Color Theory

Color is everywhere! The way we perceive color can affect our emotions and impact our mood. Color has the ability to soothe and also to stimulate us. New technologies and products have made color more accessible, usable, and affordable to the general public and business. Color can also solve a variety of design challenges. Use the powerful tool of color to greatly enhance your communication.

Color Space Fundamentals

Computer monitors emit color as RGB (red, green, blue) light. Although all colors of the visible spectrum can be produced by merging red, green and blue light, monitors are capable of displaying only a limited gamut (i.e., range) of the visible spectrum. Whereas monitors emit light, inked paper absorbs or reflects specific wavelengths, cyan, magenta and yellow pigments serve as filters, subtracting varying degrees of red, green and blue from white light to produce a selective gamut of spectral colors. Like monitors, printing inks also produce a color gamut that is only a subset of the visible spectrum, although the range is not the same for both. Consequently, the same art displayed on a computer monitor may not match to that printed in a publication. Also, because printing processes such as offset lithography use CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) inks, digital art must be converted to CMYK color for print.

Many printers now prefer digital art files to be supplied in the RGB color space with ICC profiles attached. Images can then be converted to the CMYK color space by the printer using color management methods that honor profiles if present; this helps preserve the best possible detail and vibrancy.

RGBCMYK

  • (Red, Green and Blue) These are the primary colors of light, which computers use to display images on your screen. An RGB computer file must be translated into the CMYK (the primary colors of pigment) color space in order to be printed on a printing press.
  • (Cyan Magenta Yellow blacK) The color space used for commercial printing and most color computer printers. In theory, cyan, magenta and yellow (CMY) can print all colors, but inks are not pure and black comes out muddy. The black ink (K) is required for quality printing.

Color, Contrast & White Space

Important considerations when designing an effective sign and communicating your message:

  • There are certain color combinations that are more legible than others. However, the shade of the color is important, too. The most easily read combinations are black, dark blue or red text on a yellow or white background.  (see chart below)*
  • Contrast is the difference between the light and dark areas on your sign. Positive contrast (light border or text on a dark background) is easier to read than negative contrast (dark border or text on a light background).
  • Maintain white space. An industry guideline is 30%-40% of the sign area should be blank space. Too much clutter distracts potential customers.

Color-Combo-Chart


Did You Know?
  8% of U.S. males are color-blind. It’s important to use color combinations that retain contrast when viewed by color-blind people. Blue and yellow, for example, are a good combination, but blue-green or aqua on white or gray are difficult combinations for a color blind person to read.

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