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Color Relationships

Lesson 24 from: Graphic Design Fundamentals

Timothy Samara

Color Relationships

Lesson 24 from: Graphic Design Fundamentals

Timothy Samara

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Lesson Info

24. Color Relationships

Lesson Info

Color Relationships

So it's these kinds of inter-relationships that we have to be able to think about and understand how they work. So that we can choose to create clear relationships between the colors. And finding relationships between hue and saturation, and value and temperature. It's really kind of the first step of defining a pallette. So first we wanna go take a look at how colors are related to each other. And this is a model for that sort of overall relationship, a model of the relationship of the hues and their wavelengths in the spectrum. Rather than being represented as a linear horizontal line, the visible spectrum in this model designed by Albert Munsell in the 1890s, has been wrapped in on itself. As there is correspondence in how some of the wavelengths of the secondary colors between the primaries red and yellow affect similar and different rods and cones. So by creating this wheel, it creates a kind of a circle of sort of interdependent relationships that is very, very helpful to underst...

and. So you have over here on the color wheel the warmer hues, over here the cooler hues. So generally coolness is defined by a component of blue in the hue, and warmth is defined by a component of yellow and red and the hue. As they intermix, the temperature shifts also kind of in between. The color wheel is actually a kind of a cylinder in real life, if there is such a thing for diagrams. In that what you're really looking at here is a kind of a cross section of a cylinder on top. And the cylinder as seen from the side if you were to take slices, you'd be looking at a relationship of each of the hues. And we're looking at kind of this cross cut here, from, if you turn this this way from the side, is that the color wheel, or the color cylinder also maps a value relationship that is at the bottom the deepest value of those colors across from each other. And at the top the lightest value, eventually approaching white, which is invisible against a white page. And then from the center, it maps saturation. With complete de-saturation or absolute neutrality of a color, or grayness at the center, with absolute and pure saturation or intensity at the outer edges. There are two overall kinds of systems of color that you have to be kind of aware of, depending on what medium you're working with. If you're working with light on a screen or with projection what you're dealing with is something that's called the additive color model. And that is that the colors, the wavelengths of colors as they aggregate and build up on each other, eventually result in the perception of pure white light. The opposite of that is the color model upon which inks or pigments or paints are based, it's a chemical model, rather than a light based model. And that's the subtractive color model. And in that model, which is what you have to think about when you're dealing with print, because print uses inks on top of each other much like paint, is that as you're adding the reflective quality of colors in layers on top of each other, is that eventually as they aggregate, you'll lose any reflected light and you will achieve black, the absence of color. Just so you know, fun facts. So these are kind of the relationships. And we're gonna talk about each of the main attributes and relationships that are kind of attendant to them. So first there are relationships between hues that you can establish. And there are three basic kinds. The first is the analogous relationship, analogous means similar, and that refers to a relationship between colors that are directly next to each other on the color wheel. And you can get kind of a range in between. The next relationship is that of the compliment, or the complimentary relationship. And that exists between colors that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel. The thing about complimentary colors is that because they are at those particular wavelengths, and sort of diametrically opposed to each other on the wheel, is that they cancel each other out when they are mixed together in even amounts. And so in, if you were looking at a light based model or an additive model, seeing red and green light simultaneously, you would see white light. In a subtractive model that is ink or paint, by mixing them together you get in theory, a true neutral gray. But the chemical components of inks and pigments will generally yield kind of a muddy brown-gray. And last is the triadic relationship. And that is also referred to as split-compliment, beginning again with the green that we use to establish a complementary relationship with red. The split-compliment, or the color triad of green, involves colors that are at 120 degrees from each other, that is from the true compliment outward to the secondaries. Which can create a very, very interesting color pallette all by itself. This is probably not an organization of colors that you or many people often choose on a regular basis. But it is an interesting place to look, particularly for that reason. Now there is something about these two that's very important, the complimentary relationship is the most powerful and most dynamic optical relationship that you can achieve with color. And it's often a really good place to start when you're trying to define a palette, because essentially what's happening is is that you're getting in color terms, the same kind of powerful, visual contrast that you get between black and white. Except that in this case it has to deal with, it has to do with light, with hue. So what happens is that the wavelengths of compliments of any pair actually fire off opposing cones and rods in the optical system, and as a result of seeing one compliment, the brain tires very, very quickly of seeing that particular color, and then will automatically fire off the opposing rods or cones in order to compensate for the intensity of that color experience. And you will see kind of a phantom image of the first seen color's compliment. So whenever you're looking at green, you're