Color Tips

Read these 25 Color Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Graphic Design tips and hundreds of other topics.

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How do I produce neutral colors with light?

Making Light of Neutrals

Neutrals are produced in the Additive Color System by mixing red, blue and green light. Equal amounts of these three colors produce white light. Grays and blacks are produced by equal amounts of red, green and blue light of different levels of intensity. Less intensity of these three colors produces a neutral with less lightness.

   
What are warm colors?

Warm Colors

Warm colors are those colors on the color wheel which "seem" warm. If you think of the color of the sun, reds and oranges and yellows, then you are thinking warm. On the color wheel, these colors range from Red-Violet through to Yellow.

   
What are the primary colors?

The Primary List

Red, blue and yellow are the three primary colors on the color wheel. Red is at 12:00, yellow is at 4:00 and blue is at 8:00. Red and yellow are considered "warm" colors, and blue is considered "cool."

The light primaries for the additive color system are red, blue and green.

   
How can I match print and web colors?

In a Dither?

If you're fried on trying to match colors from a company brochure to the company web site, you might try dithering two to three web colors to accomplish your task. One of the best tools on the Internet to help you with this is at Colormix. Here you can pick a color by sample or RGB and dither one or two web-safe colors to get a match. You can register to save your samples, also.

   
How do I define black?

What is Black?

Black is a color without hue, with zero saturation and of very low value (lightness).

In all graphic work, it is important to remember that black is a color. The black may be termed "pitch" black, to denote the lowest value, saturation and hue, yet when placed on colored paper in certain printing processes, black can take on warm or cool tones.

   
What is a tetrad split complementary color scheme?

Tetrad Split Complementary

Four colors. The set is made of two pairs; each pair is opposite each other, as in a complementary color scheme. The two pairs are just one color apart on the color wheel. To be simplistic, you are using two complementary color schemes that are just one color apart at each end and crossed in the middle as you would an "x."

   
How do I create a triadic color scheme?

Triadic Color Scheme

Three colors evenly spaced to form a triangle on your color wheel is a triadic color scheme. There are four groups to use: R-Y-B, O-R-V, RO-YG-BV and YO-BG-RV. Use these color combinations to create designs that will "vibrate." Use them with balance and simplicity for poster design.

   
How do I make web-safe colors?

Web-Safe Color

At the moment, the only way you can safely see colors you want across all platforms of browsers is to use any of the 216 "Web-Safe" colors. This term denotes the colors within a hexidecimal formula, which is called "RGB" for red, green and blue. The easiest way for me to remember the colors is to mix two of any of these two-number/letter combinations together:

00, 33, 66, 99, CC, FF

So, for black, you would use "#000000"; There is no RGB (red, green, blue). For a dark blue, you would use "#000033".

   
How do I design color in my graphics in advance?

Forecasting Color

Do you need a crystal ball for color forecasting? No - all you need are some great links and some wonderful networking. If you`re preparing material in February for "back to school" promotions in August and September, then take a look at the colors predicted for next years' themes. You`ll be noticed as "hip," "forward-thinking" and "astute!"

   
How do I get a purple light?

Where's The Purple?

If you mix unequal amounts of red, blue and green light, you begin to develop the secondary and tertiary colors.

If you take three flashlights, one with green light, one with blue light and one with red light and shine them on the wall, you get white light. If the red and blue flashlight are stronger than the green flashlight, you will get a purple light.

   
How do I mix primary colors to get white?

Additive Primaries

The three LIGHT primaries of red, blue and green are defined as primaries only when using the Additive Color System. If you shine three flashlights, one red, one blue and one green, on a wall, you will get a white light on the wall. This is only if you use an EQUAL amount of each color.

The opposite is also true. Newton proved this with his prism: When you take white light from the sun, flourescent light or tungsten, the white light will separate as a rainbow - with the light primary colors being red, green and blue.

   
How do I create secondary colors?

Secondary Color Formulas

The three secondary colors are orange, green and violet. The formula for mixing is P + P = S, or primary + primary = secondary. Green and violet are considered "cool" colors and orange is considered "warm."

   
How do I use a "hue" in my artwork?

