Color (American English), or colour (Commonwealth English), is the characteristic of human visual perception described through color categories, with names such as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, or purple. This perception of color derives from the stimulation of cone cells in the human eye by electromagnetic radiation in the visible spectrum. Color categories and physical specifications of color are associated with objects through the wavelength of the light that is reflected from them. This reflection is governed by the object's physical properties such as light absorption, emission spectra, etc.

By defining a color space, colors can be identified numerically by coordinates, which in 1931 were also named in global agreement with internationally agreed color names like mentioned above (red, orange, etc.) by the International Commission on Illumination. The RGB color space for instance is a color space corresponding to human trichromacy and to the three cone cell types that respond to three bands of light: long wavelengths, peaking near 564–580 nm (red); medium-wavelength, peaking near 534–545 nm (green); and short-wavelength light, near 420–440 nm (blue).[1][2] There may also be more than three color dimensions in other color spaces, such as in the CMYK color model, wherein one of the dimensions relates to a color's colorfulness).

The photo-receptivity of the "eyes" of other species also varies considerably from that of humans and so results in correspondingly different color perceptions that cannot readily be compared to one another. Honeybees and bumblebees for instance have trichromatic color vision sensitive to ultraviolet but is insensitive to red. Papilio butterflies possess six types of photoreceptors and may have pentachromatic vision.[3] The most complex color vision system in the animal kingdom has been found in stomatopods (such as the mantis shrimp) with up to 12 spectral receptor types thought to work as multiple dichromatic units.[4]

The science of color is sometimes called chromatics, colorimetry, or simply color science. It includes the study of the perception of color by the human eye and brain, the origin of color in materials, color theory in art, and the physics of electromagnetic radiation in the visible range (that is, what is commonly referred to simply as light).

Nasir-al molk -1
Color effect – Sunlight shining through stained glass onto carpet (Nasir ol Molk Mosque located in Shiraz, Iran)
Colour shift
Colors can appear different depending on their surrounding colors and shapes. The two small squares have exactly the same color, but the right one looks slightly darker, the Chubb illusion.

Physics of color

Rendered Spectrum
Continuous optical spectrum rendered into the sRGB color space.
The colors of the visible light spectrum[5]
Color Wavelength
Red ~ 700–635 nm ~ 430–480 THz
Orange ~ 635–590 nm ~ 480–510 THz
Yellow ~ 590–560 nm ~ 510–540 THz
Green ~ 560–520 nm ~ 540–580 THz
Cyan ~ 520–490 nm ~ 580–610 THz
Blue ~ 490–450 nm ~ 610–670 THz
Violet ~ 450–400 nm ~ 670–750 THz
Color, wavelength, frequency and energy of light





(kJ mol−1)

Infrared >1000 <300 <1.00 <1.24 <120
Red 700 428 1.43 1.77 171
Orange 620 484 1.61 2.00 193
Yellow 580 517 1.72 2.14 206
Green 530 566 1.89 2.34 226
Cyan 500 600
Blue 470 638 2.13 2.64 254
Violet (visible) 420 714 2.38 2.95 285
Near ultraviolet 300 1000 3.33 4.15 400
Far ultraviolet <200 >1500 >5.00 >6.20 >598

Electromagnetic radiation is characterized by its wavelength (or frequency) and its intensity. When the wavelength is within the visible spectrum (the range of wavelengths humans can perceive, approximately from 390 nm to 700 nm), it is known as "visible light".

Most light sources emit light at many different wavelengths; a source's spectrum is a distribution giving its intensity at each wavelength. Although the spectrum of light arriving at the eye from a given direction determines the color sensation in that direction, there are many more possible spectral combinations than color sensations. In fact, one may formally define a color as a class of spectra that give rise to the same color sensation, although such classes would vary widely among different species, and to a lesser extent among individuals within the same species. In each such class the members are called metamers of the color in question.

Spectral colors

The familiar colors of the rainbow in the spectrum—named using the Latin word for appearance or apparition by Isaac Newton in 1671—include all those colors that can be produced by visible light of a single wavelength only, the pure spectral or monochromatic colors. The table at right shows approximate frequencies (in terahertz) and wavelengths (in nanometers) for various pure spectral colors. The wavelengths listed are as measured in air or vacuum (see refractive index).

