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Colour Theory

Meaning of Colours
If you understand the theory of colours you are better placed to choose the right colour for the right job
When presenting a design or an idea your choice of colours is very important. Many surveys have been carried out on the general public to find out what people like. The findings suggest that very young children like bright, vibrant colours (reds, yellows and oranges etc...) whilst older people like more gentle or sophisticated colours and tones such as shades of blue. It is very important for a designer to understand the way colours are put together/created as this may help in the selection of the right colour scheme for a particular age group. Next time you pass a poster look closely at the colours - the designer has considered them very carefully.

What is Colour?

Colour is how the eye perceives reflected light. What I will explain here are the three main components of a colour: hue, value and saturation.
colour properties
  • Hue is where a colour is positioned on the colour wheel. Technically the hue is the colour which it a design element in itself.
  • Value is the darkness or lightness of a colour and is a design element in itself.
  • Saturation is the intensity of a colour.

The Colour Wheel


The Colour Wheel
The Colour Wheel
The colour wheel can be seen above and this can be used to help remember primary and secondary colours. The secondary colours are in between the primary colours - for example - between red and blue is purple. Quite simply, mixing the primary colours of red and blue paint together will produce the secondary colour purple.

An important rule of the colour wheel is that colours opposite to each other on the colour wheel usually work well together as a colour scheme. These are known as complimentary colours. Complimentary colours are often used together in graphic design as they tend to give the image/graphic a sense of balance and are visually more aesthetic.

Primary Colours

These are colours that cannot be created through the mixing of other colours. They are colours in their own right. The three primary colours are REDYELLOW and  BLUE. Primary colours can be mixed together to produce secondary colours.

Secondary Colours

The secondary colours are in between the primary colours on the colour wheel to depict the mixing of the primary colours on either side to create the secondary colour between. The formulae below show the combinations required to produce secondary colours.

YELLOW + BLUE = GREEN

BLUE + RED = PURPLE

RED + YELLOW = ORANGE

Complimentary Colours

As already mentioned, the complimentary colours are those opposite to each other on the colour wheel and which, when used together in a design, are more visually aesthetic or "pleasing to the eye". The complimentary colours are...

RED and GREEN
YELLOW and PURPLE
BLUE  and ORANGE

Meaning of Colours

Designers have a large range of colours at their disposal and most are well aware that certain colours are associated with feelings and emotions. The diagram below show a number of popular colours and the feelings/emotions to which they are associated. Designers, companies and manufacturers use colours cleverly to promote a certain feeling about their products.

Meaning of Colours
meaning of colours

Colours in Context

Colours also have an effect on your visitors before they begin to read the content of your web site or printed design. Thus, it is very important for you to consider your target audience, the psychology of colour, and the corporate image you wish to project BEFORE you complete your design.

Colour can have different meanings in different scenarios

Using Colour

When colour is used correctly, it can add impact and clarity to your message and highlight important points. Alternatively When colour is used incorrectly, it can compromise your message and confuse your target audience.

Colour can work for your web site and printed materials in various ways:
  • Colour emphasizes, highlights, and leads the eye to important points or links.
  • Colour identifies recurring themes (i.e. titles and subtitles are usually the same colours).
  • Conversely, colour can differentiate, such as different colours in pie charts and bar graphs.
  • Colour symbolizes and triggers emotions and associations.

The interpretation of a colour depends on culture, profession, and personal preference. In general, the colours red, orange, and yellow are "exciting" colours and the colors purple, blue, and green are "calming" colours.

Interpretation of colour is not always a matter of personal preference. For example, in Western cultures the colour white symbolizes purity; however, in China the colour white symbolizes death.

To summarise, it is very important to consider your target audience, the psychology of colour, and the image you wish to project before you construct your web-site, printed materials, and logo.

For information on creating your own colour scheme for a design project see the colour schemes section.




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