Colour Theory


Colour temperature: Warm v cool

Referring to a colour as a warm or cool hue often confuses. How can you tell the difference? We know warm colours as reds, oranges and yellows and the cool hues as blue, green and purple, this is often associated to how we feel psychologically. For example fire is red therefore hot. The water is blue therefore cold.



Taking it a step further is when we refer to certain greys or whites as warm and others as cool. It’s here that you start to understand the complexities of colour. In tonal schemes you find all will be used to create depth, texture and drama. However, it’s when you start to deconstruct a colour palette do you start understand how these warm and cool hues play an important part in creating a balanced colour palette.


Warm casts.

To show the clearest example take the neutral colours of white or grey. Mix them with minimal amount of yellow, orange or red and you have a warm hue.


Cool casts.

Again, using white and grey, mix in a minimal amount of green, blue or purple and you have a cool hue.


Warm and cool in colour

It’s when you take the above warm or cool casts and apply them to a colour do you start to see why some are referred to warm or cool.



Colour context


How a colour behaves in relation to others is more complex and it’s based on optical illusions.


Take the below for example. The central dot is in fact the same hue or value in both but when surround by a darker or lighter the illusion is that it appears to be darker or lighter respectively. There is also another affect occurring, the dot appears to be larger when surrounded by the lighter grey and smaller when surrounded by the darker hue.


In context of an interior this effect also occurs. For example, dark walls will visually reduce the floor area and visa versa. In terms of strength of colour, darker walls will make the floor appear to be lighter and again, vise versa.

Taking the above and applying it to combinations of colours and you find something else starts to happen. The colours visually absorb each other. And depending on the colour palette they can completely change the affect on each other.


Basic colour theory

Tint- colour plus white. Lighter and more reflective than the original colour.


Shade- colour plus black. Darker and less reflective than the original colour.


Tone- colour plus grey. Softer than the original.