Color Theory - Introduction

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Color theory is quite a complex topic which is covered by several scientific disciplines. One difficulty of getting a better understanding of color is the different perspectives these disciplines take to approach their object of research. This means you can find a lot of material about color theory but the different perspectives of the respective authors might be confusing instead of adding to a better understanding. So let's start with a list of disciplines which cover color theory to prevent some possible confusion upfront.

Perspectives on Color I

Physiology e.g. covers

  • the ability of the eye to absorb light
  • abilities of the brain to process these stimuli
  • the ability of the brain to recognize and interpret gradation in color stimuli

Physics and Chemistry e.g. cover

  • physiochemical attributes of light and paint
  • ways to produce paint and colored lighting
  • ways of mixing and displaying color

Color Science in general e.g. covers

  • experiments to systematically quantify color properties, naming and geometrically ordering color according to specified values
  • creating a(n individual) color model for a specific purpose

Psychology e.g. covers

  • the psychological impact of colors

Craftsmanship e.g. covers

  • theory, tutorials and tricks on artistic color usage
  • analysis, attributes and requirements of a medium to apply color to
  • analysis, properties and effects of a composition

History e.g. covers

  • a chronological overview of the development of color theory
  • people and their contribution to color theory

Perspectives on Color II

One can not only distinguish the perspectives on color by scientific disciplines but also by practical applications of color, or the profession of an individual. Without going into further detail at this point, you can easily guess that a painter has a different perspective on color than an electronics engineer working on digital cameras.

Perspectives on Color III

Furthermore there's a big difference in perspective of precisely identifying color compared to selecting color for a specific application. The former, if you will, is a more technical perspective which e.g. is important for a lossless transition of a composition between media. The latter, if you will, is a more artistic perspective which can trade precision for the artist's ability to select colors which expresses his/her views and emotions, and which creates desired effects.


There are lots of things to explore about color. The different perspectives make up an exciting puzzle which is fun putting together. Color theory will increase your level of sophistication. It opens up your eyes to look at color in a whole new and exciting way. It also helps you better understand how colors and other elements of a composition work together. In the end, this will give you the ability to be more creative.

Continue reading: Colors of the Rainbow

Table of Contents

1. Introduction to Color Theory (this page)
2. Colors of the Rainbow
3. Color Vision
4. Color Properties / Terminology
    4.1. Color Luminance
5. The Color Wheel
6. Color Space and Gamut

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