The color table should not be interpreted as a definitive list—the pure spectral colors form a continuous spectrum, and how it is divided into distinct colors linguistically is a matter of culture and historical contingency (although people everywhere have been shown to perceive colors in the same way[6]). A common list identifies six main bands: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Newton's conception included a seventh color, indigo, between blue and violet. It is possible that what Newton referred to as blue is nearer to what today is known as cyan, and that indigo was simply the dark blue of the indigo dye that was being imported at the time.[7]

The intensity of a spectral color, relative to the context in which it is viewed, may alter its perception considerably; for example, a low-intensity orange-yellow is brown, and a low-intensity yellow-green is olive green.

Color of objects

The color of an object depends on both the physics of the object in its environment and the characteristics of the perceiving eye and brain. Physically, objects can be said to have the color of the light leaving their surfaces, which normally depends on the spectrum of the incident illumination and the reflectance properties of the surface, as well as potentially on the angles of illumination and viewing. Some objects not only reflect light, but also transmit light or emit light themselves, which also contributes to the color. A viewer's perception of the object's color depends not only on the spectrum of the light leaving its surface, but also on a host of contextual cues, so that color differences between objects can be discerned mostly independent of the lighting spectrum, viewing angle, etc. This effect is known as color constancy.

Optical grey squares orange brown
The upper disk and the lower disk have exactly the same objective color, and are in identical gray surroundings; based on context differences, humans perceive the squares as having different reflectances, and may interpret the colors as different color categories; see checker shadow illusion.

Some generalizations of the physics can be drawn, neglecting perceptual effects for now:

  • Light arriving at an opaque surface is either reflected "specularly" (that is, in the manner of a mirror), scattered (that is, reflected with diffuse scattering), or absorbed – or some combination of these.
  • Opaque objects that do not reflect specularly (which tend to have rough surfaces) have their color determined by which wavelengths of light they scatter strongly (with the light that is not scattered being absorbed). If objects scatter all wavelengths with roughly equal strength, they appear white. If they absorb all wavelengths, they appear black.[8]
  • Opaque objects that specularly reflect light of different wavelengths with different efficiencies look like mirrors tinted with colors determined by those differences. An object that reflects some fraction of impinging light and absorbs the rest may look black but also be faintly reflective; examples are black objects coated with layers of enamel or lacquer.
  • Objects that transmit light are either translucent (scattering the transmitted light) or transparent (not scattering the transmitted light). If they also absorb (or reflect) light of various wavelengths differentially, they appear tinted with a color determined by the nature of that absorption (or that reflectance).
  • Objects may emit light that they generate from having excited electrons, rather than merely reflecting or transmitting light. The electrons may be excited due to elevated temperature (incandescence), as a result of chemical reactions (chemoluminescence), after absorbing light of other frequencies ("fluorescence" or "phosphorescence") or from electrical contacts as in light emitting diodes, or other light sources.

To summarize, the color of an object is a complex result of its surface properties, its transmission properties, and its emission properties, all of which contribute to the mix of wavelengths in the light leaving the surface of the object. The perceived color is then further conditioned by the nature of the ambient illumination, and by the color properties of other objects nearby, and via other characteristics of the perceiving eye and brain.


When viewed in full size, this image contains about 16 million pixels, each corresponding to a different color on the full set of RGB colors. The human eye can distinguish about 10 million different colors.[9]

Development of theories of color vision

Although Aristotle and other ancient scientists had already written on the nature of light and color vision, it was not until Newton that light was identified as the source of the color sensation. In 1810, Goethe published his comprehensive Theory of Colors in which he ascribed physiological effects to color that are now understood as psychological.

