A Brief History Of The Color Wheel

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In 1666 the first color wheel was invented in by Sir Isaac Newton best known for his theories on gravity, motion, and light. (His theories on light are detailed in his seminal volume Optiks). Newton used a triangular prism to split a beam of white into a rainbow, proving that light is composed of a spectrum of hues – ROYGBIV. When he wrote down the different hues he made an influential decision to create a circle by connecting the opposite ends of the spectrum red and violet. (Unsurprisingly, if you spin the color wheel quickly, you’ll see white as the colors blend together.) Newton believed colors shared harmonious relationships with one another and went so far as to assign musical notes to each hue. Within this color wheel he rotated geometric shapes to identify different types of relationships.

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Runge

In 1807 painter Philip Otto Runge reimagined the color wheel as a color sphere by painting a color globe using three primaries plus black and white, complete with cross-sectioning.

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Munsell

In 1989 Albert Henry Munsell created a three-dimensional model of color in the form of a central cylinder graded from black to white surrounded by a ring of possible hues.

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Adobe

Adobe’s Color Wheel (Window > Color), one of the most used color wheels today, advances this tradition by refining the arrangement of complementary hues from subtractive (pigment or dye) to additive (light) ones, making color theory more precise. While sadly it does not offer a three-dimensional model, it offers other two dimensional graphs, including its classic square that plots all permutations lightness and saturation of a single hue plus a side-by-side rainbow slider to change the hue and gives numerical values for a given hue in four different color spaces – HSB, LAB, RGB, and CMYK.

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Chromix ColorThink

You can find virtual 3D color wheels in programs like Apple’s Color Sync which is designed to show and compare the shape of different color spaces or in Chromix’s Color which can also plot an image within the virtual volume. These models are even more informative because they show that color is not spherical but shaped more like a teardrop. One day we may be able to plot various shapes within them to design new color relationships and to more precisely identify the color relationships within existing images.

Follow up with Why Painters’ And Photographers’ Color Wheels Differ.

Read more in my Color Theory resources.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

All The Words Of The Rainbow

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The language used to describe color has a long storied history; sometimes tied to association, sometimes tied to manufacture, sometimes tied to marketing. What it lacks in precision it makes up for in expression. You’ll enjoy exploring this collection if you’re trying to find out what color a word refers to or if you’re looking for the right word to describe a color.

Red

apple, beet, blooming, brick, blood, blush, burgundy, burning, carmine, cerise, cinnabar, claret, cherry, cochineal, coral, crimson, damask, fire engine, fire hydrant, flame, florid, fox, garnet, glowing, gules, lipstick, madder, maroon, pink, poppy, rose, rouge, rubicund, ruby, rufous, rust, russet, sanguine, scarlet, strawberry, tomato, vermillion, wine

Pink

amaranth, blush, bubblegum, carnation, champagne, coral, crepe, flamingo, flesh, fuscia, hot, lemonade, lipstick, mary kay, neon, peach, powder, puce, punch, rose, salmon, taffy, tickle me, watermelon

Orange

apricot, basketball, burnt, cantaloupe, carrot, chanterelle, chestnut, citrus, copper, coral, creamsicle, flaming, fiery, ginger, gold, marmalade, merigold, minium, monarch, neopolitan, orangatan, papaya, peach, pumpkin, salmon, salamander, sandstone, sherbert, soda, starfish, straw, sunflower, sunrise, squash, tangerine, tiger, yam

Yellow

amber, banana, blonde, ash blonde, bottle blonde, strawberry blonde, bumblebee, butter, buttermilk, butterscotch, canary, corn, cream, daffodil, dijon, egg nog, flaxen, gamboge, golden, goldenrod, honey, imperial, indian, lemon, macaroon, medallion, mustard, naples, neon, ocher, orpiment, parmesan, pineapple, pollen, sandy, saffron, straw, topaz, tow-colored, tuscan, wheaten

Green

absinthe, acid, apple, army, artichoke, avocado, aquamarine, basil, bosky, bottle, celadon, chartreuse, clover, copper, crocodile, fern, grass, emerald, evergreen, fir, forest, grass, jade, jungle, juniper, kale, kelly, leaf, lime, lincoln, lush, malachite, mint, moss, neon, olive, parakeet, pea, pear, pickle, pine, sage, sap, sea, seafoam, seaweed, shamrock, spinach, spring, terre verte, verdant, verdigris, vert, viridian

Blue

admiral, agean, arctic, antarctic, aquamarine, azure, baby, berry, beryl, bice, bright, beryl, cambridge, cerulean, cobalt, copenhagen, cornflower, cupreous, cyan, cyanotype, deep, denim, egyptian, electrix, erubescent, frost, ice, incarnadine, indigo, kyanite, lapis lazuli, midnight, navy, opal, oxford, peacock, persian, prussian, robin’s egg, royal, sapphire, saxe, sea, slate, sky, spruce, steel, teal, titian, turkish, turquoise, ultramarine, vivid

