colour- theory-basics

The Basics of Colour

 How Not to be Afraid to Work Outside of B&W

I used to be sh*t scared of colour. You see it everywhere and likely already understand that it affects you on both conscious and unconscious levels, but the idea of adding an element of colour to my work was quite frankly, a little bit intimidating. 

Understanding colour 

The property possessed by an object of producing different sensations on the eye as a result of the way it reflects or emits light.

Oxford Living Dictionary

Well. That is a bit heavy, eh? Basically, colour is the light waves of an object reflected into your eye. Light itself is all colours, but objects will reflect certain light wave frequencies back into the world. It is these frequencies that our eyes pick up allowing us to see in colour. 


Red has the longest wave frequency, whilst violent has the shortest at the highest frequencies. Anything shorter and more frequent than violet become ‘Ultra Violet’ and goes off of the spectrum the human eye can see. 

Working with Colour

Why did working with colour scare me? Well, because colour can say so much the chance of not getting the message quite right was always fairly high. I have favoured minimalist black and white designs as I worked on creating brands and identities that worked without colour. In some respects this is harder as creating something that speaks without colour requires a lot of work on the line work itself. However, I began to realise the message my logos and brands conveyed was good, but could be next level if colour was involved. 

Colour Fundamentals


The Hue of a colour is the pure colour itself, untainted by white, grey or black. Hue is the reflective lightwave itself.


The saturation of a colour is its intensity. The less saturated a colour is, the more it looks ‘drained’. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and can be super effective when working towards a ‘moody’ vibe. Likewise, over saturating can create pieces that really ‘pop’


By adding more black or white to a colour, you affect its value. Basically, you make it brighter or darker depending on the tone you add.

When you add black, white and grey to a hue, you explore it’s Tonal Range. These are super useful to explore if you can feel that the colour you are using isn’t quite right. 

tonal range of blue


Contrast is the difference between hues. The higher the contrast, the more striking the difference in the colours which can be very useful in making good designs. 

Colours that don’t contrast enough may result in elements becoming loss and a design being less effective. The yellow and white in the first image contrast with the blue of the background. This means that you can seethe image from further away and you instantly are drawn to the intended assets. The colours used in the second image do not contrast enough, creating a much more subtle affect that is not likely the impact a poster is designed to have.

When to use Colour

Using colour correctly depends on how you line up your use of colour, with the purpose of the design. Do you want to create something string or subtle? What atmosphere are you you intending to project with your work? The two album covers below give an idea of the music based on the mood the colour presents. One is soft and subtle, the other is pretty demanding.