Adding Color in Product Design

Review of Color Theory

As discussed before in prior PIE Blogs, color is a function of light and the interaction between this light and the rods and cones in your eyes. Think about it: At night a red car will look gray, not red. Red paint in a closed paint can is actually black, because there is no light. So while not entirely subjective, color perception is heavily influenced by the individual.

In addition, women actually see color more accurately than men.

There are three primary-color-wheel models we should consider at this point. (Primary colors cannot be reduced to simpler colors.) For projected light (everything from theater spotlights to television and computer monitors), all color is created by combining red, green, and blue light in various percentages. For instance, red and green combine to make yellow. Blue and green make a light blue similar to cyan. Red and blue make a light purple similar to magenta. All three primary colors (red, green, and blue) make white. This pertains only to projected light (such as computer monitors). For these “transmissive” media, color mixing is called “additive color mixing.”

For paint, commercial printing ink, or any other reflective medium, the primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. All together these three “subtractive colors” make black (as opposed to the white that is the mixture of all additive, or light-based, colors). In this color realm, red and yellow make orange. Blue and yellow make green. Blue and red make purple (darker than the magenta of “additive color”).

In both color models, the mixtures of two primaries noted above are called secondary colors.

In Understanding Color: An Introduction for Designers, by Linda Holtzschue, the author actually addresses process color mixing separately (even though it is also a “subtractive-color” model). Cyan, magenta, and yellow ink combine to produce not black but a muddy brown, to which printers add a separate black (hence, CMYK or cyan, magenta, yellow, and black or “key”).

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