In 1801 Thomas Young proposed his trichromatic theory, based on the observation that any color could be matched with a combination of three lights. This theory was later refined by James Clerk Maxwell and Hermann von Helmholtz. As Helmholtz puts it, "the principles of Newton's law of mixture were experimentally confirmed by Maxwell in 1856. Young's theory of color sensations, like so much else that this marvelous investigator achieved in advance of his time, remained unnoticed until Maxwell directed attention to it."[10]

At the same time as Helmholtz, Ewald Hering developed the opponent process theory of color, noting that color blindness and afterimages typically come in opponent pairs (red-green, blue-orange, yellow-violet, and black-white). Ultimately these two theories were synthesized in 1957 by Hurvich and Jameson, who showed that retinal processing corresponds to the trichromatic theory, while processing at the level of the lateral geniculate nucleus corresponds to the opponent theory.[11]

In 1931, an international group of experts known as the Commission internationale de l'éclairage (CIE) developed a mathematical color model, which mapped out the space of observable colors and assigned a set of three numbers to each.

Color in the eye

Cones SMJ2 E
Normalized typical human cone cell responses (S, M, and L types) to monochromatic spectral stimuli

The ability of the human eye to distinguish colors is based upon the varying sensitivity of different cells in the retina to light of different wavelengths. Humans are trichromatic—the retina contains three types of color receptor cells, or cones. One type, relatively distinct from the other two, is most responsive to light that is perceived as blue or blue-violet, with wavelengths around 450 nm; cones of this type are sometimes called short-wavelength cones, S cones, or blue cones. The other two types are closely related genetically and chemically: middle-wavelength cones, M cones, or green cones are most sensitive to light perceived as green, with wavelengths around 540 nm, while the long-wavelength cones, L cones, or red cones, are most sensitive to light is perceived as greenish yellow, with wavelengths around 570  nm.

Light, no matter how complex its composition of wavelengths, is reduced to three color components by the eye. Each cone type adheres to the principle of univariance, which is that each cone's output is determined by the amount of light that falls on it over all wavelengths. For each location in the visual field, the three types of cones yield three signals based on the extent to which each is stimulated. These amounts of stimulation are sometimes called tristimulus values.

The response curve as a function of wavelength varies for each type of cone. Because the curves overlap, some tristimulus values do not occur for any incoming light combination. For example, it is not possible to stimulate only the mid-wavelength (so-called "green") cones; the other cones will inevitably be stimulated to some degree at the same time. The set of all possible tristimulus values determines the human color space. It has been estimated that humans can distinguish roughly 10 million different colors.[9]

The other type of light-sensitive cell in the eye, the rod, has a different response curve. In normal situations, when light is bright enough to strongly stimulate the cones, rods play virtually no role in vision at all.[12] On the other hand, in dim light, the cones are understimulated leaving only the signal from the rods, resulting in a colorless response. (Furthermore, the rods are barely sensitive to light in the "red" range.) In certain conditions of intermediate illumination, the rod response and a weak cone response can together result in color discriminations not accounted for by cone responses alone. These effects, combined, are summarized also in the Kruithof curve, that describes the change of color perception and pleasingness of light as function of temperature and intensity.

Color in the brain

Ventral-dorsal streams
The visual dorsal stream (green) and ventral stream (purple) are shown. The ventral stream is responsible for color perception.

While the mechanisms of color vision at the level of the retina are well-described in terms of tristimulus values, color processing after that point is organized differently. A dominant theory of color vision proposes that color information is transmitted out of the eye by three opponent processes, or opponent channels, each constructed from the raw output of the cones: a red–green channel, a blue–yellow channel, and a black–white "luminance" channel. This theory has been supported by neurobiology, and accounts for the structure of our subjective color experience. Specifically, it explains why humans cannot perceive a "reddish green" or "yellowish blue", and it predicts the color wheel: it is the collection of colors for which at least one of the two color channels measures a value at one of its extremes.

The exact nature of color perception beyond the processing already described, and indeed the status of color as a feature of the perceived world or rather as a feature of our perception of the world—a type of qualia—is a matter of complex and continuing philosophical dispute.

