'Color' is all around us. It adds excitement and emotion to our lives. Everything from the clothes we wear, the pictures we paint, and our environment revolves around color. Without color, the world would be a much less attractive place.


Color is defined as:

1. The property possessed by an object produces different sensations within the human eye and brain system due to how the thing reflects or emits light.

2. Change (something) color by painting, dyeing, or shading it.

Color Characteristics

Includes the following: click on each to learn more.

Color Theory

It is a set of guidelines that uses color to create harmony, communicate ideas, or invoke an emotional response in the viewer. We call it "theory" because we use generalizations to create aesthetically pleasing results.

Traditional Color Wheel

Traditional Color Wheel

The traditional color wheel uses six colors or 'hue families' with three primary colors.

The wheel follows the visual spectrum of light "ROYGBV."

R - Red
O - Orange
Y - Yellow
G - Green
B - Blue
V - Violet

Most importantly, they are all in the same order around the wheel, relying on the visible spectrum of light to dictate the order.

These color families can be further broken into tertiary colors, making 12 color families or "hues" on the color wheel system.

Albert Munsell created what is now called the Munsell color wheel. There are 5 principal or primary hues: Red (R), Yellow (Y), Green (G), Blue (B), Purple (P), and 5 Intermediate hues: Yellow-Red (YR), Green-Yellow (GY), Blue-Green (BG), Purple-Blue (PB), Red-Purple (RP). A color void of Hue is called Neutral, such as Neutral Gray or Neutral Black. On the Munsell Hue circle, it is an axis in the middle (N).

The Munsell Wheel in Color Space

Each of the 10 Hues (principal + intermediate) is subdivided into 10. As you move clockwise around the circle, the 5 of each Hue is the principal center of that color family, while the 10 of each Hue is considered the intermediate. Even finer distinctions can be made between similar Hues through the use of decimals. [1]

A Munsell Notation is always written in a specific order as a fraction.
For example:
5R 5/5
5R = Red HUE at step 5
5/ = a VALUE step of 5
/5 = a CHROMA step of 5

“Popular color names are incongruous, irrational, and often ludicrous.” – Albert Munsell


Munsell Hue Circle Poster by Munsell Color, Retrieved 2022

Primary Colors

Are YELLOW, RED, and BLUE. When mixing pigments (subtractive color method), secondary colors are created by combining these together. Note that these three, on their own, make a beautiful color scheme, later introduced as a "triad."

Primary Colors

Secondary Colors

Are ORANGE, GREEN, and VIOLET. They are created by mixing two primaries. For example, ORANGE = RED + YELLOW. They also make a "triad" color scheme.

Secondary Colors

Tertiary Colors

They are formed by mixing two secondary colors together. For example, they include YELLOW-GREEN, BLUE-GREEN, and YELLOW-ORANGE.

Tertiary Colors

Now that we have all of the twelve essential color families in order around the wheel, the following color schemes are all based on their relationships as we go around the wheel.


Describes the colors directly opposite from each other on the color wheel. Compliments together are incredibly eye-catching and vibrant.

Red & Green Complements

Purple and Yellow Complement

Split Compliments

Split compliments are less vibrant than compliments. Complements with an additional split complement are also eye-catching but more varied than a simple complementary scheme.

Orange & Green Split Complements

Color Compliments with Split Complement


Are any three colors with a specific relationship on the wheel, with three colors between each. This combination creates a colorful yet balanced scheme.



Also known as a "square" combination, are any four colors with a specific relationship on the wheel that creates an "X" shape if connected by lines. It makes a colorful yet balanced scheme but is more complex.




Is a single color with variations that change in lightness or darkness. "Tints" are created by adding white to a single color or lighting it. "Shades" are created by adding black to a single color, which darkens it. 'Monochromatic' lacks variety; however, they are quiet and soothing.



The colors next to one another on the wheel feel calm and soothing but are more dramatic than a monochromatic scheme because it has more variety. This scheme is often found in nature because light reflects from one object to another. For example, an apple may be red, but it may reveal orange and yellow colors depending on the lighting conditions on closer observation.



Are colors diminished or "neutralized" by adding gray, black, earth tones., or their own color complement. Most of the colors found in plants or nature are neutral colors.

Neutrals or Low-Intensity Colors


Describes no color or void of any color, also called a "monotone achromatic." This scheme consists of black, white, and gray combinations only.


Clash of Polychrome

Of course, clashing colors will work if you do not want to create color harmony. Color on either side of its complement or a mixture of many contrasting colors will create a polychrome or color clash.

Clashing Colors

Let's recap these color combinations. Notice how they are all about relationships on the wheel...

Color Theory Relationships

The Psychology of Color

What is the Psychology of Color?

Colors can stimulate, excite, depress, tranquilize, increase appetite, and create a feeling of warmth or coolness. However, different colors affect us differently. Have you ever wondered why people wait in a "Green Room" before appearing as a talk show guest?

