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The Psychology and Science of Color

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of Color
The How and Why of Color
Color Attributes
• There are literally millions of colors,
but they can be divided into just a
few color families.
• And every color can be described in
terms of having three main
attributes: hue, saturation and
• Any pure color is referred to as a hue.
• Hue is identified as the color family
or color name (such as red, green,
• Hue is directly linked to the color's
• Saturation, also called “chroma,” is a
measure of the purity of a color or how
sharp or dull the color appears.
• Saturation is the relative brilliance or
vibrancy of a color. The more saturated a
color, the less black it contains.
• Brightness, also called “luminance” or
“value,” is the shade (darkness) or tint
(lightness) of a color.
• Areas of an evenly colored object in
direct light have higher brightness
than areas in shadow.
Tint vs. Shade
•A hue is a specific
color; red, green, blue.
•A tint of a color is made
by adding white.
•A shade is made by
adding black.
Color Wheel
•Invented by Sir Isaac
•A tool for understanding
color relationships and
creating harmonious
color schemes.
•The color wheel is
divided into three
categories: primary,
secondary, and tertiary.
Color Wheel
• Primary colors are those
that cannot be created by
mixing other colors
• Secondary colors are
those that are created by
mixing two primary
• Tertiary colors are those
that are created by mixing
a primary and secondary
color together. For this
reason they have twoword names.
Example: blue-green,
yellow-orange, etc.
Warm vs. Cool Colors
Warm colors appear larger
than cool colors.
Cool colors
• Cool colors range from blue to violet, the
half of the color wheel with shorter
• Have a calming effect.
• Frequently used for backgrounds to set off
smaller areas of warm colors.
• Used together, cool colors can look clean
and crisp, implying status and calm.
• Bright cool colors generates more
excitement than light, medium or dark cool
Warm Colors
• Warm colors range from red
to yellow.
• On the half of the color
wheel corresponding
to the longer wavelengths.
• Warm colors are active,
attention-grabbing and aggressive.
• They stimulate emotions, motivate
and seem to come forward off the
screen or page.
Color Schemes
• Selecting color combinations may be
based on several traditional color
schemes. These are:
Low Intensity
Split Compliments
Double Compliments
Complementary Colors
• Any two colors whose light
together produces white are
called complementary colors.
• Complementary colors in an
image are pleasing to the
eye. The colors seem to
belong together.
• The most effective use of
complements is to let one of
them dominate by giving it a
bigger area or a fuller
saturation, while using the
other as an accent.
Complementary Colors
• Complementary colors lie opposite
each other on the color wheel.
They complete or
enhance each other.
• When a pair of high
intensity complements
are placed side
by side, they seem to
vibrate and draw
attention to the
• If the hues are of
the contrast is not
too harsh.
Complementary Colors
• Intensity can only be altered by
mixing a color with its
complement, which has the
effect of visually neutralizing
the color.
• Changing the values of the
hues, adding black or white,
will soften the effect.
Monochromatic Schemes
• A monochromatic color scheme
uses only one hue (color) and all
values (shades or tints) of it for
a unifying and harmonious
• You can change the value of a
color by adding black (shade), or
white (tint), or gray (tone).
• As white is added to a color it
becomes “higher” in value
• As black is added it becomes
“lower” in value (darker).
Monochromatic Colors
• Value is the relationship of
light to dark.
• Values that are close together
give the design a calm
• Values of pure hues as
well as those of tints
and shades
create movement.
• Value contrasts show texture
and provide an effective
means of directing viewer
attention in a composition.
Neutral colors
• Contains equal parts of
three primary colors - black,
white, gray, and sometimes
• When neutrals are added to
a color, only the value
• If you try to make a
color darker by adding
a darker color to it, the
color (hue) changes.
• Black and white are
thought of as neutrals
because they do not
change color.
Analogous Colors
• Colors that contain a
common hue and are
found next to each other
on the color wheel.
• Adjoining colors on the
wheel are similar and
tend to blend together.
• They are effective
at showing
Analogous Colors
• Analogous color can be
used to create subtle
differences in an image
or design by creating a
peaceful and more
harmonious feeling.
• Intensity is the Brightness
or dullness of a color.
• A pure hue is a highintensity color.
• A dulled hue, a color
mixed with its
complement, is called a
low-intensity color.
•A color triad is composed of
three colors spaced an equal
distance apart on the color
•The contrast between triad
colors is not as strong as
that between complements.
Triad - Primary Colors
• Primary Color are rarely seen as a trio except in
children’s products.
• Red and yellow, are
popular in the USA
for everything
from fast food
to gas stations.
• Blue and red are also
common, but are
attractive only when
separated by space.
Triad - Secondary
• Colors created by
mixing two primary
colors to create a
secondary color.
• Red + yellow =orange
• Yellow + blue = green
• Blue + red = purple
Intermediate Triads
• Colors are created
by mixing a
primary and a
• Examples:
Split Complements
The combination of
one hue, plus the
hues on each side of
its complement.
• Easier to work with
than a straight
scheme because it
offers more variety.
Example: red-orange,
blue, and green.
•Two hues and their opposites.
•Four colors arranged into
two complementary color
•Scheme is hard to
•If all four colors are used in
equal amounts, the scheme
may look unbalanced.
•Choose a color to be
dominant or subdue the
Compositional Effects of Color:
Spatial effects
• Hues that are lighter at maximum
saturation (yellows, oranges) appear
larger than those that are darker at
maximum saturation (e.g., blues and
• Warm colors appear closer and cool
colors fall back.
Compositional Effects of Color
• A large shape or form
appears to be heavier
than a small shape.
Several small shapes or
forms can balance one large
• An object with a
complicated contour is
more interesting and
appears to be heavier,
than one with a simple
contour. A small complex
object can balance a large,
simple object.
Compositional Effects of Color
•Use highly saturated or highintensity colors (a pure hue
with no other colors mixed in)
or busily detailed areas to draw
•Highly saturated colors give the
appearance of carrying more
weight than less saturated,
low-intensity or visually
simpler areas.
How Colors Effect Each Other
• Placing colors next to each other effect how we see
colors and is a complex part of color theory.
• Red appears more brilliant against black.
• Red is somewhat duller against the white.
• Next orange, red appears lifeless.
• In contrast with blue-green, red exhibits brilliance.
• The red square appears larger on black than on
other background colors.
How Colors Effect Each Other
• The color of the surrounding color can affect how
the color looks.
• The block in the center of the examples below are
the same, only the background color has changed.
• Color is partially defined in our brain by the colors
surrounding it.
Sources of Information
•Write Design on-line
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