.
- Lightness: Lightness represents the variation in the perception of colors brightness. 100% lightness results in white, while 0% lightness results in black.
- Primary Colors: Primary colors are sets of colors, typically three, that can be mixed to generate a range of colors.
- Secondary Colors: The combination of two primary colors results in the creation of a secondary color.
- Tertiary Colors: The combination of a primary and secondary color results in the creation of a tertiary color.
- RGB: RGB model is an additive color model in which the primary colors, red, green, and blue, are added together to produce a range of colors. The model comes from the initials of the three additive primary colors.
- CMYK: CMYK model is a subtractive color model in which the primary colors, cyan, magenta, and yellow are added to subtract light colors. CMYK is used in color printing and describes the printing process itself.
- Color Palette: A color palette is a finite number of colors selected from a wide range of colors that share cohesive qualities with one another and create color harmony. Color palettes can range from three to many colors, but typically are limited to no more than ten.
- Tint: Adding white to a color creates what is called a tint.
- Shade: Adding black to a color creates what is called a shade.
Color Theory Series
Continue on with this series by reading the next installment, First Principle of Color Theory: Mixing Colors, or feel free to skip to any of the three principles in the color theory series.
Color Theory: 3 Main Principles to Create Color Palettes
First Principle of Color Theory: Mixing Colors
Second Principle of Color Theory: The Science and Math of Color Schemes
Third Principle of Color Theory: Color Palettes and Color Harmony