As a young girl I used to watch with awe as my father squeezed his paints into his palette in preparation for a painting. For me, color is personal, exotic, beautiful, even sexy. I used to write down the names of colors like they were  lovers — alizarin, cobalt, cadmium, titanium. I love color.

Color has been an integral part of my creativity and one of the first things I consider in any design. So what color exactly and why is it important?

The basics.

There are two core forms of color — color from light and color from pigment. Color from light is in the form of the spectrum.


Colors from pigment are base represented by the color wheel.


The color wheel has 12 segments that consist of primary, secondary and tertiary hues, or colors.

Primary colors are red, yellow and blue. They are considered pure colors because they are not a result of mixing any colors. they are also the strongest, most visually impactful colors to use. That is why almost all products (toys, books, etc.) use primary colors.


Secondary colors are orange, violet/purple, and green. They are created by mixing equal parts of the primary colors they fall in between.

Tertiary colors are more subtle colors that are achieved ?by mixing a primary and a secondary color.


When a secondary color is paired in a design with a primary color that it contains, such as orange with red or yellow, the result is a potent, harmonious combination where both colors enhance each other. These colors are called analogous colors and sit next to one another on the color wheel.


However, when a secondary color is paired in a design with a primary it does not contain (ie., that primary color was not mixed to create the secondary one) then the result is disharmonious, such as orange with blue. These colors are called complementary colors: orange/blue, violet/yellow, green/red  and are diagonally opposite one another on the color wheel. Complementary colors should be paired with caution since the colors “fight”each other and if used in digital design they will visually vibrate, tiring the eyes.


A few more important color terms to know:

  • Value: the lightness or darkness of a color, or the relative amount (percentage) of white or black in a hue.
  • Luminosity, or Lightness: A measure of the amount of light reflected from a hue. Those hues with a high content of white have a higher luminance, or value.
  • Tints: when you add white to any color the result is a lighter value of that color, or a tint
  • Shades: when you add black or gray to any color the result is a darker value of that color, or a shade
  • Saturation: The degree of purity of a hue.
  • Intensity: The brightness or dullness of a hue. Intensity maybe lowered by adding white or black.
  • A full glossary of color terms available here.

In future writings I will explore more specifically the use of color in different media: print, digital, etc; color symbolism in different culture; and ways to create a color palette for a design.

Further reading:


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3 Comments on “Introduction to Color”

  1. They are the same thing just different names. Tertiary = Intermediate — both involve the mixing of a primary with a secondary color

  2. Pingback: Logo Design Process | Design Intense

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