More about black & white

Some explanations from other color pros

black and white

You don't 'see' the paint color...not really. You see the color that is being reflected from the paint.

 Example: Red paint. White light applied to the red paint, some of the light bounces off the "red" paint. The "red" is what is reflected into your eye onto your retina. The other portion of the white light was absorbed by the so-called "red" paint. Care to guess what colors the red Paint absorbed? (from color pro Mac)

There is no color 'out there.'

Color is merely certain nanometers of electromagnetic energy that (lucky us) our eyes can register as color. Most electromagnetic energy cannot be processed by our eyes, for example, radio waves, or radiation. Thus what we see is only because of our eyes.

No color exists as color.

Thus if we see red, it's because our cones sensitive to the wavelength around 700-760 nm's send information that we translate into red. Thus if we see red there, then our cones are responding to reflected nm's. Now, my guess is you are betting that something red is absorbing everything but the wavelengths we perceive as red, and you will be right here. A red paper absorbs all other wavelengths and reflects the "red" ones (If I may condense that rather than to say "reflects the wavelengths in the nm range that our retinal cones respond to." See if you can rephrase the question in those terms before trying to win the money!

About black:
The most easily made mistake is to relate the concept of dark being the absence of light. This is correct, yet understand that in complete dark (the absence of light) our eyes could not perceive white or black simply because no light is present to be reflected off a "white" or "black" object and be received by our eyes.

In respect to this it would be possible to create 100% black only with a surface containing all colors; this being the only way to prevent any color from being reflected back to the beholder.

About white:
For the eye to perceive an object as white, the object must reflect all colors (or close to). A surface capable of reflecting all colors must be void in color itself, any color would hinder all color light to be reflected and thus would not create white perceived by our eyes.

Scientist  John Stapleton explains more about black and white:

 White is a rich color if you "unweave the rainbow."

 So is black in terms of blackbody radiation that becomes red c. 1000K and white c. 3000K-6000K etc..

White that has a flat power spectral density over the entire visible spectrum produces 200 lumens per watt

Whereas green 555nm yields 683 lumens per watt and max sensitivity to luminance, not chrominance.

Take it away from white and you see nonspectral magenta and peak in chrominance rather than luminance as in green.

New fallen snow is quite white at about 90lumens per watt and 10,000 footcandles or 10k lumens/sq ft is correlated with 121 milliwatts per sq cm of solor energy. After Katrina we must go back to the drawing board and use color science to HARVEST HURRICANE ENERGY.

Regardless of whether black is a color or's the color of power. Learn more at the Psychology of Colors with online courses from color pro Jill Morton.

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A web resource for more information: 
Color and Human Vision

Color Logic for Design

Color & Design

See the "Color & Design" pull down menu at the top of this page for all the design pages . . . or check out the featured pages below.

Easy color theory for today!

Basic Color Theory

The three most important things about color today.
Really easy and logical guidelines for color.


Is white a color? Is black a color?

Are Black & White Colors?
 If you say that black is not a color, this article will make you right!
If you say white is not a color, you'll also find out why it is (and isn't) a color.


The Global Color Survey

Take the Global Color Survey.
When you're finished you'll find out what 130,000 people from all over the globe said about colors.

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Where to Study Color
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cv control dots color voodoo

Basic Color Theory

Color theory encompasses a multitude of definitions, concepts and design applications - enough to fill several encyclopedias. However, there are three basic categories of color theory that are logical and useful : The color wheel, color harmony, and the context of how colors are used.

Color theories create a logical structure for color. For example, if we have an assortment of fruits and vegetables, we can organize them by color and place them on a circle that shows the colors in relation to each other.

fruit organized by color

The Color Wheel

A color circle, based on red, yellow and blue, is traditional in the field of art. Sir Isaac Newton developed the first circular diagram of colors in 1666. Since then, scientists and artists have studied and designed numerous variations of this concept. Differences of opinion about the validity of one format over another continue to provoke debate. In reality, any color circle or color wheel which presents a logically arranged sequence of pure hues has merit.

Three color wheels - Harris, Today, Goethe 

There are also definitions (or categories) of colors based on the color wheel. We begin with a 3-part color wheel.
Primary Secondary Tertiary Colors

Primary Colors: Red, yellow and blue
In traditional color theory (used in paint and pigments), primary colors are the 3 pigment colors that cannot be mixed or formed by any combination of other colors. All other colors are derived from these 3 hues. 

Secondary Colors: Green, orange and purple
These are the colors formed by mixing the primary colors.

