Understanding Color Theory in the Real World

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”… For a moment just imagine if The Wizard of Oz had remained in black and white. If so, the Ruby slippers, the Yellow Brick Road, and the Emerald City would not have had such a significant impact. Sure we all remember the first twenty minutes of the movie, but what we remember more than anything is the moment after the storm, when Dorothy opened the door and saw… COLOR!

To understand color, we must first define what color is. As defined in Webster’s Dictionary, color is the property possessed by an object of producing different sensations on the eye as a result of the way the object reflects or emits light. In the early 20th century, Albert H. Munsell became the first to separate color into what he called three color dimensions: hue, value, and chroma.


Hues are colors, commonly referred to by name in Munsell’s Color System. All hues can be created by the mixing of three basic colors, called primaries. For those of us who remember painting in kindergarten, these primaries are yellow (Y), red (R), and blue (B). From our primary colors we can go one step further and create intermediate colors. These colors are orange (YR), green (YB), and violet (RB). 

Another thing to remember is that every color has an exact opposite color in Munsell’s Color System. These are considered perfect complimentary colors. Complimentary colors really work well together. If you pay close attention, you can see complimentary colors in your day-to-day life: TV commercials, magazine marketing/advertisements, placement of clothing in the marketplace for sale, or your favorite sports team. These colors are strategically placed to attract your attention and, in most cases, to create impulse purchases. I use this same color theory when matching color or selecting color for next season’s palette.


Value is defined as the depth of the hue/color. This is also known as lightness or darkness of the hue/color. It is possible to have multiple colors of the same hue, only to visually appear different, because of the values are different.


Chroma is measuring the purity of a particular hue/color. This is also known as the color’s saturation point or the color’s brightness and dullness. The funny thing about chroma is it is different for every color in the aforementioned Color Wheel. In most red colors you can brighten the color by adding yellow. But, if you add yellow to a purple color, you will do the opposite and dull the color.

Colors can also have psychological meanings for us as well. They can have both positive and negative meanings associated with them. Some positive feelings associated with the color red are energetic, exciting, passionate or erotic/love (think of Valentine’s Day). Some negative feelings associated with the color red are aggressiveness that suggests anger or violence. Some positive forms of the color blue are coolness, distance, spirituality, and elegance. While negative forms we can think of are often called “the blues,” being sad, lonely, alienated, or depressed. Yellow is the color of the sun. Yellow is a very optimistic, upbeat color, but it can become overwhelming. Thus, yellow typically does not have any negative feelings associated with it (think of the smiley face emoji – Have a Nice Day!).

So open your eyes, take a look around. Pay attention to the colors you see and think of how they make you feel. Sometimes we take color for granted. I say live life with your eyes wide open. There are more colors in this world than we will ever see, so we might as well take in as many as we possibly can. So be like Dorothy, open your door, take a look, and enjoy.

Looking for a color chart for your workspace? Download our Color Theory Poster!

By |February 2nd, 2016|Blog|0 Comments

About the Author:

C. Scott Wilson is a Technical Sales Representative at First Source Worldwide specializing in textile applications. His optimism helps him find hidden solutions to improve process efficiencies. He’s spent over 20 years in the hosiery business, even dyeing socks for Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls team.