actually also trying to see red, or your brain is trying to make you see red. Which causes that green then to become much more intense, and you become aware of that kind of activity. Not in a kind of an intellectual sense, but your brain feels that kind of tension between them. You have a question. So do complimentary colors each come in the same value? Like would a green and a red, is there some value that are the same, or is that more powerful to use the same value or not? That's an excellent question that we are going to talk about more, but I will answer it now. So in their pure form, the compliments are likely to have different intrinsic values, so one is always going to be lighter or darker. And the exception there is the red/green complimentary pair. Red and green share the same value. If you put a pure primary red and a pure secondary green next to each other, you take a black and white photograph, you're gonna get a gray rectangle. Odd things happen, is that the optical intensity of, that's produced by the complimentaries in juxtaposition, actually intensifies when the value of those compliments is altered to make them the same, which we're gonna see in a minute. The last kind of relationship between hues is that of extension, which is about the relative volume of each one. And how much of one hue your eye requires compared to another in order to feel like neither color is dominant over the other one. That each one is kind of balancing the other one out. Which is kind of a weird thing to think about. And it really depends on how far away the colors are from each other on the color wheel. And we're looking here at two sets of compliments. Again, the red/green, so the red/green, the extension of red and the extension of green required for these two compliments to appear in a kind of optical stasis in balance, where neither red nor green feels more present, feels more powerful, seems dominant over the other one, is about 50/50. When you get to the violet/yellow combination however, and these are also compliments because violet is directly opposite yellow on the color wheel; the intrinsic super-saturation of yellow, and the intrinsic as well as it's intrinsic high light value in comparison to the intrinsic lesser saturation of violet, and violet's intrinsic, natural deeper value, means that you actually need a lot more violet to compensate and balance out a smaller amount of yellow. But I also want to talk about here about simultaneous contrast, which is the, what happens... It's a change in the perception of color, or a perceived change in color when it confronts other kinds of colors. In particular, hues. So I'm not gonna deal with this for a very, very long time, but in looking at this same blue juxtaposed, or surrounded by a field of different kinds of colors, you're likely to be seeing that these blues actually look like they're different colors. And that is simply because the effect of the exterior color because of it's hue, because of it's wavelength, and it's relative relationship to that of the blue, in that it is surrounding, causes the blue to react in a different way. Our eyes to react to that blue in a much different way. And this kind of idea that one color can be changed, can contrast itself, depending on what it's surrounded by in different environments, is called simultaneous contrast, it exists as an attribute or relationship among all the primary attributes of color; hue, saturation, value, and temperature. So relationships of saturation also follow some similar kinds of terminology and thinking. Here's the analogous sort of relationship that is that all of these hues are about the same intensity. Even though they're different temperatures, and they're different values, none of them really is perceivably more saturated or less saturated than the others. Or their saturation levels are very, very close. This relationship of diametric opposition is really about extremes. That is, balancing super-saturation with it's de-saturated version. Or something that is so close to being a neutral gray, and yet is still recognizable as the same hue identity, that you get a very, very profound kind of intensity buildup on the left side. As you start to compare back and forth between the de-saturated version and the fully saturated version, is that the intensity, the saturation of the blue, will appear to increase, it's an illusion, and as a result of this color's de-saturation, it will actually start to color shift. It will start to appear warmer than it really is. Even though this is literally the same hue with simply black added and white added to it. That becomes even more intense, that relationship, when the two hues are the same value. And so here there's no value difference between these two versions of the same hue, this is the super de-saturated or neutralized version of this yellow-green. Is this yellow-green? Yes. And as you start to look at it, it'll start to warm up. It'll start to also become a little bit bluer, it'll start to cool off, sorry, a little bit bluer, and if this were to shift towards, because of the yellow component, which is very, very hot, the cooler this yellow-green gets, that is the more green it gets, the warmer this side would become. Next is extension, and the same way, the amount of two de-saturated colors that you need to balance each other out, is different than the amount that, of a de-saturated and super-saturated colors that you need to balance each other out. Which can be also a very, very interesting game to play. And then the split opposition is really kind of looking at the triad, again the split compliment of hues. And once the split compliments of the green, that is orange and violet have been defined, is then playing with the saturation level of those split compliment, or triadic elements against the saturated pure green. Here is another example of simultaneous contrast in which the intensity of the blue square in the center will appear to change. Relationships of value, again to follow a similar kind of situation. You can have a relationship which is progressive, that is in a pallette of colors, or a selection of colors, is that the colors are moving from one value state to another in, more or less, even steps. That is, from darker to light, or from light to dark with even changes in value