Notebook, 1993-


Design Principles - Color Principles - Color Design

[From: Wong, Wucius. Color Design. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold. 1987]

Color Principles (cont.)

[The Color Solid - continued]

Complementary Hues
Hues directly opposite each other on the color circle are called complementary hues. The six-hue color circle contains three pairs of complementary hues:

Red [R] and Green [G]
Yellow [Y] and Purple [P]
Blue [B] and Orange [O]

When a hue and its complement are mixed, they neutralize each other, resulting in a muddy gray or brownish color. Mixing the three primary hues also produces a neutral color. These phenomena are described in the simple formulas below, where N stands for the neutral color:

O = R + Y
G = Y + B
P = B + R
N = R + Y + B
R + G = R + Y + B = N
Y + P = Y + B + R = N
B + O = B + R = Y = N

The six-hue color circle can be expanded to form a twelve-hue color circle; three pairs of complementary colors have thus been added:

Red-orange and Green-blue
Orange-yellow and Blue-purple
Yellow-green and Purple-red

There is some contrast between any two hues, but complementary hues exhibit the strongest hue contrast, which can be even further enhanced if they are of the same value.

Near-complementary hues--two hues that are not directly opposite each other on the color circle, such as red and blue-green, red-orange and green--can be used in place of strict complementary hues to obtain similar effects. In any pair of complementary hues, each hue can split into two or more hues [R can become purple-red and red-orange] or develop separate ranges of value and chroma variations. [p. 50]

Because tastes change from generation to generation and according to an individual's age, sex, race, education, cultural background, and so on, it is difficult to establish specific rules for creating effective color combinations.

For our purposes, color harmony is best defined as successful color combinations, whether these please the eye by using analogous colors, or excite the eye with contrasts. Analogy and contrast are thus the two approaches to achieving color harmony. to evaluate these in a design, we must individually consider the value, chroma, and hue of colors. [p. 51]

Hue Harmony
The color circle can be used as the basis for creating hue harmony. The simplest color scheme that can be created using analogous hues is monochromatic, restricted to one hue. Alternatively, analogous hues can be taken from a portion of the color circle, say, the colors contained within 60 to 90 degrees, and can be randomly juxtaposed or used in gradation within a design.

Analogous hues also result from a common hue bias--a tiny quantity of a particular hue is mixed into each color, sometimes changing its hue, value, and/or chroma in the process. For instance, orange-yellow can be mixed with all colors, creating an overall orange-yellow cast--a tropical color scheme.

Hues contrast significantly when they are separated by 90 degrees or more on the color circle. The wider the distance between the hues on the circle, the greater the hue contrast. Both analogy and contrast are present in a color scheme if hue gradations cover a large portion of the color circle. [p. 51]

Value Harmony
The gray scale can be used as the basis for creating value harmony. A design with analogous values restricts hue and chroma gradations to adjacent, or just one, value steps.

Designs with value gradations can have colors juxtaposed from value steps 2, 4, 6, and 8, or steps 2, 5, and 8 for some value contrast. A design that emphasizes value contrast might have very dark accents in a high-key design, or very light accents in a low-key design. [p. 52]

Chroma Harmony
The concepts of analogy and contrast also apply to chroma harmony. Colors that have the same degree of chroma strength have analogous chroma. Hue gradations with maintenance of chroma therefore result in analogous chroma. Colors in full chroma throughout a design emphasize hue contrast, and week chroma throughout neutralizes hues and diminishes hue contrast.

Chroma contrast is best effected by restricting colors to one value step, allowing each color to display either strong or weak chroma. Hue gradations with chroma changes result in chroma contrast, as some colors have weakened chroma after they are mixed.

Value, chroma, and hue must all be considered, even when only one of these is manipulated to establish color harmony. [p. 53]

When combining colors, we must pay attention to the effects of simultaneous contrast, which can alter the way colors are perceived. Simultaneous contrast refers to the apparent changes in hue, value, and/or chroma that are created by adjacent colors. Visual stimulation causes the eye to generate an after-image that is in the hue complementary to the original image. This most often occurs when one color surrounds another [the surrounded color is altered by the surrounding color].

