Color would like you to get to know its wheel.

September 14th, 2011

In this week’s Color is Talking post we tackle color combination! While combining colors might seem like a daunting task, it doesn’t have to be!

In fact, you needn’t look any further than the color wheel to unlock the mysteries of color combination. Colors have fundamental relationships with one another and the combinations are endless.  Yet, sometimes colors compete with each other, look muddy together or just look plain wrong. It’s important to create combinations that achieve the right amount of contrast and balance.

But before we dive into combining colors we have to learn the lingo. Below is a quick vocabulary lesson that will help  define the most important color-related terminology.

Color Theory: In the visual arts, color theory is a body of practical guidance to color mixing and the visual impact of specific color combinations.

Color Wheel: A color wheel or color circle is an abstract illustrative organization of color hues around a circle,that shows the relationships between primary, secondary, and complimentary colors.

Color Dimensions: There are three dimensions to color-hue, value and intensity. This makes color multidimensional-any color appearance can be described in terms of these three dimensions.

Hue: refers to the names of the colors. It is the contrast between redness, blueness and greenness. We most typically think of hues as coming from white light divided into the visible spectrum-red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet or as a “circle of hues” or “color wheel”.

Value: refers to the lightness or darkness of a color. It is often related to a gray scale where white is the lightest value followed by a series of grays to black, the darkest value.

Intensity: refers to the purity or impurity of a hue. The more pure hue a given color contains, the more intense it is. Opposing terms used to describe this contrast are intense vs. gray, saturated vs. desaturated or bright vs. dull.

Primary Colors: Red, yellow, and blue. With these three colors (as well as black and white) all other colors can be made. Mixing other colors cannot make the primary colors themselves.

Contrast: The function of contrast in defining meaning can be explained by comparing fundamental opposites: dark/light, soft/hard, fast/slow. Examples like these are useful because everyone understands the extremes they imply, but while there are extremes, there are no absolutes. The values are merely relative.

OK, now that you’re familiar with color terminology, let’s dive in! Combining the right colors will give power to your brand identity, but beware of choosing the wrong colors for the wrong purpose. Always try to stick with no more than three colors to ensure your brand won’t get lost in the rainbow. Remember the old Apple logo from last week’s post? Ask yourself what is the purpose of the colors you are using.  Are they going to complement each other?  Is the combination going to be monochromatic or analogues? Just because you are using multiple colors doesn’t mean the combinations have to be over the top. As I mentioned last week, the most successful logos are the most simplistic.

Let’s look at the logo for Visa, which uses a complementary color palette. Blue is often used in the financial industry but the orange/yellow gives it a touch of flare that makes the logo interesting. Both colors create a strong contrast but do not compete for attention. This is a great example of a straightforward complementary combination

But we all know rules are meant to be broken.   You don’t have to use the combinations of the color wheel religiously, it is meant to be used as a guide. FED EX gave the analogues combination a twist with their logo. Breaking away from the standard office and shipping industry colors, (i.e. blues and reds) Fed Ex used an analogues/triad relationship for their purple and orange palette. The colors still work well together and support the brand. The company achieved instant recognition for their bold and out of the box combination.

Color is a valuable tool that will take your brand identity to the next level. If used correctly, color can help you create a logo that evokes your client’s message in an instant. Remember, always begin by turning to your color wheel for any color-related questions and then create your own combinations based on it. And always keep in mind the contrast and tone in your palette to avoid boring or muddy colors. If you’re ever stuck for a color palette, just look around you and you’ll find a world of combinations.

What’s the correct color combination for your industry?

There is so much more to color theory that it’s impossible to write it all in one blog post. So come back next week and read more about individual colors and how they influence people.  In the mean time, go sit in a park and admire the different color combinations nature has to offer.

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