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Color Theory Vocabulary Words


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Achromatic colors are neutrals, meaning they contain no chroma or hue. An achromatic color scheme uses all achromatic or neutral colors; black and white, and a full value tonal range of grays.
Actual Color Transparency
The perception of or use of transparent materials. When we perceive a transparent object the light is transmitted; that is, it is allowed to go through the object to create a color sensation.
Additive System
The system of color that uses light. When all the light primaries are combined, the result is white light.
Analogous Colors
Colors that are adjacent to each other on the color wheel, for example, blue, blue-violet, and violet. An analogous color scheme is based on the idea of a color family, using two or three neighboring hues from the color circle as a starting point.
Base Hue
A hue from the from the color circle to which a color is related. The concept of a base hue means that the thousands of colors that we perceive can be traced back to the twelve hues on the tradition color wheel.
Bezold Effect
The effect of changing the dominant color in a given design and the subsequent varying of all the other colors.
Chromatic Neutrals
Subtractive intermixes of complimentary hues that create neutral colors based on chromatic, rather than achromatic, colors.
A color is specifically a wavelength of light received by our eye that causes a color sensation to be produced in our brain. The word color also means any color derived from any hue; for example, violet is a hue and light violet is a color. A color is not necessarily chromatically pure and a hue is.
A compound that imparts its color to another material.
Color Atmosphere
A color effect produced by the suggestion of luminous colors seen in the atmosphere at varying times of day. Also defined as color transparencies, or colors reflected from brightly lit surfaces.
Color Attributes
The variables or characteristics of color, which are hue, value, and saturation.
Color Discord
Discordant colors are color combinations that contrast, clash, or “fight” rather than harmonize. Color discord can make the viewer uncomfortable, but can be used to enhance the thematic content in a piece of art.
Color Dominance
A dominant color effect can be achieved by letting a single hue, value, or saturation dominate a composition. This influences all other colors in the composition.
Color Environment
Color choices that reflect and enhance the function and mood of an interior or architectural space.
Color Expression
Color can function as the most expressive tool in art. Expressive color is a subject, personal, cultural, or symbolic use of color in art or design.
Defined as the resistance of a color to the loss of its original color quality. High colorfastness means that a color will not darken, fade, bleed, or washout.
Color Schemes or Harmonies
Color circle-based formal hue selections used to achieve color harmony.
Color Symbols
Color associations with that stand for ideas and/or are culturally based, for example, red for sexuality and black for death.
Color Temperature
Refers to our sense of warm or cool colors. For example, red is warm in temperature because it refers to blood, fire, and the sun; blue is cold in temperature because of its reference to water, ice, and the sky. Each primary and secondary hue also has a cool or warm aspect; for example, red is cooled when blue is added, creating red-violet.
Color Weight
The visual weight of colors is relative to their interactive color environment. Some colors are innately heavy or inherently light in weight. For example, yellow is light a black is heavy.
Color Circle or Color Wheel
Newton is commonly credited with the origin of the color circle or wheel format. By adding purple to the spectral band, Newton attached the spectrum to itself in a circle. The color circle provides a format to understand hue relationships.
Complementary Colors
Chromatic opposites directly across from each other on the color circle. These are called complementary hues or dyads, since they are in pairs. The major subtractive complementary opposites are blue to orange, yellow to violet, and red to green. A complementary color scheme is a perfectly balanced opposing paid (or dyad) from the color circle.
Complementary Vibration
Complementary vibration occurs when two full saturation complementary hues are in close proximity. When these conditions exist, the colors will generate the illusion of movement.
Computer Color
Color generated by a computer in difital format. It also refers to display color on a computer monitor and the various color modes contained within a graphic program. A computer can produce 16 million colors from which to choose.
Cool/Warm Color Harmony
A four-hue color scheme that is less structured than most. Cool/warm contrast emphasizes differences in color temperature. Example: RO and red opposite BG and blue.
Double Complementary
A four-hue contrasting color scheme. This scheme uses two adjacent complementary pairs, for example, yellow, YO, violet, and BV.
Soluble colorants. Dyes transfer their color by being dissolved in liquid and staining or absorbing into a given material or surface.
Anything that changes gradually in a visual sense. Scale, shape, color, position, texture, value, and color all can be gradated.
Hue means any wavelength from the visible spectrum. A hue is specific color selection from the spectral color circle in its pure state, sometimes referred to as a spectral hue. Hues may be a primary, secondary or a tertiary color.
Local Color
The general color of an object under normal lighting conditions.
A color scheme based on one hue choice from the color wheel.
Refers to media through which light cannot pass. Opaque paint is also called body color because it uses white as part of the paint mixture and completely covers the surface on which its painted.
Optical Mixtures
Colors that use tiny amounts of two or more colors that visually blends to create another color. An optical mixture can mix either pigmented materials or light.
A colored powder that gives its color effect to a given surface, when distributed over that surface in a layer or when mixed with a substance.
Primary Colors
Hues that are not obtainable by any other color mixtures.
Red, green, and blue are the additive primaries of light. RGB also is a color mode used by both the computer monitor and scanner.
The property of color that refers to its purity, intensity, or chroma. High saturation key colors are pure, bright, and intense. Low saturation key colors are duller, subtle, and muted.
Secondary Hues
The halfway points between the primary hues, for example, a mixture of red with blue will yield violet (red+blue=violet). Violet is a secondary hue.
Simultaneous Contrast
Refers to colors that interact and affect each other, which can give them a different or varied appearance. Also refers to when the eye simultaneously “wants” to see the complement of any given hue, affecting our perception of color in relationships.
Simulated Transparency
A color illusion, in which opaque media is used to create an illusion of transparency.
Split Complementary Harmony
A contrasting or a balanced harmony. A split complementary scheme has three hues and is based on an opposing dyad. Instead of using a direct complement, however, the two adjacent hues to the actual complement are chosen. Example: the split complement of violet is YO and YG.
Subtractive System
In our perception of surface color some light waves are subtracted resulting in a reduction of the amount of light reflected to our eye. The subtractive color system is also in use with physical colors such as pigments and dyes, which lose intensity as they are mixed.
Tertiary Hues
Those hues produced by the mixtures of a primary and a secondary: RO, RV, YO, YG, BG, BV.
A four-hue color system that is balanced based on either a square or rectangle inscribed in the color wheel.
A hue or color plus white, which makes lighter values of a color or a hue.
An equilateral triangle inscribed in the color circle describes three equidistant hues that compose a triadic color system. The triadic system is a classically balanced color scheme and is used by many artists and designers. Example: orange, green, and violet.
Value simply refers to all the perceptible levels of light and dark from white to black and the lightness or darkness of achromatic or chromatic colors.
Visible Light Spectrum
A small part of the electromagnetic spectrum that we can actually see.
Albert Munsell
Color Theorist who created the 9 scale color tree.
Tertisary Hues
colors created by using a primary and secondary color. Example: Red and Orange create RO, Red and Blue create RB. Yellow and Orange create YO, Yellow and Green create YG, Blue and Green create BG, Blue and violet create BV

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