Nonstandard color perception

Color deficiency

If one or more types of a person's color-sensing cones are missing or less responsive than normal to incoming light, that person can distinguish fewer colors and is said to be color deficient or color blind (though this latter term can be misleading; almost all color deficient individuals can distinguish at least some colors). Some kinds of color deficiency are caused by anomalies in the number or nature of cones in the retina. Others (like central or cortical achromatopsia) are caused by neural anomalies in those parts of the brain where visual processing takes place.


While most humans are trichromatic (having three types of color receptors), many animals, known as tetrachromats, have four types. These include some species of spiders, most marsupials, birds, reptiles, and many species of fish. Other species are sensitive to only two axes of color or do not perceive color at all; these are called dichromats and monochromats respectively. A distinction is made between retinal tetrachromacy (having four pigments in cone cells in the retina, compared to three in trichromats) and functional tetrachromacy (having the ability to make enhanced color discriminations based on that retinal difference). As many as half of all women are retinal tetrachromats.[13]:p.256 The phenomenon arises when an individual receives two slightly different copies of the gene for either the medium- or long-wavelength cones, which are carried on the X chromosome. To have two different genes, a person must have two X chromosomes, which is why the phenomenon only occurs in women.[13] There is one scholarly report that confirms the existence of a functional tetrachromat.[14]


In certain forms of synesthesia/ideasthesia, perceiving letters and numbers (grapheme–color synesthesia) or hearing musical sounds (music–color synesthesia) will lead to the unusual additional experiences of seeing colors. Behavioral and functional neuroimaging experiments have demonstrated that these color experiences lead to changes in behavioral tasks and lead to increased activation of brain regions involved in color perception, thus demonstrating their reality, and similarity to real color percepts, albeit evoked through a non-standard route.


After exposure to strong light in their sensitivity range, photoreceptors of a given type become desensitized. For a few seconds after the light ceases, they will continue to signal less strongly than they otherwise would. Colors observed during that period will appear to lack the color component detected by the desensitized photoreceptors. This effect is responsible for the phenomenon of afterimages, in which the eye may continue to see a bright figure after looking away from it, but in a complementary color.

Afterimage effects have also been utilized by artists, including Vincent van Gogh.

Color constancy

When an artist uses a limited color palette, the eye tends to compensate by seeing any gray or neutral color as the color which is missing from the color wheel. For example, in a limited palette consisting of red, yellow, black, and white, a mixture of yellow and black will appear as a variety of green, a mixture of red and black will appear as a variety of purple, and pure gray will appear bluish.[15]

The trichromatic theory is strictly true when the visual system is in a fixed state of adaptation. In reality, the visual system is constantly adapting to changes in the environment and compares the various colors in a scene to reduce the effects of the illumination. If a scene is illuminated with one light, and then with another, as long as the difference between the light sources stays within a reasonable range, the colors in the scene appear relatively constant to us. This was studied by Edwin Land in the 1970s and led to his retinex theory of color constancy.

Both phenomena are readily explained and mathematically modeled with modern theories of chromatic adaptation and color appearance (e.g. CIECAM02, iCAM).[16] There is no need to dismiss the trichromatic theory of vision, but rather it can be enhanced with an understanding of how the visual system adapts to changes in the viewing environment.

Color naming

This picture contains one million pixels, each one a different color

Colors vary in several different ways, including hue (shades of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet), saturation, brightness, and gloss. Some color words are derived from the name of an object of that color, such as "orange" or "salmon", while others are abstract, like "red".

In the 1969 study Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution, Brent Berlin and Paul Kay describe a pattern in naming "basic" colors (like "red" but not "red-orange" or "dark red" or "blood red", which are "shades" of red). All languages that have two "basic" color names distinguish dark/cool colors from bright/warm colors. The next colors to be distinguished are usually red and then yellow or green. All languages with six "basic" colors include black, white, red, green, blue, and yellow. The pattern holds up to a set of twelve: black, gray, white, pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, and azure (distinct from blue in Russian and Italian, but not English).


