Except for some people that were born with some strong color sense in their veins, most of us know that matching colors is not naturally easy.
Black and white are easy to match, adding and third color to this mixture is simple as well, but putting another color on the game may be very painful for untrained eyes.
Whether you are a web, graphic, fashion or any other kind of visual designer or not. It is probable that you will have to deal with color at some point, because it is likely that you will interact with a designer’s work.
In color theory there is a concept called Color Harmony that basically comprises rules of thumb to define color schemes that are nice. based in somehow mathematical patterns.
There are a few sites and tools that help you deal with color harmony. The tool I like best is Adobe’s Kuler, a fantastic tool that additionaly works as an online community to bookmark share and comment color patterns.
According to trichromatic theoryhumans are able to perceive three colors throuhg cells called cones, green red and blue. The other colors are mixed by the brain based on those three.
That is why the additive colos system defines those three colors as primary colors.
The color wheel, is created by puting the three basic colors equally separated on the edge of a circle and adding intermediary colors between them. The variation of color around the circle is called hue.
Towards the center of the circle the colors fade to white. The variation of the color in a radial direction is called brightness.
Orthogonal to the plano of the circle there is a color variation called saturation. As you decrease the saturation of the color, the luminance of the color is preserved, but the color fades to a shade of gray, an achromatic color.
Taking the color wheel as a mathematical reference it is possible to find some patterns of matching colors, which is known as color harmony, some of the most well known are
- analogous system
- where the hues chosen are equidistant of a central base color
- where all colors have the same hue
- triadic system
- where there are only three hues and they are separated by a 120 degrees angle on the color wheel
While this is explanation is way too short, playing with Kuler may be a very easy way to learn all this by using and having fun.