Tertiary Colors: Yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green & yellow-green
These are the colors formed by mixing a primary and a secondary color. That's why the hue is a two word name, such as blue-green, red-violet, and yellow-orange.

 Color Harmony

Harmony can be defined as a pleasing arrangement of parts, whether it be music, poetry, color, or even an ice cream sundae.

In visual experiences, harmony is something that is pleasing to the eye. It engages the viewer and it creates an inner sense of order, a balance in the visual experience. When something is not harmonious, it's either boring or chaotic. At one extreme is a visual experience that is so bland that the viewer is not engaged. The human brain will reject under-stimulating information. At the other extreme is a visual experience that is so overdone, so chaotic that the viewer can't stand to look at it. The human brain rejects what it cannot organize, what it cannot understand. The visual task requires that we present a logical structure. Color harmony delivers visual interest and a sense of order.

In summary, extreme unity leads to under-stimulation, extreme complexity leads to over-stimulation. Harmony is a dynamic equilibrium.

Some Formulas for Color Harmony

There are many theories for harmony. The following illustrations and descriptions present some basic formulas.

1. A color scheme based on analogous colors

Example of an anaologous color harmony  

Analogous colors are any three colors which are side by side on a 12-part color wheel, such as yellow-green, yellow, and yellow-orange. Usually one of the three colors predominates.

2. A color scheme based on complementary colors

Example of a complementary color harmony

Complementary colors are any two colors which are directly opposite each other, such as red and green and red-purple and yellow-green. In the illustration above, there are several variations of yellow-green in the leaves and several variations of red-purple in the orchid. These opposing colors create maximum contrast and maximum stability.

3. A color scheme based on nature

color harmony in nature

Nature provides a perfect departure point for color harmony. In the illustration above, red yellow and green create a harmonious design, regardless of whether this combination fits into a technical formula for color harmony.

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Become a master of dramatically constructed colors. Online learning from the author of Color Matters.

Color Context

How color behaves in relation to other colors and shapes is a complex area of color theory. Compare the contrast effects of different color backgrounds for the same red square.


©Color Voodoo Publications

Red appears more brilliant against a black background and somewhat duller against the white background. In contrast with orange, the red appears lifeless; in contrast with blue-green, it exhibits brilliance. Notice that the red square appears larger on black than on other background colors.

Different readings of the same color

©Color Voodoo Publications

If your computer has sufficient color stability and gamma correction (link to Is Your Computer Color Blind?) you will see that the small purple rectangle on the left appears to have a red-purple tinge when compared to the small purple rectangle on the right. They are both the same color as seen in the illustration below. This demonstrates how three colors can be perceived as four colors.

Observing the effects colors have on each other is the starting point for understanding the relativity of color. The relationship of values, saturations and the warmth or coolness of respective hues can cause noticeable differences in our perception of color.

Illustrations and text, courtesy of
Color Logic
and Color Logic for Web Site Design

What's your favorite color? What does it mean to others?
Explore "The Meanings of Colors" at Color Matters.

The meanings of colors. Is yellow happy, is blue is sad?

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Color for E-Commerce

Color Matters in E-Commerce

Regardless of how we define commerce, almost every web site is selling something. It may be a one person accounting business, it may be a site that sells only tanning products or a much larger department store. Even educational sites could be considered commercial if they must generate advertising income.

A successful “store” has a simple formula. Initially, it must be accessible to everyone. It must be attractive and inviting. Once inside, the customer must be able to move comfortably through the store and find what they need. They must be able to examine the merchandise (or service) and get information about it. Finally, they must be able to successfully complete a purchase or procure a service.

For the first time in history, a flat surface electronically simulates a physical "bricks and mortar" store. In spite of the limitations of this digital medium of images and text, the same formulas for success apply — and even more so.

Color must function successfully on several levels simultaneously. First, on a technical level, the colors must be as accurate as the existing technology will allow, while, at the same time, heeding the rules of optics. Second, once a set of colors has caught and held the visitor's attention they must succeed in conveying appropriate information. Third, colors must function competently as the primary structural element in the store’s design — the web page layout. In this capacity, color must create appropriate spatial and navigational effects on the page and the site as a whole. Fourth, as the primary aesthetic tool, colors must create a sense of visual harmony, thus sustaining and enhancing the customers interest in the shopping experience.

E-commerce page examples

Graphics and text © (Copyright) 2008, Color Logic for Web Site Design , All rights reserved

Color Logic for Website Design


Here are four formulas for success:

1. Convert images to the correct file format.
This not only delivers the best colors and the best images possible but it also lowers file sizes and shortens the download time.

