Continuously Test Your Color Palette Designs
Colors exist only in relation to other colors. They positively depend on each other to know who they are. Without reference colors disappear.
Colors are easily influenced and may be pushed, pulled, paired, poked, pressed, prodded, bent, blended, and forced in any direction by their neighbors.
They offer their service to everyone and everything everywhere and yet owe their allegiance to nothing. Try to pin them down and they move about with reckless abandon. Try to set them free and they hold on tighter.
In daylight their intents and purposes appear clear and concise; in darkness, obscure and with mystery. They know not where they come from, nor where they’re going. Their only trick to survival is the buddy system.
Pairs like red and green sit opposite one another on the color wheel. When placed side by side, opposite colors appear stronger and more intense, especially where they share a common border.
Colors which sit closer to one another on the color wheel appear weaker and less intense when placed side by side. If they contain a common color it will cancel itself out and the remaining color will be emphasized. A red next to an orange, for example, will tone-down the common reds and emphasize the remaining yellow from the orange.
The lightness or darkness (value) of a color hue also plays a large part in how it may be perceived. Interestingly, red and green make up the only pair of opposites on the color wheel which are closest in value. That is, if photographed in black and white they appear to be a very similar tone of grey.
The two rows of swatches shown directly above are the same, except that the lower row has been completely desaturated of color. Notice how the red and green swatches are identical in value when desaturated, as opposed to yellow and violet.
This effect may be referred to as simultaneous contrast, which was laid out by Michel-Eugéne Chevreul in 1839 in his book De la loi du contraste simultané des couleurs ( The Law of Simultaneous Contrast of Colors). Chevreul explains, “In the case where the eye sees at the same time two contiguous colors, they will appear as disimilar as possible, both in their optical composition and in the height of their tone.”
Stare at the small grey dot above and notice how different the teal swatches on either side appear. They are indeed the same color, but made to look different by the colors surrounding them.
The teal swatch looks cooler, darker, and leans toward blueish-green on the left, and warmer, lighter, and leans towards a yellowy-green on the right. Side by side, similar colors tend to cancel each other out while opposites intensify each other.
For this example I started with a nice tropical lagoon seafoam teal.
On the left––blue-green:
- The yellowy-green in the outer color cancels out any yellow in the teal swatch, and enhances the blue.
- Orange and blue are opposites–since yellow makes up part of orange, the yellow in the outer color intensifies the blue as well.
- The teal swatch appears darker when surrounded by a lighter color.
On the right––yellow-green:
- The blues cancel each other out and bring out the yellow in the teal swatch.
- Red and green are opposites–the red in the surrounding violet intensifies the yellow-green side of the teal swatch.
- The teal swatch appears lighter when surround by a darker color.
Colors hues are easily influenced by their surroundings and never reveal their true nature until they are put into practice. Sometimes an otherwise great design or setting can be ruined by a perfectly awful choice of color. Choosing the best color combinations can be a little like cooking–you just have to keep tasting it until you get it right.