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Understanding Color – What a designer should know

Color can be a complicated thing.
This guide is here to aid you in 
understanding of color,
what it is and how it works

1- Introduction
For a long time, now, there has been a problem that fledgling designers have run into on a constant basis. This problem seems insignificant to most, but in actuality it is quite possibly the most important factor in a design or piece of artwork. Yes, you guessed it…I’m talking about the issue of COLOR.
Color can be a touchy subject. Sometimes artists use colors that evoke certain emotions. Other times artists use colors simply because they like the way they look. While any design instructor will tell you that the latter reason is completely wrong, I tend to disagree. In my personal opinion, color always has meaning. This meaning can be, as I mentioned, an emotional one or it can be a personal preference on the part of the artist himself, but it ALWAYS has purpose behind it.
There is nothing wrong with choosing a color because you like it because, after all, it is your work. However, when choosing a color you still want to make sure its use does not conflict with what you are trying to say with your work. Proper use of basic color theory can help you decide what colors match, as well as what each color makes people feel.
2- The Color wheel
The color wheel has earned a place in the hearts of many artists and designers across the globe. Not because its the perfect tool, but because everybody, at some point, has had to make one of their own as part of a ridiculous art class project.
The wheel’s construction is actually quite simple. You have your 6 basic colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Then, depending on which wheel you’re looking at, you have extra, “in-between” colors that are mixes of the basic colors.
There are names for all of these colors, which are important to know. The following is a list of all of the names of colors and what they’re good for.

Primary Colors: Red, Yellow, Blue. These 3 colors are the base colors for every other color on the color wheel. This is why they’re called “primary.” When you mix two primaries together, you get a secondary color. Also note the triangular positioning of the primary colors on the color wheel, and how the secondary colors are next to them. Primary colors are useful for designs or art that needs to have a sense of urgency. Primary colors are the most vivid colors when placed next to eachother, which is why you’ll notice that most fast food joints use primary colors in their logos, as it evokes speed.

Secondary Colors: Orange, Green, Purple. These 3 colors are what you get when you mix the primary colors together. They’re located in-between the primary colors to indicate what colors they’re made from. Notice how green is in-between yellow and blue. Secondary colors are usually more interesting than primary colors, but they do not evoke speed and urgency.

Tertiary Colors: These are those “in-between” colors like Yellow-Green and Red-Violet. They’re made by mixing one primary color and one secondary color together. There can be endless combinations of tertiary colors, depending on how they’re mixed.

Complementary Colors: Red and Green, Blue and Orange, Purple and Yellow. These are the colors directly across from eachother on the color wheel. Don’t let the name fool you, they rarely look good when used together. They’re called “complementary” because, when used together, they become extremely vibrant and have heavy contrast.

Complementary colors are useful when you want to make something stand out. For example, if you use a green background and have a red circle on it, the red will jump off the page and be almost blinding.
Analogous Colors: Red and Orange, Blue and Green, etc. These are colors right next to eachother on the color wheel. They usually match extremely well, but they also create almost no contrast. They’re good for very serene-feeling designs and artwork where you want viewers to feel comfortable.
3- Other Terms
There are plenty of other names and titles that refer to different aspects of color, but this is where it starts getting complex. If you want to know more about color, read on.
Warm Colors: Colors such as red, yellow, and orange. These colors evoke warmth because they remind us of things like the sun or fire.
Cool Colors: Colors like blue, green, and purple (violet). These colors evoke a cool feeling because they remind us of things like water or grass.

Neutral Colors: Gray, Brown. These aren’t on most color wheels, but they’re considered neutral because they don’t contrast with much of anything. They’re dull and uneventful.

Value: Usually refers to the amount of black in a color. The more black a color has, the darker its value.

Brightness: Refers to the amount of white in a color. The more white a color has, the brighter it is.

Saturation: Refers to the amount of a color used. When a color is at full saturation, it is extremely vibrant. When a color is “desaturated,” a large amount of color has been removed. Desaturated colors tend to be close to being neutral because there is so much gray in them.

4- Types of color
As you might suspect, there are different types of color. Now is when you can throw the color wheel out the window.
RGB Color: This is color based upon light. Your computer monitor and television use RGB. The name “RGB” stands for Red, Green, Blue, which are the 3 primaries (with green replacing yellow). By combining these 3 colors, any other color can be produced. Remember, this color method is only used with light sources; it does not apply to printing.
CMYK Color: This is the color method based upon pigments. “CMYK” stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (its what the K stands for). Using these 4 colors, most other colors can be achieved. Unfortunately, CMYK cannot reproduce the same amount of colors as RGB can, which is why yellow-greens sometimes look a bit muddy when printed.

This is the method used by printers the world over, and is also a clever way of mixing paints.

Pantone (PMS) Color: This is yet another printing color method. PMS stands for “Pantone Matching System,” and is a large list of specially mixed colors made by the Pantone Corporation. Instead of using CMYK to create colors, the pigments are created individually for purity. For example, if I wanted to use a Red-Violet color, I’d pick PMS 233M. The color would be made exclusively for my project and would always print exactly how I want. The only drawback to using PMS colors is that they’re only useful for projects with few colors. They’re also expensive.

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