Scientists have found that actual physiological changes occur in human beings when exposed to specific colors.

The study of color is known as chromodynamics, and this type of research is extremely useful in marketing because colors affect our decisions.

'Color' is a visually subjective experience based on life experiences, gender, age, and culture. It visually communicates; each has literal or word associations, catchphrases, and symbols, representing the year's seasons or different environments, which will be covered in a later post on each color.

These interpretations vary from culture to culture worldwide and may change over time. Nevertheless, some general and universal reactions to color are noted in most people.


RED is the most vibrant, compelling color in the spectrum. It attracts immediate attention and causes the pituitary gland to spring into action. It brings a feeling of warmth and stimulates appetite. It is a bold color. Many revolutions may have been planned within a red room.


ORANGE is an energizing color associated with sunshine. It makes us feel warm and happy and gives us a feeling of enthusiasm. It is a citrus color, related to healthy food. People who wear orange appear friendly, outgoing, cheerful, and adventurous. It is a favorite of children, teens, and athletes because of its playful, active qualities.


YELLOW is the happiest color in the spectrum because it is associated with optimism, joy, and warmth. Visually, it appears soft to the touch but pops out at us, making it a striking color. It stimulates clear thinking and aids in memory retention.


GREEN is the color of nature and the easiest color on our eyes. It is calming and has a neutral effect on the human nervous system. Green is also a favorite color in hospitals because it relaxes patients. "Green rooms" are designed for people to sit, wait,             and relax before appearing on a talk show or before an interview.


BLUE is strongly associated with the sky, a constant in our lives that gives us a feeling of trust and integrity and inspires confidence. It is also related to water, which can be a tranquilizer.


PURPLE is a sensitive color that encourages us to daydream. It may also give us the feeling of nostalgia mystery or inspire meditation. According to surveys, almost 75 percent of pre-adolescent children prefer purple to all other colors; however, purple can appear artificial to adults because it is rarely found in nature.


PINK is the most romantic color. Research suggests that pink makes people feel soft-hearted and calm. It is a tender and tranquilizing color. When rooms are painted pink, it reduces aggressive behavior.


BROWN is the color of earth and wood. It makes us feel stable, reliable, or sheltered. It communicates credibility, strength, and maturity and creates a neutral, comfortable, and open atmosphere.


BLACK is the absence of color and is the color of night, darkness, evil, or death. It may bring feelings of despair, loneliness, or fear because it is associated with black holes, haunted houses, or villains. Marketing gives us a sense of perspective and depth related to formality, sophistication, elegance, or any luxury item.


WHITE is the color of the clouds and feels lightweight. When all colors are present in perfect balance, we see white. White clothing reflects light and keeps us cool. It is also the color of snow and may create a cool, refreshing feel; however, all-white walls create a sterile or stark feeling that lacks warmth in an interior.

Color affects individuals differently based on their childhood experiences, gender, age, and culture. A visual experience may subconsciously affect the person's functions, controlled by the brain or emotions affecting behavioral aspects.

From infancy, we begin formulating feelings about colors that invariably carry into adulthood. 'Color' is a personal experience. Everyone has their own unique experiences with color. The color we see is influenced by what we feel.

The field of chromodynamics is still not well understood. Studies are complex because human emotions vary from person to person. Their physical,     biological changes and past experiences in life may be unique.

The Contrast Effect

Value is relative to its surroundings and can be deceiving. A single tone induces lightness or darkness upon other adjacent tones and is mutually affected in return.

The horizontal strip of gray below is the same tone across the background of values.

It creates an optical illusion called the 'Contrast Effect.' Even though the middle strip of grey is one single tone, it appears lighter on the dark side and darker on the light side.

The Contrast Effect

Value & Shape

What does it all mean? Let's explore with a good understanding of 'value.'

Any 2D image, including drawings, paintings, or photographs, can be defined or described by shapes in various contrasting values. 'Value' is a characteristic of color. It refers to the lightness or darkness of any single color swatch.

Tonal relationships, especially with various values, help us understand what we see in the world. Our vision uses the contrast of value to determine one object from another, especially in a low-lighting situation when we cannot see the 'hue' or color.

Underneath every great painting is a contrast of light & dark values. Otherwise, shapes blend together. In this example, the original painting has a full range of values. Values are reduced to a limited value scale in the second image, using only mid-tones.

Without a full range of values, shapes appear to blur together, leaving little information for the viewer to distinguish one from another. A more comprehensive range of values is needed to convey this particular scene on a bright sunny day.

'Value' defines shape & form, not the brightness or dullness of the color or the Hue. It's the lightness or darkness. Value does all the work to distinguish shape & form, but Hue gets all the credit!

Value does all the work but, hue gets all the credit!

When we first learn to draw, we ignore all of the other characteristics of color except value. It helps simplify the complex observation process, allowing us to focus on accurate shapes before mastering color.


Achromatic literally means "no color" or "without color." Graphite or charcoal drawings are 'achromatic' or without color, i.e., grayscale in black and white.


