beginner's guide to colour basics

A Beginner’s Guide to Colour Basics with a fun quiz

Use this simple guide to colour basics to apply colours more confidently in your graphic designs, personal branding or on your website.

I promised you a couple of blog posts about colours and here I am with the first one. Or actually with the second one as I’ve already announced this in the first post.

If you missed that I’d recommend to check it out as it includes some eye-catching colour palettes that you can have for free! HEX codes included so you can steal them for your own creative projects.

>> *If you just want to take the quiz, then scroll down to the bottom of the page.* <<

For those of you ready for some extra reading time, today’s topic continues with some of the basic stuff.

Colour is everywhere.

You know it when you see it. Your hair, your clothes, the food you eat, the clothes you are wearing, your smartphone or laptop, your car, your dog – they all appear in different colours.

Some cultures have more descriptions and naming variety for a specific colour than others, but every human language has words that describe colours.

mood board photo collage

So what is ‘colour’ anyway?

What if I say I’ve already told you above?

Sort of. At least.

#1 Colour is light

You need either a natural source like the Sun or artificial ones aka your desk lamp to ‘produce’ colours, so to speak.

Remember when I said you know what colour is when you see it. Well, without a light source you don’t see anything.

#2 Colour is you

To have colours and to define colours we also need you. Your perception.

Your eyes with specific specialized cells sensitive to light. And your brain to interpret the information.

Remember when I said you know what colour is when you see it.

#3 Colour is the world

And we also need some objects.

Remember when I said you know what colour is when you see it. If there is nothing to look at (hard to imagine I know) then there are also no colours.

Colour in science

To get a bit more scientific, but really just a bit!

What makes one colour different from another is the amount of energy it has. Objects have different ‘colours’ because they absorb the light with some energies and not others.

The two extremes are objects that absorb all the colours and are black. And the ones that reflect all the colours and are therefore white.

The rest of the colours as we know them are in-between. A red rose appears red to you, because it reflects red light, which reaches your eyes and then your brain, but absorbs the rest.

Colour in Art and Design

Art and artists see colours slightly differently than scientists.

To use the classic example: While artists consider black a colour, scientists do not because black is the absence of all colour.

In art and design colours have attributes that are highly subjective. Unthinkable heresy for any scientific mind.

  • Think of harmony: when two or more colours are brought together and produce a satisfying, eye-pleasing response.
  • Think of temperature: a blue is considered warm or cool depending on whether it leans towards purple or green.


 

Colors today are often defined by three measurable attributes called:

  • hue,
  • value, and
  • chroma or intensity 


– created by Professor Albert H. Munsell in the first decade of the 20th century.

You probably came across these terms many times already, so just a quick recap what they are all about.

Hue,

is the color itself. It is the distinctive quality by which one can distinguish one colour from another.

Munsell defined five principal hues: 

  • Red,
  • Yellow,
  • Green,
  • Blue, and
  • Purple. 


 

And 5 intermediate hues: YR (yellow-red), PB (purple-blue) etc.

Value,

the brightness or lightness of the hue is the quality by which one distinguishes a light color from a dark one, in the range from white to black.

Chroma or intensity,

represents the “purity” of a color (related to saturation), with lower chroma being less pure (more washed out, as in pastels).

Munsell's colour system

How are web colours different?

While artists usually mix colours together as in paints and pastels, and use that in their artwork, web colours are used in displaying web pages.

They are specified with a different terminology as

  • an RGB triplet or
  • in a hexadecimal format (#, HEX code).


 

A color is specified according to the intensity of its Red, Green and Blue components, each represented by eight bits. Thus, there are 24 bits used to specify a web color, and 16,777,216 colors that may be so specified.

That is a huge amount of colour options you can choose from!

So when you design for the web, that is

  • websites,
  • landing pages,
  • online marketing materials,
  • social media or infographics, 


you have almost endless colour possibilities to express and distinguish your business and brand beyond your logo.

How to use this immense repository of colours effectively?

Well, that is the real art. – And science.

Here comes colour theory in play. Along with

  • colour preferences,
  • colour symbolism and
  • colour psychology, that is heavily utilized in marketing, branding and website design.

 

Read more about all this in my upcoming blog posts!

Now let’s have some fun!

How well do you know colours?

Take this evergreen quiz and find out!

Disclaimer: The quiz will open in a new window and is powered by SurveyMonkey.
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