Understanding Colour


Jason Hotchkiss (pnutink)

Understanding colour theory and how colour can impact visually, culturally and emotively within a composition is key to successful graphic design.

I began my research by reading about additive and subtractive colour and looking at examples of the RGB, CMY and RYB primaries. I then collected examples of different colour wheels on a pinterest board….


Cameron Chapman for Smashing Magazine has written a series of three articles on colour theory for designers www.smashingmagazine.com which I found very useful as an introduction to psychological/cultural colour association, colour terminology and creating colour palettes for different designs. I also found two infographics on Pinterest which act as a useful summary for colour psychology.


I have also been experimenting with Adobe’s Colour CC which helps create colour schemes with the colour wheel or browse thousands of color combinations from the Kuler community. You can use and extract different colour schemes from photos and illustrations too.

I completed the Johannes Itten exercise of creating two grids of square colours – one that I liked and one that I disliked and then asked myself ‘which one looks better’. Apparently the grid full of colours that you dislike is usually the one which looks better as we tend to pick bright colours for those we like which when placed side by side look garish and jarring. The more subtle effect of tertiary colours and mixed colours is more balanced.


I actually prefer more muted and tertiary colours so it turned out that the colours in my first grid (the colours I liked) worked well together and was pretty balanced. I created a third grid of bright colours to test the theory and placing it next to my other two grids illustrated Itten’s theory.

I enjoyed the process of creating different combinations of colours to illustrate different concepts and found that it helped cement the knowledge that I had gained in my research.



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