Earlier, when complementary hues were first discussed, I introduced a total of six complementary pairs: red and green; yellow and purple; blue and orange; red-orange and green-blue; yellow-green and purple-red; blue-purple and orange-yellow. For the purpose of understanding simultaneous contrast, white and black may also be considered complementary.

We can experiment with simultaneous contrast by gathering a wide range of color specimens--colored paper or painted chips--that show a variety of hues with variations in value and chroma. If we punch a hole in each colored chip and look through these at the same color, we can see how the value, chroma, or hue of the color changes as a result of simultaneous contrast. It is possible to make two dissimilar colors look nearly the same by viewing them through particular colored chips. [p. 53]

The Change of Hue in Simultaneous Contrast
A surrounded color exhibits a change in hue, because it is optically blended with the afterimage of the surrounding color, which is of a different hue. For instance, when orange is surrounded by green, the afterimage of green [that is, it complement, red] tints the orange and makes it appear much redder. If the same orange is surrounded by purple, the afterimage of purple [that is, its complement, yellow] tints the orange and makes it appear much more yellow. It is important to understand the principles that govern simultaneous contrast, so its effects can be predicted.

We can see the after image of a color by staring at a small color sample laid on white paper. If, after thirty seconds or more, our eyes shift form the color sample to the white background, we see an illusion of the shape of the color sample in its complementary hue. [p. 53]

The Change of Value in Simultaneous Contrast
A change of value occurs when a surrounded color is much lighter or darker than the surrounding color. If the surrounding color is light, the surrounded color appears darker; if the surrounding color is dark, the surrounded color appears lighter. [p. 54]

The Change of Chroma in Simultaneous Contrast
In simultaneous contrast, a change of chroma can be detected if the brilliance of the color seems enhanced, or if the color seems dulled. We can again use the color circle to predict the results.

When a color is surrounded by another that is in its complementary hue, this color is strengthened in chroma, because the afterimage of the surrounding color is the same hue as the surrounded color. The surrounded color thus becomes more radiant, taking on an almost fluorescent glow. For maximum effect there should be little value contrast; in other words, one color should be value adjusted to the other.

When two colors being related are within 90 degrees of each other on the color circle, simultaneous contrast will weaken the chroma. For example, red surrounded by orange will be affected by the complementary hue of orange-green. The red would gray slightly, as the green cast has a neutralizing effect. [p. 54]

Names and terms relating to colors are part of our cultural tradition. Conditioned by the culture in which we are raised, we form fixed notions of how red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple should appear. Most people, for instance, still consider an orange-biased red to be the standard hue of red.

Most color systems developed in the early part of this century are based on a set of primary hues that are different from the primary hues science has brought to light. These primary hues--magenta-red, yellow, and cyan-blue [with black to reinforce value contrast]--are used today for printing. Practically any color can be obtained with these four basic pigments. Whereas black is considered opaque, the other three are generally transparent; they are printed on white surfaces as solid planes, or in tints of specific percentages that overlap.

Magenta-red is perceived as a purple-biased red, with a lighter value than our usual notion of red; the yellow used in printing is a bit cooler and lighter than what most consider a typical yellow. The secondary colors obtained from these primaries are an orange-red [which is far more red than orange], a blue-biased purple, and a green that is similar to our notion of green.

It is interesting to compare these new sets of primaries and secondaries with those that older color systems were based on. The cover of this book shows the two color circles superimposed, with the scientific color circle on the outer and the traditional color circle on the inner ring. The colors are not in full alignment. The primary colors in the scientific color circle have distinct advantages [magenta-red can mix with yellow to form orange, with cyan-blue to form purple, and cyan-blue can mix with yellow to form green--all without weakening chroma].

However, since most of us still think of colors as they appear on the traditional, rather than the scientific, color circle, and since colors represented on the scientific color circle are fugitive dyes, unsuitable for artists whose colors must have a considerable degree of permanency, the traditional color circle is a more useful tool for our purposes. The scientific color circle should be considered only in special situations. [p. 55]

[Wong, Wucius. Color Principles. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold. 1987.]



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