Hue

When people talk about the color of something, they are talking about the hue. In the graphic arts, hues can be placed into two categories: warm hues and cool hues. Warm hues most often consist of reds, yellows and oranges. Cool hues are primarily blues, greens and violets. Create a mood by using a warm or cool color for the majority of your piece, and place a small amount of the opposite hue for contrast and/or a perception of depth.

   
What are cool colors?

Cool Colors

Cool colors are those colors on the color wheel which "seem" cool. If you think of the color of ice on water or winter skies, then you are thinking cool. On the color wheel, these colors range from Yellow-Green through to Violet.

   
How do I produce non-neutral colors with light?

When is it not a neutral?

In the Additive Color System, you get neutrals by mixing equal parts of red, blue and green light. When you apply unequal amounts of red, blue and green light, you produce colors other than white, grays and black. You cannot produce neutrals with just two of the light primaries, either.

   
How do I make tertiary colors?

The Formulas

The six intermediate color formulas are P + S = I, or primary plus a secondary color to equal intermediate colors in the additive color system:
Red + orange = red-orange
Yellow + orange = yellow-orange
Blue + violet = blue-violet
Yellow + green = yellow-green
Blue + green = blue-green
Red + violet = red-violet

   
How do I find out about saturation in color?

Direction from Hue

No, this is not a movie set tutorial - The neutral is considered the center of the color wheel. A hue (color) gets its relative direction from the neutral. For example, some red apples are redder than other red apples. The less red the apple, the closer it is to the neutral (gray, white or black) in the color wheel.

This position is called "saturation." The redder the apple, the more saturated it is.

   
How do I find out about additive color?

Additive Color

In order to see the colors as they are represented on the color wheel, they need to be presented in white light. This light can be the sun, tungsten light or flourescent light.

When you mix red, green and blue light phosphers, this produces a white light. You can see this in a TV screen and the same principle applies to theatre lighting and to the web. This is called the Additive Color System.

   
How do I use an analogous color scheme?

Analogous Scheme

When you use three colors next to each other on the color wheel with a family resemblence (orange, red-orange and red, for example), you are using an analogous color scheme. Try using the orange through red scheme on a color wheel on green paper or background for a high contrast effect.

   
How do I use a monochromatic color scheme?

Monochromatic Color Scheme

Use a monochromatic color scheme in your design or within a web layout to create a feeling of unity throughout your message. A monochromatic color scheme uses different values of the same color by applying white, gray or black to the original color. For instance, if you use a red for the primary color, you have the tonal range from a warm black to a pink to use throughout your piece. You might maximize the effect by using only three tonal values throughout the design.

   
How do I find out what a neutral color is?

Value in Neutrals

White, achromatic grays and black are neutral colors. The only difference in their "rank" is in the value of the hues. The next step up from neutrals are the primary colors.

   
What is a split complementary color scheme?

Split Complementary

Three colors. The split complementary color scheme is one color and the two neighbors of that color's complement. If you choose red, the other two colors would be Yellow-Green and Blue-Green.

   
How do I get the secondary colors of cyan and magenta?

Additive Secondaries

Taking the light Additive Color System, when you mix the light primaries of blue and green, you get Cyan. This is, obviously, a blue-green color.

When you mix the light primaries of red and blue, the result is Magenta. This is a bluish-red.

The third light secondary is yellow. This secondary is developed when red light and green light are mixed together.

   
How do I achieve a level of brightness in my artwork?

Saturation of Color

Saturation is the intensity of a color. This intensity is achieved by adding grays. A color with less gray is considered to be highly saturated, whereas a color with more gray is less saturated. Saturation does not affect the hue - or color - of your work. The grayed red is still red. Nor does it affect the value. Unless you take away all color, the tonal values remain unaffected.

Use less saturated images to denote a restful, peaceful mood. Highly saturated images place with grayed images provide high contrast. Try your work with various levels of saturation to see how they affect your work.

   
How do I use a complementary color scheme?

Complementary Color Scheme

When you apply two colors opposite each other on the color wheel, you are using a complementary color scheme. Often, what you end up with is a warm and cool color, which is ideal for contrast. Use this to your advantage when you're designing for a client with a tight budget.

   
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