Color has many characteristics. Hue is the color itself and colors have values. When you add white to a hue, thus making it light, we get a tint of that color. On the other hand, when you add black to a hue, we get a shade of that color. Color derives from the spectrum of light interacting in the eye with the spectral sensitivities of the light receptors.
Saturation represents how pure a color is and Brightness tells us how strong a color is. Colors like whites and yellows have a high brightness. Colors like browns and grays have a medium brightness. Colors like black have a low brightness.
White, is created by the equal, full-strength (100%) reflectance of all three main spectral hues that is 100% reflectance of blue, green and red.
Medium Grey results from the 50% absorption, 50% reflectance of blue, green and red. Darker grey happens when more than 50% of each primary color is being absorbed and less is reflected. Light grey results when more than 50% of each primary color is being reflected and less is absorbed.
Black is the absence of color, or the absence of reflected light, thus the total (100%) absorption of all three primary colors.
Other colors are created by the combined reflectance of different combinations of the spectral hues.
A prism will separate white light into its component (rainbow) parts. When it rains and the sun is shining, the water acts like a prism by splitting white sunlight into the shorter wavelengths (relatively): violet, blue, and green, followed by the longer wavelengths: yellow, orange, and red. Each time you see a rainbow, note the colors and their order of appearance within the rainbow. Every rainbow will have the same colors, presented in the same order from shorter to longer wavelengths.
The traditional primary colors that painters have used are red, yellow, and blue. Modern printing press secondary colors are magenta, yellow, and cyan. These two primary color systems obviously do not agree.
Red, green, and blue are the additive primary colors. If the visible portion of the light spectrum is divided into thirds, the predominant colors are red, green and blue. These three colors are considered the primary colors of the visible light spectrum. Additive color processes, such as television or computers, work by having the capability to generate an image composed of red, green, and blue light. This light is generated directly and does not depend on reflection from a surface. When the degree of intensity for each of the primary colors used to create an image on screen is preserved in keeping with the image shown on screen, the image will appear to be the right color.
Subtractive color theory is used when describing the printing process and explains how inks are perceived as particular colors. Cyan, magenta, and yellow pigments or inks on paper subtracts different components or wavelengths of white light. Whatever light that is reflected from the surface is recognized by the eye as a particular hue.
Cyan: Subtracts Red wavelengths leaving green and blue to be reflected as the color Cyan which is a greenish blue.
Magenta: Subtracts Green wavelengths leaving red and blue to be reflected as the color Magenta which is a bluish red.
Yellow: Subtracts Blue wavelengths leaving red and green to be reflected as the color Yellow used in printing.
When these three colors are combined, they in turn absorb and reflect different wavelengths of light, creating another set of colors.
Yellow and Magenta: Reflect Red
Magenta and Blue: Reflect Violet
Cyan and Yellow: Reflect Green
Color theory has long had the goal of predicting or specifying the color combinations that would work well together or appear harmonious. The color wheel has been adopted as tool for defining these basic relationships. Some theorists and artists believe juxtapositions of complementary colors are said to produce a strong contrast or tension, because they annihilate each other when mixed; others believe the juxtapositions of complementary colors produce harmonious color interactions. Colors next to each other on the color wheel are called analogous colors. They tend to produce a single-hued or a dominant color experience. Harmony has been sought in combinations other than these two. A split complementary color scheme employs a range of analogous hues, "split" from a basic key color, with the complementary color as contrast. A triadic color scheme adopts any three colors approximately equidistant around the hue circle. Printers or photographers sometimes employ a duotone color scheme, generated as value gradations in black and a single colored ink or color filter; painters sometimes refer to the same effect as a monochromatic color scheme.
The color wheel harmonies have had limited practical application, simply because the impact of the color combinations is quite different, depending on the colors involved: the contrast between the complementary colors purple and green is much less strident than the contrast between red and turquoise. They can suggest useful color combinations in fashion or interior design, but much also depends on the tastes, lifestyle and cultural norms of the consumer. When the schemes have proven effective, this is often because of fundamental contrast is between warm and cool hues (in this instance meaning hues on the opposite sides of the color wheel), contrast of value with darks and lights, contrast of saturated and unsaturated colors, or contrast of extension, when one color is extended over a large area contrasting another color extended over a very small area.
In the 20th century color theory attempted to link colors to particular emotional or subjective associations: red is an arousing, sensual, feminine color; blue is a contemplative, serene, masculine color, and so on. This project has failed for several reasons, the most important being that cultural color associations play the dominant role in abstract color associations, and the impact of color in design is always affected by the context.