2. Select the most appropriate colors by analyzing the store’s products or services and the target market. It is essential that colors bear some relationship — either symbolic or literal — to the product or service. Don’t try to reinvent the color wheel by using unusual colors.

3. Use color to create the most functional user-interface design. For example, use color to direct the eye to the most important areas on the page. The web designer must identify what ideal and normal sequences might entail: what the viewer should see first, where the eye should move next, and how much time the viewer's attention should be held by each area. Keep colors to minimum. "Signal detection" theory means that the brain is able to understand and organize information when a minimum of colors and shapes exists within the visual field. Too many colors and shapes make it impossible to focus and find anything.

4. Use color harmony principles to create a pleasant visual experience. In other words, all the colors of the web site— the navigation system, banners, buttons, and text — as well as the images of the merchandise (if they exist), must all work well together. Some common attribute must unify them.

In conclusion, consider this: Just as a store is constructed of solid matter, color is the basic building material of two-dimensional images and visual experiences. In the final analysis, color plays a pivotal role in the customer’s critical decision — to buy or not buy.

© (Copyright) 2005, Color Logic for Web Site Design , All rights reserved

web UI Design

Historical Color Matters


The colors of buildings and monuments provide unique insights into the culture and the materials available at that time in history. For example: the striking reds of the Heian Shinto shrine in Japan, the golden stones of the pyramids of Egypt, and the green and blue tiled domes of the Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Uzbekistan (pictured above).

But what about the colors of dwelling places? Ordinary homes? What can we learn about the people, their traditions, the economy, the weather, and the geography of a place? If we concentrate on painted structures, what can the colors of paint tell us?

Finally, if we narrow the focus to the homes of the working class who lived in one geographic location, what will 100 years of paint colors reveal?

"The Historical Colors of Hawaii Plantation Housing" project did precisely that. The process was a visual, physical, and scientific analysis the colors of paint of existing homes on the island of Kaua'i. The end result was a key to the history of the people and the industry that built the Hawaiian Islands and a specification of the colors per current color systems.

A Brief History or Hawaiian Architecture

In ancient times, the Hawaiian people lived in simple structures constructed of natural materials such as lava, coral, logs and thatching from pili grass and coconut fronds. The term "grass shack" refers to many of these simple homes.

After the arrival of the Europeans in the late 18th century, this architectural tradition underwent a revolutionary change when the new population of missionaries from the United States erected frame houses (in a style derived from buildings in New England). During the late 19th and 20th century residential homes were built. The style became known as "Hawaiian plantation architecture."

The "plantation style" originated in the homestead areas that housed plantation laborers. This work force came from China, Japan, the Philippines, Portugal and many other countries to work on sugarcane plantations, and to a lesser extent pineapple plantations, rice farms and other agricultural endeavors.

Popular trends from California and elsewhere on the continental U.S. emerged in the 1970s and 80s, and eventually dominated the housing industry. As the 21st century unfolds, the plantation style is appreciated for its Hawaiian authenticity and has become a model for new construction.

The following is a summary of how the research about the historical colors of plantation housing in Hawaii was conducted. It is intended to provide an overview of methods used in historical color research and to inspire others.

The Historical Colors of Hawaii Plantation Housing


Historical architectural research of this scope required a thorough survey of all existing plantation homes in the plantation camps and other areas, interviews with residents, meetings with other historical experts, analyses of historical documents, and microscopic examination of paint samples.


The project covered all the existing homes in the six remaining plantation housing "camps" and six other areas on the island of Kaua'i in the state of Hawaii, U.S.. Prior to this study, no one had surveyed all the plantation camps on Kaua'i,  and no one had examined the paint colors under a microscope. The project took almost a year to complete.

This survey covered the following large plantation housing areas: Kaumakani, Camp 6, Pakalas, Numila, Waimea, and Kekaha. It also included the following areas where only a few homes remain: Hanamaulu, Kapaa, Kealia, German Hill, and Koloa Some of the earliest unrestored homes had been moved and stored by Mike Faye at Kikiaole Construction lot.

The process included several phases: The Survey, Research, Microscopic Analysis, and Conclusions

Part 1 - The Survey and Paint Sampling

The research team walked the streets of every plantation camp, took photographs, extracted paint samples, and compiled a list of the existing colors.

In some cases, such as the largest existing plantation housing area of Kaumakani camp, the existing paint colors were the weathered remains of the colors originally used in 1946. In other areas, the original colors were covered by new paint.

Remnants of plantation homes from the late 19th and early 20th century were found hidden in brushy areas such as those Hanamalu and in areas owned by the Faye family.