Indigo

azure, blueberry, deep, glastum, indigotin, midnight, navy, prussian, ultramarine, woad, zaffre

Violet

amaranthine, amethyst, archil, berry, boysenberry, eggplant, grape, heather, heliotrope, iris, jam, lavender, lilac, mauve, magenta, mulberry, orchid, periwinkle, perse, plum, pomegranite, purple, raisin, royal, sangria, violet, violaceous, wine

Brown

allspice, auburn, bay, bran, beige, biscuit, bister, bottle, brick, brindle, bronze, brunette, buff, burnt sienna, burnt umber, cafe au lait, camel, caramel, carob, cayenne, cedar, chestnut, chocolate, cider, cinnamon, cocoa, coffee, copper, drab, dun, dust, ecru, espresso, fallow, fawn, ginger, gingerbread, granola, greige, hazel, henna, hickory, kasha, khaki, leather, liver, madiera, mahogany, mocha, mousy, mud, mushroom, nut, nutmeg, oak, oatmeal, ochre, peanut, pecan, penny, puce, russet, rust, saddle, sallow, sand, sepia, sorrel, spice, tan, taupe, tawny, terra-cotta, toast, tortilla, umber, wheaten, whey, wood

White

alabaster, albino, allysum, antique, ash, bone, bleach, bright, brilliant, chalk, chantilly, chiffon, cloud, coconut, cotton, daisy, dove, eggshell, gesso, ghost, putty, hoary, isabelline, ivory, lead, lace, lily, linen, lucent, milk, mother of pearl, parchment, pearl, porcelain, powder, pure, rice, salt, snow, swan, star, titanium, vanilla, whisper, winter

Gray

aluminum, argentine, ash, cinereal, charcoal, cloud, coin, cool, cove, clam, dolphin, dove, dusky, elephant, fog, fossil, frost, graphite, grizzled, gunmetal, gunpowder, harbor, hippopotamus, hoary, lead, iron, metal, mouse, neutral, nickle, oyster, payne’s, pearl, pebble, peppery, pewter, platinum, pigeon, powder, rhino, rice, sere, silver, tin, sidewalk, slate, smoke, squirrel, steel, stone, thunder, warm

Black

atramentous, calciginous, charcoal, coal, crepuscular, crow, dusky, ebony, flint, grease, ink, kohl, lamp, lava, jet, leather, mars, melanoid, metal, midnight, obsidian, oil, onyx, piceous, pitch, raven, sable, slate, soot, spider, stygian, tartarean, tenebrous

Contrast this with the simple and precise numerical language of HSL.

Read more in my Color Theory resources.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

How To Find The Infinite Possibilities One Image Contains

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Any image can support an unimaginable number of color variations. So how do you find them? Systematically make many variations. Will it take a great deal of time? It will take a little time but not a lot (maybe five or ten minutes) – and it will take less time and you’ll more thoroughly explore the possibilities if you do this systematically. You’ll find this exploration will be time very well spent. Illuminating more possibilities than you imagined will help you find more creative and personally fulfilling solutions for your images. You’ll deepen your understanding of and personal relationship with color thus your images and by extension yourself. Those who view your works will feel the difference. I can tell you from many years of personal experience that it has made all the difference in the world to me. It will do the same for you.

Before you begin …

Start With Your Strongest Image(s)

When you’re processing a number of related images it’s likely that you’ll find the solutions you choose for the strongest image in the set will apply to the others, with minor modifications. It’s rare to have images in a series with widely divergent color palettes.

Plan To Make Many Copies

Don’t try and remember all of these possibilities; there will be too many to remember.

Instead make copies that you can make side-by-side comparisons with. (In Lightroom make virtual copies. Alternately, in Photoshop duplicate files.) It will help if you organize these copies into Collections in Lightroom or organize them (possibly with folders) in Bridge/Photoshop.

Find The Big Picture, Sweat The Details Later

Ditch your perfectionist tendencies – for now. Worry more about the moves you’re making in color that the tools you’re using to make them with. Don’t get lost in the details, instead focus on the big picture. Avoid getting distracted by one exciting possibility.  Instead of rushing to finished results and committing to the most obvious solution too quickly, spend a few minutes exploring more possibilities hoping to find better solutions. More often than not, you will.

So what’s the best way to do this?

Proceed In This Order – Saturation, Luminosity, Hue

With only three elements of color, you wouldn’t think there could be so many possibilities, but the very things that generate them also make finding them manageable. You’ll quickly find the major moves that can be made if you make changes in these three elements in this order – saturation, luminosity, and hue.