Monochromatic uses 'mono' or one Hue or color only. White is mixed with lightening or 'tint' the color, and black is mixed with darkening or creating a 'shade' of the color.

A monochromatic color scheme uses only one Hue or color but needs a variety of lightness and darkness to convey shape to the viewer. Monochromatic color schemes naturally create harmony. They are soothing, elegant, and easy on our eyes.

Monochromatic color scheme


Chromatic means having color or multiple hues relating to or produced by color. 'Chroma' is the purity or intensity of color. It refers to the brightness or dullness of any color.

Color Systems

Includes the following.

Color Created by Colored Lights

What are Color Systems?

Sometimes called 'Color Models,' they are based on the physical process of mixing hues or colors. This includes a 'subtractive color model' and an 'additive color model,' each model is specific to its medium or media.

Color is produced in many ways, such as painting, digital images displayed on your computer monitor or phone, or printed photographs.

Depending on the color system, primary colors can be mixed with other colors.

Primary Colors & their Color Systems

If you paint from your computer monitor in your studio or paint from an image printed from your printer, the color may appear more or less vibrant in comparison.

Lower your expectations if you try to replicate the exact chroma or color intensity, Hue, or value. There are physical limitations to what your medium can do. There are different primary colors for each color model or system to further complicate matters.

Paint (including oil, pastels, or watercolors), pigments, and dyes are made from natural elements. They use the 'Subtractive Method' to make new colors. Why is it called 'Subtractive' if we combine pigments?

Subtractive Color

Yes, it's pretty confusing, but remember that white light contains all the colors from the rainbow (the visible spectrum of light), such as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.

When the photons from white light hit an object, they absorb all the various color wavelengths except the one reflected back to us. This color is 'subtracted' from the visible spectrum or white light source.

The primary colors of this traditional system are red, blue, and yellow (RYB). However, according to modern physics, they are not true primary colors and are ineffective in color image reproduction technology. The modern printers of the 20th century, known as dot matrix printers, created what we now know as the CMYK system.


CMYK Colors

Printers use the "Subtractive Color Method" with the modern primary color system.

The modern primary colors in the Subtractive Method were discovered in the 20th century when computer printer technology evolved. They are Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow.

Pantone Matching System


The Pantone Matching System (PMS) is a standardized proprietary system of thousands of numbered swatches called "spot" colors. It is used to manufacture fabric, plastics, and house paint. It is used in branding for color consistency.

This system, unlike CMYK, allows you to take a specific color with a brand and number to any hardware store and have it come out the same each time mixed.

Colors are not custom-mixed. You must choose a predetermined color from the set of color swatches.

The Pantone Color Institute declares a particular "Color of the Year" every year since 2000". These results are published in Pantone View. Fashion designers, florists, and many other consumer-oriented companies use this color to help guide their designs and planning for future products (Wikipedia, 2018).

Additive Color Systems

Computer monitors and televisions use the 'Additive Method' to produce new colors from colored lights. They do not use pigments.

Colored Lights

This physical process occurs when colored lights are combined or 'added.' Mixing all primary colored lights or 'adding' them together produces white light. The primary colors in this system are Red, Green, and Blue (RGB).

Additive Primary Colors

The additive primary colors are red, green, and blue, or RBG.

Subtractive Color Systems

Includes the following.

Traditional Primary Colors

Red, Yellow, and Blue

The primary colors of this traditional system are red, blue, and yellow (RYB).

However, according to modern physics, they are not true primary colors and are ineffective in color image reproduction technology.

The modern printers of the 20th century, known as dot matrix printers, created what we now know as the CMYK system.

CMYK Colors

Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black

Printers use separate ink cartridges with Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black, also known as CMYK.

These colors are mixed in different percentages to achieve thousands of color variations.

They overlay each other in rows of tiny dots at slightly different angles to reproduce color.

Image color varies from one printer to another, depending on the hardware and software.

Additive Color Systems

Include the following.

Red, Green, and Blue

The purpose of the RGB color system is to display a colored image within an electronic system, such as a television, computer, or any digital image, before print. It is a complex system. However, knowing the basics is good if you are a digital artist or web designer.

Red, Green, and Blue (RGB) are added in various ways to produce a broad array of colors in this additive color method.

Each color is described by the strength of the Red, Green, or Blue components. These values specify the intensity of the colors with three numerical values for each, from 0 (none) to 255 (full intensity).

Within RGB, possible decimal notations include: Red is equal to 255, 0, 0 (Red at full intensity, no Green or Blue); Green is equal to 0, 255, 0 (Green at full intensity, no Red or Blue); and blue is equal to 0, 0, 255 (Blue at full intensity, no Red or Green).


Click on the tabs below.


  • Pigments Through the Ages - From prehistoric times, humans have left an imprint on their environment through painted images, beautifying their world, and expressing their thoughts and feelings. 

Munsell Color Wheel

Color Palettes

  • Click here for a list of recommended books in order.

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