Color – A Primary Graphic Design Component

The elements of graphic design are not necessarily black and white in terms of how they are used or what they do. Beyond just those gray areas, there are really some quite color approaches to what can be expressed through graphic design—nothing more so than the element of color.

It’s All in the Perspective

Discussing color with a graphic designer is also not a clear cut case. There are so many perspectives on what defines a certain color. It’s a very subjective design element. That’s because every person experiences and reacts to color in a different way. There are also considerations based on a cultural understanding of color. For instance white, in Eastern cultures symbolizes death whereas, in Western cultures, white is considered purity. And, the worst case scenario is if someone is color blind and do not realize the impact that this has on their perspective.

While there are the primary colors, there are literally hundreds—if not thousands—of gradients in the color spectrum. Although you may be very specific with a color: “It has to be avocado green,” others might be fine with something that looks avocado-like but might also be granny smith apple or lime in its green quality. And, even if you are specific, once you see it in the design, you may hate it. That makes color one of the more challenging elements of graphic design.

Defining Color Properties

You might be interested to know that there are some specific color properties that are considered within the design process:

  • Hue: This property refers to the color itself and represents a reflected wavelength of light. The seven hues are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Then, there is white light, which occurs when all the wavelengths are reflected back to your eye, and black light, which occurs when no light is reflected back to your eye.
  • Color Value: This property refers to the lightness or darkness of the hue. Adding white to a hue generates a high-value color known as a tint while adding black to a hue creates a low-value color known as a shade.
  • Intensity: This property, also called chroma or saturation, refers to the brightness of a color. Full intensity occurs when a color is not mixed with black or white. The intensity can be changed by adding gray to make it duller or make it appear more neutral. Adding a complementary color to it can also change the intensity, creating what is known as its tone.

There are all types of fun things that can be done by playing with the intensity, value, and hue to produce even more color options for a graphic design project.

Color Communication in the Graphic Design Process

To facilitate the design process, try to inform the designer if you want an exact color and provide a sample of that exact color. If you are more open to a range within your descriptor, that’s good to know as well. When describing color, there is no default color for any of the following color names: avocado, fuchsia, tangerine, mauve, Kelly green, lemon grass, coral, rust, and brown. That’s why it helps to have a sample as your main channel for communicating what you want in terms of color scheme.

Next Up: Color in Print vs. Color on Computer

Making it even more confusing is the differences in color when you move from seeing it in print to seeing it on the computer screen. The next blog will provide some colorful insights into this design perspective.

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