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ID 212 Notes
Importance of the Study of Color Theory
To be able to make color choices or decisions for interiors, especially for buildings that house complex
functions and a diversity of people, based not only on good taste, but also on knowledge and technical
expertise which are basic to understanding interior color.
However, knowledge does not negate the necessity for an intuitive, innate color sense, a sensitivity to
the psychological and symbolic aspects, and confidence in personal aesthetic judgment.
Interior color is an important means of communication, proclaiming to others something about our
identity and aspirations.
The impact of visual environment on our psychological and spiritual well-being must be taken seriously.
By engaging us with our surroundings, color contributes to our sense of being alive and aware. Color
affects how we feel about ourselves and others, and “good” color is presumed to promote satisfying
human relationships and to make the mundane tasks of life more enjoyable.
What can color do to interiors?
It helps in establishing the mood and personality of a home.
Color can make a room seem:
a. warmer or cooler
b. larger or smaller
It can make bad architectural features seem to fade into the walls.
It helps create a center of interest.
It can make the room seem unified.
It affects moods and attitudes.
What is color?
Element derived from reflected light.
A phenomenon of light or visual perception which enables one to identify and differentiate objects.
The most expressive element affecting emotions directly or indirectly or evoking immediate emotional
Color is Light
Color originates in light. Radiant light is energy emanated from a light source, such as the sun or a light bulb.
The radiant light of the sun travels through the blackness of space and it remains invisible until it illuminates a
planet or the moon, making it glow in the dark, or until it penetrates the earth’s atmosphere, creates daylight, or
falls on a surface. When radiant sunlight reaches the earth’s atmosphere, most of it gets bounced around from
molecule to molecule and from particle to particle and becomes dispersed. This dispersed light is called
ambient light.
Radiant energy is the cause of illumination. Although light is invisible, when it illuminates particles in the
atmosphere, some wavelengths are absorbed while others are reflected. You can see rainbows or shafts of light
only because light is reflected and refracted by particles of moisture or dust in the air.
Ambient light illuminates the day and makes surfaces visible. It carries information about forms and
surfaces because they reflect light differently.
The Spectral Light
The white light from the sun is actually a complex bundle of visible and invisible wavelengths. When
sunlight is directed through a prism, the different wavelengths are separated from one another and appear as a
band of brilliant colored spectral hues. Spectral hues may also be seen in a rainbow. Each droplet of moisture
suspended in the atmosphere serves as a tiny prism, and these aggregate to convert the sky into colossal
prism. From where you are standing, each droplet of moisture refracts the light at a certain angle, and together
they separate white light into its component hues.
Color is a Property of Light
We see color only when there is light. When white light is passed through a suitable prism, the
wavelengths that compose the light are diffracted, or bent, at slightly different angles, and are thus
separated to form bands of colors collectively called spectrum.
White light
Spectrum of
visible light
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Light from Reflected Surfaces
Color in the environment is characterized by brightness & hue. Color is a general term that includes both
brightness and hue, although it is popularly thought of as meaning hue.
Hue is determined by the kind of light (the particular wavelength in light) emitted by a light source and
selectively reflected by a surface.
Brightness (intensity) is determined by the amount of light emitted by a light source and reflected by a
In daylight, if you have a normal vision, you see the world as color surfaces. Color surfaces selectively
reflect some of the visible wavelengths in light and absorb all the others. Reflected wavelengths determine the
hues that we see.
Color in the environment depends on :
a. wavelengths in light emitted by a light source, and
b. surfaces that selectively absorb and reflect them
The amount of light of the colorless light falling on a color surface and reflected from it determines whether it
will appear duller or lighter.
* The more light a surface receives, the brighter it will appear.
* The less light a surface receives, the duller it will appear.
Value is the darkness or lightness of a surface.
* The lighter or whiter the surface color, the more light it reflects, and the lighter it will appear.
* The darker or blacker the surface color, the more light it absorbs, and the darker it will appear.
The terms “surface color” and “pigment color” are often used interchangeably.
Surface colors are intrinsic colors of natural materials, such as green leaves, or brown wood or red-
orange bricks.
Pigment colors are such that are produced by paints, inks, or dyes and are applied to surfaces of
Daylight, although it is always made up of all colors, varies with the time of the day, season, and latitude in the
balance of colors. The light of a clear day at noon is quite different in color characteristics from the light of dawn
or of sunset. Cloudy day daylight is quite different from full sun (sunny day), and winter light is different from that
of summer.
The white light of a clear day noon contains a mix of all colors at near-equal intensity. At dawn or sunset,
light at the red-orange end of the spectrum becomes more prominent as atmospheric haze in the air cuts down
the presence of colors at the blue-violet end. Cloudy day light is weakened in reds by the filtering action of
clouds and so appears somewhat bluish.
Since all colors are still present in such altered sunlight, the eye can still see all colors. The human brain
also makes a correction in the perception of color so that the relationship of colors does not seem to change.
This effect, called constancy, is a form of adaptation in which the eye and brain adjust to ambient conditions to
bring them into a form most useful for understanding. It is an effect familiar when putting on or taking off
sunglasses in which tinted glass alters the balance of color.
Artificial Light
Artificial light is produced by a number of sources that differ in color characteristics. The flames of
candles and oil lamps are weak in colors at the blue end of the spectrum. Incandescent electric light has this
characteristic to a lesser degree. Each of these light sources produce light in which all of the spectrum colors
are present although in a balance different from that of daylight.
An interior lighted by incandescent electric light will appear orange in tone when viewed from daylit
exterior, but after the eye has had time to adjust for a few minutes, the color of the interior will look or seem
Artificial light sources have been developed that deliver a mix of all colors similar to that of daylight called
full spectrum lighting.” At present, full-spectrum artificial light has not come into wide general use; and its
merits remain a subject of some debates.
Color Rendering Index
Another rating that gives some idea of the effect of light on color perception is the CRI, which is a simple
number on a scale from zero (0) to 100 that rates a light source according to how accurately it illuminates a full
range of color. A perfect light source would have a CRI of 100 CRI. Standard incandescent light has a CRI of 95
or better, fluorescent light falls in a range from 48 to 90 according to the type of tube. In contrast, sodium and
mercury gaseous discharge lamps have ratings as low as 21. Incandescent light, as might be expected from its
high CRI, also is generally satisfactory in its rendition of perceived color. The various types of fluorescent
lighting vary considerably and tend to introduce some distortion of colors as perceived.
Low CRI numbers suggest a light source that may distort color relationships quite drastically. The
effects of lighting that alter the appearance of colors is known as “metamerism”. When working with color, it is
desirable to work under lighting that will be the same as that anticipated in the completed space being
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