The field of study known as “color theory” involves both the scientific and artistic applications of color, delving into topics such as how colors are seen by humans, what happens when colors are mixed, coordinated, or juxtaposed, and what they mean when they’re used to convey emotion.
Color theory uses a color wheel to organize colors into primary, secondary, and tertiary categories. When two or more primary colors are mixed, secondary colors emerge. We’ll go into more detail about how tertiary colors develop when primary and secondary colors are combined below.
Why Is Color Theory Important?
But why exactly is color theory so important for business owners? Isn’t a little splash of crimson on your package enough to get people’s attention? Coke was able to capitalize on this strategy, so can’t you do the same thing?
Actually, color theory can help you build a recognizable brand, which, in turn, can boost your business. But let’s get to the bottom of how this is possible.
At its core, color is simply an optical illusion. When we look at anything — like the sky — our eyes send signals to our brains about what they see, including information about an object’s color. Objects’ reflections are composed of a wide variety of wave patterns (also known as frequencies). Our brains’ visual systems detect these frequencies and interpret them as color.
Think about the last time you tried to find a six-pack of Coke in a sea of 82 million bottles. Which first caught your eye — the written logo, or the famous red can?
Evidently, people make their choice about a preference for a product within 90 seconds, and color plays a significant role in 90% of those decisions. Therefore, color is crucial to the success of your branding efforts.
Two Different Color Systems
Lightwave color perception is based on the additive color mix model known as RGB (red/green/blue). Multiple hues can be created by adjusting the relative brightness of red, green, and blue lights. As additional light is added, the mixture will get brighter. Pure white light is the result when all three hues of light are combined.
The RGB color model is used by screens, movie projectors, and televisions to display an assortment of colors by combining the main colors red, green, and blue.
So what’s the big deal about this? Think of a bright yellow brand logo that stands out against a background. Using the correct color model — RGB, not CMYK — will maintain the brilliance of the yellow, avoiding a muddy effect when displaying this logo on digital platforms like Facebook or your website.
By contrast, tangible surfaces like paper or packaging are the focus of the subtractive color mixing approach known as CMYK (cyan/magenta/yellow/black). On paper, a wider range of colors is possible because of the fundamental colors of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Using CMYK is essential for reproducing true colors in printed products.
Take, as an example, a glossy color brochure. In order to get the most out of your marketing budget, you need to use CMYK to get a true color depiction. If this is ignored in favor of RGB, color errors can appear, along with the expensive implications of having to reprint a whole batch of material.
The Color Wheel
The most fundamental visual tool is the color wheel. The first color wheel, composed of primary, secondary, and tertiary hues, was created by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666. The primary colors of red, yellow, and blue are the building blocks of color theory. The mixing of primary colors together produces secondary ones. The combination of primary and secondary colors produces tertiary colors.
Try separating warm colors (red, orange, and yellow) from cool colors (blue, green, and purple) by drawing a line across a color wheel. This divide is in line with the psychological effects of color: hot colors stimulate the senses, while cool hues induce calm.
Hue, shade, tint, and tone allow for further exploration beyond the traditional color wheel. In order to create a tint, white is added to a color; in order to create a shade, black is added; in order to create a tone, black, white, and/or gray are included. These gradations make it possible to have more color options.
Design and advertising rely heavily on color palettes — the purposeful utilization of color combinations. High contrast is achieved by using complementary hues, which are opposite one another on the color wheel. Adjacent hues on the color wheel, or analogous colors, provide harmony, and these can be used to influence customer behavior. A median between these two extremes would be a triad of hues that are evenly spaced from one another on the wheel, creating a striking visual effect.
The Benefits of Understanding Color Theory
Branding, marketing, and sales all rely heavily on an understanding of color theory. Decisions surrounding logo colors, emotional resonances, and consumer psychology can benefit from a thorough understanding of the above concepts and their deeper nuances. These insights can, in turn, help to create a unique brand identity, strengthen relationships with intended consumers, and boost a business’s sales.