Light, stimulating the retina of the eye, is what
creates our perception of colour. Without light
there is no colour, and light reflects how we see
colour. Because colour is so powerful we tend to
look for rules for its use, but there are no hard and
fast rules. How you use colour is a very individual
and creative choice, but understanding how colour
works will help you use it more effectively.
Properties of colour
- Hue: Hue is pure colour - any primary, secondary or tertiary colour that
is unmixed with black or white. It can be another name for colour.
- Intensity: This is the brightness or dullness of colours. Less intense
colours (blue) have a calmer effect and are easier to live with than
the more intense colours (red).
Intense colours are often used as
highlights and contrast.
- Light reflectance value: This is the degree of lightness or darkness
of a tint, shade or tone. White has the highest light reflectance value
and black the lowest.
- Shade: A shade is the pure colour (hue) with black added. This new
colour has a lower light reflectance value (is darker) than the original
- Tint: A tint is the pure colour (hue) with white added. This new colour
has a higher light reflectance value (is lighter) than the original hue.
- Tone: This is pure colour (hue) with grey added.
Warm and cool colours
Cool - Blues and greens can introduce a cool mood into a room. The
level of coolness will depend on the intensity of the colours. Cool colours
may also be used to change the appearance of a room, pushing back
walls and furnishings and making the room appear more spacious. They
look best in a room with a sunny exposure, where the colours counteract
some of the strength of the direct sun. They should be avoided in shaded
Warm - Warm colours, such as red and apricot, have an opposite effect,
closing in the walls of a room. If the room is large, its dimensions seem
decreased. Warm colours look their best in a not so bright room with
southern light, so that the bright effect of the sunny colours is not too
Guidelines for using colour
Nature conditions us to expect balance and harmony. It offers us guidelines
for the use of colour and provides us with some basic principles.
The darkest value at our feet e.g. forest floor, the medium level at eye level e.g. tree trunks, the lightest value above us e.g. sky.
Consider carefully before deviating from these natural guidelines. Use
the most intense hues and values in areas occupied for short periods of
time, such as formal dining rooms, hallways, staff lunchrooms, laundries
and entrances. Avoid monotony and treat the eye and psyche to at least
a moderate variety. Visual stimulus or relief is vital. Harmonious colour
selections are created by a pleasing relationship of the three dimensions
of colour: hue, intensity and value.
Using correct proportions of colour ensures that your scheme will be
aesthetically pleasing. A touch of contrasting colour may be lively and
exciting but too much can become uncomfortable. On the other hand, too
much moderation produces dullness. Personal taste and preferences are
the most important considerations in choosing a colour scheme.
Think of colour as a chameleon:
- It changes depending upon accent colours.
- It is influenced by adjacent colours.
- White or beige colours will take on the tint of adjacent hues.
- Large areas intensify colours.
Finally, think about proportions of colours. A basic rule using two thirds
one colour and one third another is always successful.
When a colour dominates its immediate surroundings in terms of hue,
intensity or value, it may create imbalance. If we visualise colour in terms of
weight, we can readily imagine that an area of dominant colour is 'heavier'
than an equal area of subordinate colour. In developing a balanced colour
scheme, it is important to take into account the 'weight' of each colour.
These two colours (1) have
the same intensity, but the
blue colour is darker in
value. Even if equal areas
of both colours are used,
blue will be dominant.
If two colours have the same value (2), they may still be unbalanced if there
is a difference in intensity of colour. Here the darker colour dominates.
Proportion, contrast and effects with colour
Use colour to create an illusion. Colour can highlight the good features of
a room and camouflage defects. Different colours affect the way we view a
room. Warm colours, such as yellows and reds, tend to advance and make
the walls seem closer. They are therefore a good choice for large, uninviting
rooms you want to make more intimate and welcoming. Cool colours, such
as greens and blues, tend to recede and make the walls seem further away.
This makes them a good choice for small, narrow rooms that you want to
seem more spacious.
The way you combine colours can also significantly alter your perception
of a room.
Where colour groups lie
R (Red) = 357-39 inclusive
O (Orange) = 40-69 inclusive
Y (Yellow) = 70-90 inclusive
G (Green) = 91-204 inclusive
B (Blue) = 205-284 inclusive
V (Violet) = 285-356 inclusive
N (Neutral) = Saturation of 0-8
BR (Brown) = Luminance of 0-39, saturation of 4-10 or luminance of 40-80, saturation of 4-25
M (Metallic) = Colours derived from metallic tones
Luminance is a brightness measure and describes the amount of light that
is reflected from a flat, painted surface. Luminance is an indicator of how
bright the paint will appear. Luminance decreases when adding grey or
black paint to either a pure colour or lighter hues of a colour.
Saturation means purity and refers to the intensity of a specific hue
(colour). It is based on the colour's purity; a highly saturated hue has a
vivid, intense colour, while a less saturated hue appears more muted and
grey. With no saturation at all, the hue becomes a shade of grey.
- The purest colour is achieved by using clean undiluted colour. If the
intensity drops the saturation also drops.
- To desaturate a colour in a paint system you can add tints of white, grey,
black or the hue's complementary (opposite) colour.