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