Colour theories, models, spaces and management systems

About colour theories, models, spaces and management systems

Colour theory, colour models, colour spaces, and colour management systems are integral to understanding, representing, and manipulating colour in various fields.

Colour Theory
  • A colour theory is a set of principles and concepts used to understand how colour works, how colours relate to each other, and how they are perceived or interpreted by the human eye. A colour theory allows us to predict in advance how colour behaves in practice.
Colour Model
  • A colour model is a practical application of colour theory. In both industrial and design contexts a colour model is and mathematical representation or system for creating a full range of colours using a set of primary colours. Examples include the RGB (Red, Green, Blue) model for light-based colours and the CMY (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow) model for pigment-based colours. The choice of a colour model depends on the medium (light, paint, ink, etc.) and the application (canvas, monitor, printer, etc.).
Colour Space
  • A colour space is a specific organization of colours derived from a colour model. It can be used to define a gamut or subset of colours that can then be successfully applied within a particular context or for a specific purpose. Examples of colour spaces used in digital design include sRGB and Adobe RGB within the RGB model, each of which encompasses a different range of colours.
Colour Management System
  • These are systems or protocols designed to ensure consistent and accurate colour reproduction across different devices, media, and lighting conditions. They consider the specifications of the devices used to capture, edit, or display colour, as well as the lighting conditions in which colours are viewed.

In summary, a colour theory provides the underlying concepts, a colour model provides a framework to represent these concepts, a colour space defines a specific range of colours that can be generated within the parameters of the model, and a colour management system ensures consistency and accuracy in reproducing colours across different contexts and devices.

Colour theory

About colour theory

Colour theories underpin colour management by seeking to explain how human beings perceive colour and establish the rational basis for practical how-to methods for managing colour in different situations.

A system of colour management may be associated with:

Colour theory and human perception

The aspect of colour theory concerned with the human perception of colour aims to answer questions about:

  • How our eyes register colour when exposed to light.
  • The way our eyes and brains work together to produce the complex colour perceptions that make up the visible world.
  • The part of the electromagnetic spectrum that is related to colour and how our eyes respond to different wavelengths of light.
  • The fact that red, green and blue lights combined in different proportions can produce the impression of all the colours of the visible spectrum.
  • The way colours appear in different situations such as in low or bright light and under artificial lighting.
  • Human responses to different combinations of colour such as analogous, complementary and contrasting colours.
  • The differences between the scientific, technical and creative understandings and descriptions of colour.
  • Understanding the differences between:
    • The way our eyes see colour
    • Light and colour in the world around us
    • The colour of opaque objects and surfaces
    • The colour of transparent media
    • Colour on TVs, computers and phone screens
    • Colour in printed images
Colour theory and colour management

The aspect of colour theory concerned with how-to methods for managing colour in different situations aims to answer questions about:

  • The differences between mixing coloured lights, pigment or inks.
  • Mixing and managing ranges (gamuts) of colours in logical, predictable and repeatable ways.
  • Identifying and mixing particular colours in predictable and repeatable ways.
  • Specifying colours using names, codes, notation, equations etc.
  • The difference between additive and subtractive colour mixing.
  • Systems and rules for mixing different and applying them to different materials such as fabrics, interiors and vehicles.
  • Creating colour palettes, gamuts and colour guides.
  • Managing the consistent reproduction of digital colour from start to finish.
Where to find colour theories