Approximately 200 paint samples were gathered from protected areas such as under the eaves.

 INTERVIEWS WITH PLANTATION RESIDENTS & interviewer Zachary ToyofukuInterviews with current and former residents provided valuable information. Retired workers- and especially those who had lived in the housing 50 years (or more) ago - told their stories about the plantation homes. A sampling:

Mr. Ashida of Numila Camp said that the original homes were either white washed or painted with creosote (a tar which was used as preservative). He remembered that the boat that transported the wood for the first plantation homes did not dock. They tossed the wood overboard and let it "float" to shore. Apparently this salt-water soak is responsible for the wood's resistance to termites today. He also said that prior to WWII, the plantation manager selected his favorite color for new construction. In later years, people who maintained their homes were given free paint and the rent was lowered to $50 in return for repainting.

Mr. Raymond Espino of Kaumakani Camp (1946) said that the red dirt from the sugar cane fields make upkeep difficult.

Others interviewed recalled that homes were white or dark green. Some remembered that the homes in their camp were all dark grey. In almost every case, the plantation owner chose the colors.

Interviews with historical organizations and other experts provided additional information. A sampling:

Chris Faye, the great granddaughter of the Waimea Plantation owner, said that residents made their own paint using a linseed base prior to the 1920s.

Bob Scheck, curator of the Grove Farm Museum said that a "shingle stain green" mixed with creosote (tar) was used on the exteriors during the late 19th century.

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Part 2 - Research

A valuable collection of "Hawaii Sugar Planters' Association – Plantation Archives" in the University of Hawaii's Hamilton Library were reviewed. (For the most part these papers and bound folders can be examined in a special research area.)

Research was also conducted at the Kaua'i Museum and the Kaua'i Lihue Public Library

The 1948 Lewers and Cooke paint catalogue also provided clues. Unfortunately, the chemistry of paints that were ordered is not available.

Part 3 - Microscopic Analysis

Over 200 paint samples of paint and other finishes from the plantation homes on Kauai were examined under a microscope. A Nikon SMZ-800 Microscope with a Morell MI-10 Fiber Optic Illuminator and an Olympus SZ40 Stereozoon microscope were used.

Edge-view sectioned paint samples were the basis of the examination. These included the inner surface of wood (the indicator of the start of the historical paint applications) and subsequent layers of paint or stains.

These historic paint samples were color-matched under uniform lighting conditions.

In some cases there were 4 layers of colors beginning with a stain, followed by 3 layers of paint.

The hundred-year-old paints scraped from rotting wood remains were evidence of traditional pigments. (Anyone who has ever squeezed paint out of a tube of oil paint would recognize pthalocyanine blue.)

Note: Chemical analysis was not conducted because it is extremely costly for just one chip of paint – and in this case there were 200 samples.

Color Harmony for the Home

Part 4 - Conclusions

The stories revealed by the colors used on the plantation homes proved to be more valuable than the identification of the colors per se.

The colors told the story of the people and the industry that built the islands of island of Hawaii. It was a story of immigrants — from Japan, China, the Philippines, and Portugal — whose descendants now populate the islands.

The research revealed the difficult living conditions of men and women (who some say were "slave laborers").  A retired worker recalled how the lives of first generation of workers were like plantation slaves and quoted the lyrics of "16 Tons":

"You load sixteen tons what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt"

In later years, the colors showed how living conditions were improved when the Unions arrived. Homes were constructed; homes were painted.

Before and after WWII, the colors of the paint colors bore witness to the remoteness of this Hawaiian island. More often than not, whatever paint was on hand in the paint factories on the continental U.S. was shipped to the islands. The excess of dark grey paint was the result of "battleship gray' surplus paint after WWII. The bright aquas and yellows were most likely interior paint colors — the only paint available at that time.

In conclusion, these were not colors that were chosen for aesthetic value — i.e. to create an attractive exterior. Furthermore, they were not selected for criteria used today such as: relationships with the landscape, environmental impact (hide dirt, soot, etc.).

Instead, they reflected that point in time, the availability of materials, the lives of the workers and industry that built the state of Hawaii.

Project Details:

Color Consultant: Colorcom, Jill Morton
Ms. Morton is a former faculty member of the School of Architecture, University of Hawaii and the author of the Color Matters website. Her ebook - Color Logic includes the color theories she taught in an introductory course for architects.
Research Team: Zachary Toyofuku, Elizabeth Llego, Michelle Jose

Kauai Sugar Plantations
Hawaii Architecture
The Historical Colors of Ewa Plantation Hawaii
(another project by the team from Colorcom)

Color consultation for architecture and interior design

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