between each. Analogous again, similarity in value. This is an extension, this is what would be called rhythmic extension, that is the values correspond to the amount of each color that is used to balance them out. That is, you have darker value elements that you need a lot more extension for, in order to balance out smaller amounts of lighter value elements. Is that lighter value colors always seem to require a lot more balancing out, it's that they're very, very strong, we perceive them as strong, very luminous. And this is what you were asking about earlier. So the complimentary relationship is very, very strong between red and green in particular, because there is no value distinction between them. And that becomes intensified when the values, as well as the saturation of the two swatches are adjusted. So as this color becomes less intense, the boundary... And more neutral, the boundary between the intense orange and the de-saturated orange will appear to actually blur, and sometimes vibrate. And what will also happen is as the more neutral this becomes in its saturation, you'll begin to see the compliment of orange, this will begin to take on the quality of blue. And again, simultaneous contrast among, in which the value of the central blue square appears to change. Most notably, you will perceive this as being very, very light, and this as being very, very dark, relative to the background. And yet they are mathematically the same color. Temperature relationships, again, the relationships between the relative warmth and coolness of colors. This is what we would call a closed relationship, that is, they are essentially slightly temperature shifted versions of the same hue. Analogous, in which there is an actual perceptible shift, whereas here we identify these all as blue, the temperature shift here actually leads us from one hue to another, but still very, very close in. So we would say that these are close enough to each other on the color wheel that their temperature is, we would say is similarly warm. On the other hand, you can also have a progressive relationship where the hues within the pallette actually transition from one state of temperature that is warmer, to another state which is cooler. By extension, the relative warmth or coolness of the hues in juxtaposition will require different volumes in order to balance each other out. And when you flip those relationships, you get some very different kinds of qualities. That here you'll begin to feel that the violet becomes a little bit more intense because there's less of it, and it's being kind of compressed by this amount of blue. So it will also take on the quality of being warmer than the violet that you see here, and these are in fact the same violet. This is the same blue. And as you see the blue compressed between the two swatches of violet, you are likely to perceive that this blue is actually becoming a little bit warmer, that there's a little bit of green in there also. And again, the simultaneous contrast this time using a green square, where not only the apparent value appears to change, but also the intensity and temperature. Color does things in space. And basically warm colors appear to advance towards us, towards you, and cool colors tend to appear as though they are receding in space. This is a very, very useful concept for applying color to graphical elements when you want to emphasize one, give it a warm hue, when you want to de-emphasize background, or push an element into the back, give it a cool hue. You can also reverse that, which becomes very interesting. Red actually appears stationary, and as though it is on the surface of whatever object or interface you're looking at. Which is referred to as the picture plane, that's the invisible membrane between your world and the world inside the designed object or image. Colors will appear to change their intensity and their value depending on how much of them there are, how much of the color is present, and how, on what kind of background it appears. So this is all the same orange, when you're looking at the line, because there's so little of it, there's so little color present in physical amount against a very stark, light value, ultimate bright value background, that the orange actually looks darker and less intense here than it does when it's reversed from a field of absolute black. As the amount of the color, or the weight of that line increases and more color is present, the shift in difference becomes less apparent. When the color is completely surrounded, you get also another kind of change. The orange square at the bottom is likely to appear larger in size than when it's set on a black background than when it's set on a white background. So as this color, in the same way that this is diminishing, that this is diminishing in intensity and also in value. It is, because it's against white, that optically affects our perception of the size of the element. So as it becomes, as it takes on the appearance of greater darkness, and less intensity, it optically will appear to shrink. In comparison to this one, which will begin to kind of expand in size.

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Ratings and Reviews


This is more about all of your courses - It would be really nice for instructors to answer questions during break times or even after the class. There a lot a fabulous questions that I see that never get answered. I would like to go back even the next day and see a short note for at least some of those questions. Just an idea to help out this wonderful format that you have going. I am sure to make use of the promote question when I see an interesting one.


I LOVED this class! I learned so much and since I had the foresight to purchase it, I can go back for a refresher anytime I want. Plus, the downloads are spectacular! Almost a book's worth and so helpful! Thank you Timothy, you are great teacher!

a Creativelive Student

This was an outstanding course, would love to see a more in depth typography course from this guy. I'm a proffesional photographer with a formal education in design, I hardly ever use it, so I forget things, this was great both as a review, and to pinpoint things I didn't know or thought I knew. thanks once again! well done!!

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