What is Colour Theory?
Colour theory is a term used to describe the collection of rules and guidelines regarding the use of colour in art and design, as developed since their early days.
Colour theory informs the design of colour schemes, aiming at aesthetic appeal and the effective communication of a design message on both the visual level and the psychological level. (interaction-design.org)
Colour theory is both the science and art of using colour. It explains how humans perceive colour; and the visual effects of how colours mix, match or contrast with each other. Colour theory also involves the messages colours communicate; and the methods used to replicate colour. ( 99designs.com )
Colour theory encompasses a multitude of definitions, concepts and design applications – enough to fill several encyclopaedias. (colourmatters.com) However, there are three basic categories of colour theory that are logical and useful:
- The colour wheel,
- colour harmony, and
- the context of how colours are used.
Modern colour theory is heavily based on Isaac Newton’s colour wheel, which displays three categories of colours:
- Primary colours (red, blue, yellow);
- Secondary colours (created by mixing two primary colours); and
- Intermediate or Tertiary ones (created by mixing primary and secondary colours).
Colours can be combined to form one of 3 main colour schemes that allow designers to achieve harmony in their designs:
- Analogous: Based on three colours located next to each other on the wheel
- Complementary: One or more pairs of colours that, when combined, cancel each other out (i.e., they produce high contrast)
- Triadic: Using three colours at equal distances from each other on the wheel
Colour temperature is another vital consideration in design – warm, cool, and neutral colours apparently have the power to evoke emotional responses in people.
- Warm colours are those with shades of yellow and red;
- Cool colours have a blue, green, or purple tint;
- Neutral colours include brown, grey, black, and white.
While the above holds true in a general sense, emotional responses to colours can also be majorly affected by gender, experiences, cultural associations, and various other personal factors.
Below is a lovely little video to help you to get to grips with the basics of colour theory and that pesky colour wheel!
Notes on Above Video by Poster
RGB – In an additive colour space (where colours are made of light) RGB are mixed to create the colours that you see – so Red, Green and Blue would be the primary colours for this colour space.
CMY – In print (subtractive colour space) Cyan, Magenta and Yellow are the primary colours which you mix to create more colours. This was popularised by more modern developments in print that use Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black pigments to mix and create colours in most printers nowadays.
RBY – This is the traditional colour theory model, also using a subjective model that is considered the ‘classic’ or traditional colour wheel – the one you’re taught as kids.
All are valid, it just depends on where you’re working. The reason I didn’t mention them here is because this is a video for beginners, and it’s already confusing enough. If you want to, do your own further research on different colour models and have fun!