Read More

The Best Strategy For Creating Successful Color Palettes

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The vast majority of resources you’ll find for creating successful color palettes, whether in print or online, will catalog a great number of compelling color combinations with some rhyme but little reason. When you look at them, not understanding the logic behind their choices, it’s tempting to think that anything goes. (And it might in certain contexts and for the specific reasons. But which ones?) Sometimes they drift into color psychology but quickly become so subjective they lose all sense of objectivity or universality. The best of them identify visual dynamics that you can use to exert some influence over the direction takes in and gives to your images.

What I’m offering you here is different. This is a strategy. Not a rule but a principle.

It can be boiled down to one sentence, “Make one element of color dominant by putting more contrast in it.”

With only three elements of color, this rubric offers you three main palettes that you can draw endless permutations from plus two notable exceptions.

When you reflect on your choice of palette, you’ll gain insights into the themes contained of your images.

Before I detail these five palettes …

It helps to understand some of the dynamics of color. Good things come in threes; there are three types of color, three elements of color, and three kinds of contrast.

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3 Types Of Color

There are three types of color – ideal, ambient, and synthetic.


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How To Increase Hue Contrast In Your Images With Lab Color Mode

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Instead of RGB, you can use Lab color mode to increase hue contrast in your images in powerful ways that no other color space offers.

How do you do it?

In Lab color mode use Curves to accentuate contrast by creating s or reverse s curves for the a and b but not the L channels without moving the midpoint.

It’s that simple. (Yes, I promise I’ll expand on this.)

However, when you use this technique there are many details that it pays to be aware of.

When To Use It

While this technique can be used on any image, it’s particularly useful when you are processing files that are predominantly one color – forest greens, oceanic blues, sandstone reds, etc. The resulting hue contrast gives these images more life by making subtle variations in hue more pronounced and more three dimensional by accentuating the differences in hue between highlights and shadows.

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Lab a and b channels adjusted

Comparing It To Similar Techniques

This technique is similar to split-toning or cross-toning images, introducing one color into the highlights and another into the shadows, except that the hues are the captured colors accentuated rather than colors that are arbitrarily added. (For this reason this technique won’t work with black-and-white images.)

This technique is similar to increasing saturation or vibrance, which also makes different hues more pronounced but sometimes intensifies them to the point of making them appear unnatural. By comparison the modest increase in saturation boosting hue contrast in Lab produces is surprisingly naturalistic – and you may choose to keep it or not.

To the untrained eye the differences between this technique and others may seem subtle but once you train your eye you’ll appreciate the color richness it offers; they can approximate but never equal it. It’s like comparing the sound qualities of low and high fidelity audio recordings. Lab offers hi-fi color.

What The Heck Is Lab Anyway ?


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Mastering Color Management

Download your free copy now!

 

 

Use color management to make better files and insure others see them in their best light.

 

1. 6 Simple Steps to Good Color Management
Take these simple steps to get consistent high quality color.

2. Step 1 – Using ICC Profiles 
Assign ICC profiles to make color consistent and predictable.

3. Step 2 – Profile Your Monitor
Calibrate your monitor with hardware.

4. Step 3 – Photoshop Color Settings
Set good Photoshop Color Settings in seconds.

5. Step 4 – Softproof
Preview how your print will look before printing it.

6. Step 5 – Navigate Your Printer Driver
Set good color management policies in your printer driver.

7. Step 6 – Control Your Environment
Use good quality light in neutral environments to evaluated your images.

8. Profile Your Printer
Better printer profiles help make better prints.

9. Editing Spaces Compared
From small to large, standard RGB editing spaces including sRGB, Adobe RGB (1998), and ProPhoto.

10. Choose A Wide Gamut Editing Space
Choose a wide gamut editing space to make the best prints possible.

11. 16-Bit (Adobe Photoshop Master Class)
Thousands of shades of gray reduce posterization.

12. What to Do with Color Management Dialogs 
Know what to do with the color management dialog boxes you encounter.

13. The Difference Between Converting Versus Assigning With Color Profiles 
Understand the difference between assigning and converting to a profile.

14. Rendering Intents Compared 
Perceptual, Relative Colorimetric, Absolute Colorimetric, Saturation.

15. Where to Put ICC Profiles 
ICC profiles need to be filed in the correct location on your computer.

16. Test files 
Find out more about what to test.

17. X-Rite’s Color Checker Passport Camera Profiles 
X-Rites’ Color Checker Passport can be used to quickly deliver more accurate color in a variety of ways.

18. Managing Camera Profiles 
If you make camera profiles customized for your camera, sooner or later you’re going to want to rename or delete a few.

19. Chromix Colorthink
Colorthink graphs ICC profiles for visual comparison and contrast.

20. Solux Lighting
Choose full spectrum lighting with an appropriate brightness and temperature.

 

View videos on using X-Rite’s color management solutions here.

 

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Explore The Power Of Color Psychology