Color Theory

Perceiving, understanding, and using color

Color is probably the most relative medium in art. Each color has a specific property, whether it's the particular wavelength in optical perception, the molecular construction of pigments or an RGB value for a monitor. Though each of those properties may be fixed, the expression and perception of a color may change within different contexts.

Understanding color requires that you understand its systems, interaction—even a bit of physics and psychology! This course deals with the abstract language of color. We'll discuss basic color principles, terminology, and applications, with an emphasis on manipulating color. This course also deals with practical application of color, from applying color legibly to typography to using color effectively on-screen.

Course Instructor(s):

Sessions Web design instructor Piper Nilsson

Piper Nilsson  is a graphic designer, information architect, and educator.

Sessions Web design instructor Margaret Penney

Margaret Penney  is a teacher, designer, writer and media artist.

Sessions design instructor Jeremy Bratt

Jeremy Bratt  is a UK based brand designer, consultant, and account director of October Design.

Course content developed by Piper Nilsson.
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Requirements:

To take this course you'll need:

  • Computer with Internet connection (56 Kbps modem or faster).
  • Adobe Photoshop or equivalent digital imaging program.
  • Basic experience in Photoshop or equivalent digital imaging program.
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Prerequisites:

The following courses can help you meet the above requirements:

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Course Objectives:

Students learn how to:

  • Identify fundamental color concepts including hue, saturation, value, and intensity.
  • Create color harmonies based on geometric connections of the color wheel.
  • Use color value and saturation to create moods relevant to specific products or design needs.
  • Create "mood boards" or color studies that illustrate specific types of color combinations.
  • Analyze how color presents an illusion of light in artwork.
  • Effectively apply the various illusions created by interactions of hue, contrast, value, and saturation.
  • Use color interactions to control which elements move forward or fade back in a design layout.
  • Identify the primary colors of light and pigment and how these colors are formed on screen and in print.
  • Use color to enhance the legibility of typography in different design scenarios including print design, Web design, and brand identity.
  • Define an approach to creating a color palette, applying it to design, and evaluating color effectiveness.
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Course Outline

LESSON 1 Thinking About Color

To begin to understand how to work with color, we'll explore different ways of looking at it using the color wheel. The concepts of hue, saturation, and harmony will be introduced. Values and intensities of colors are explored using illustrations and real-world examples. In the exercise, you'll apply these principles and experiment with different color relationships by creating six color schemes for a client.

LESSON 2 Color Interactivity

Colors can look very different depending on the other colors around them. Lesson Two explores how colors work with each other. You may be surprised by some of the effects and illusions that can be created by simple pairings of colors. We'll also look at light and how it affects the perception of color. In the exercise, you'll study how a great painter uses color and you'll recolor a classic poster design using the painter's color palette.

LESSON 3 Color in Design

Designers use two very different "modes" of color in their work: color that is made of printing inks and color that is made from light in a monitor. The differences between these additive and subtractive color systems will be explored in Lesson Three. Other important topics covered include using color on the Web, combining color with typography, and incorporating color psychology in your designs. For the last exercise, you will create a book cover design, developing an effective color scheme for the overall design and legible, attractive typography.

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Student color theory work
Travel poster by student Sherina Hudson
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