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Linda Hall Library
Science • Engineering • Technology

Color Science: Introduction

Purpose

In this guide, information can be found about color, a complex topic that touches on the various fields of physics, chemistry, optics, linguistics, neuroscience, sociology, biology and so many more.

In its simpliest form, the term color can be defined as "the effect of a certain type of light in the mind of the viewer."

-definition adapted from Principles of Color Technology by Roy Berns

Topics for exploration include the causes of color, vision theories, colorants such as as dyes and pigments, reproduction of color, means to measure color and systems established to standardize color across industries.

Rainbows

"Whether as bridge, messenger, archer's bow, or serpent, the rainbow has been pressed into symbolic service for millennia.  The Judeo-Christian rainbow's symbolism of peace and covenant is hardly universal, and in many cultures the rainbow is an evil presence - often one too dangerous even to point at."

-from The Rainbow Bridge by Lee and Fraser

Color Matters

Which color suppresses appetite?  Blue

Are black and white colors?  Yes and No

Why have jail cells and locker rooms been painted pink?  In an attempt to calm prisoners and discourage opposing teams.

In Japan, which color represents courage?  Yellow

Are mice color-blind?  Yes

For more discussion on topics such as these, see this website:

Color Matters

How Many Colors Exist?

Showing proposed names for hues 15° apart.  Colors opposite each other are complementary.  From The Colorist by Arthur J. Hatt (1913).  For access to the complete work, see the LHL Digital Collection: Color and Optics.


10 million colors? No, 2 million... for now.

In 1975, Judd and Wyszecki estimated the number of colors that can be distinguished to be 10 million.  By 2007, that number had been significantly reduced to 2 million by Martinez-Verdu.  To this day, these numbers remain a matter of debate.

Judd and Wyszecki. (1975). Color in  Business, Science and Industry. 3rd Edition.

Martinez-Verdu. (2007). Computation and Visualization of the MacAdam Limits for Any Lightness, Hue Angle and Light Source. Journal of the Optical Society of America. A: Optics, Image Science, and Vision.  24, 1501-1515.

Introductions to Color

"The sky is not blue, the grass is not green, the rose is not red.  It has taken us centuries to figure this out."

-from The Secret Language of Color by JoAnn Eckstut and Airelle Eckstut

"When we speak of colors, we generally specify the color of objects: "the apple is red" or "the leaves are green."  In this way, we convey the impression that color is a property that these things really possess.  We do not acknowledge that colors are sensed and experienced by our egos... and are not an objective property of the environment.  This is one of the most serious barriers to fully comprehending them.  We experience colors through an extremely complex path of physical, chemical, neurological and mental processes."

-from Color: a Multidisciplinary Approach by Heinrich Zollinger

Reference Associate

Michelle Lahey's picture
Michelle Lahey
Contact:
800.662.1545 x776
816.926.8776

What Causes Color?

Podcasts of Lectures

Color Science Lecture Series

Aesthetic Preference for Colors (November 21, 2013)
Stephen Palmer, Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science, University of California, Berkeley
 
Listening to Colors: Life with Extra Senses (November 7, 2013)
Neil Harbisson, Artist, cyborg, and colorologist
 
Reweaving the Rainbow (October 10, 2013)
Jay Neitz, Bishop Professor of Ophthalmology and Color Vision Researcher, University of Washington