Individual colors have a variety of cultural associations such as national colors (in general described in individual color articles and color symbolism). The field of color psychology attempts to identify the effects of color on human emotion and activity. Chromotherapy is a form of alternative medicine attributed to various Eastern traditions. Colors have different associations in different countries and cultures.[17]

Different colors have been demonstrated to have effects on cognition. For example, researchers at the University of Linz in Austria demonstrated that the color red significantly decreases cognitive functioning in men.[18]

Spectral colors and color reproduction

CIExy1931 fixed
The CIE 1931 color space chromaticity diagram. The outer curved boundary is the spectral (or monochromatic) locus, with wavelengths shown in nanometers. The colors depicted depend on the color space of the device on which you are viewing the image, and therefore may not be a strictly accurate representation of the color at a particular position, and especially not for monochromatic colors.

Most light sources are mixtures of various wavelengths of light. Many such sources can still effectively produce a spectral color, as the eye cannot distinguish them from single-wavelength sources. For example, most computer displays reproduce the spectral color orange as a combination of red and green light; it appears orange because the red and green are mixed in the right proportions to allow the eye's cones to respond the way they do to the spectral color orange.

A useful concept in understanding the perceived color of a non-monochromatic light source is the dominant wavelength, which identifies the single wavelength of light that produces a sensation most similar to the light source. Dominant wavelength is roughly akin to hue.

There are many color perceptions that by definition cannot be pure spectral colors due to desaturation or because they are purples (mixtures of red and violet light, from opposite ends of the spectrum). Some examples of necessarily non-spectral colors are the achromatic colors (black, gray, and white) and colors such as pink, tan, and magenta.

Two different light spectra that have the same effect on the three color receptors in the human eye will be perceived as the same color. They are metamers of that color. This is exemplified by the white light emitted by fluorescent lamps, which typically has a spectrum of a few narrow bands, while daylight has a continuous spectrum. The human eye cannot tell the difference between such light spectra just by looking into the light source, although reflected colors from objects can look different. (This is often exploited; for example, to make fruit or tomatoes look more intensely red.)

Similarly, most human color perceptions can be generated by a mixture of three colors called primaries. This is used to reproduce color scenes in photography, printing, television, and other media. There are a number of methods or color spaces for specifying a color in terms of three particular primary colors. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages depending on the particular application.

No mixture of colors, however, can produce a response truly identical to that of a spectral color, although one can get close, especially for the longer wavelengths, where the CIE 1931 color space chromaticity diagram has a nearly straight edge. For example, mixing green light (530 nm) and blue light (460 nm) produces cyan light that is slightly desaturated, because response of the red color receptor would be greater to the green and blue light in the mixture than it would be to a pure cyan light at 485 nm that has the same intensity as the mixture of blue and green.

Because of this, and because the primaries in color printing systems generally are not pure themselves, the colors reproduced are never perfectly saturated spectral colors, and so spectral colors cannot be matched exactly. However, natural scenes rarely contain fully saturated colors, thus such scenes can usually be approximated well by these systems. The range of colors that can be reproduced with a given color reproduction system is called the gamut. The CIE chromaticity diagram can be used to describe the gamut.

Another problem with color reproduction systems is connected with the acquisition devices, like cameras or scanners. The characteristics of the color sensors in the devices are often very far from the characteristics of the receptors in the human eye. In effect, acquisition of colors can be relatively poor if they have special, often very "jagged", spectra caused for example by unusual lighting of the photographed scene. A color reproduction system "tuned" to a human with normal color vision may give very inaccurate results for other observers.

The different color response of different devices can be problematic if not properly managed. For color information stored and transferred in digital form, color management techniques, such as those based on ICC profiles, can help to avoid distortions of the reproduced colors. Color management does not circumvent the gamut limitations of particular output devices, but can assist in finding good mapping of input colors into the gamut that can be reproduced.

Additive coloring

Additive color mixing: combining red and green yields yellow; combining all three primary colors together yields white.

Additive color is light created by mixing together light of two or more different colors. Red, green, and blue are the additive primary colors normally used in additive color systems such as projectors and computer terminals.

Subtractive coloring

Subtractive color mixing: combining yellow and magenta yields red; combining all three primary colors together yields black

Subtractive coloring uses dyes, inks, pigments, or filters to absorb some wavelengths of light and not others. The color that a surface displays comes from the parts of the visible spectrum that are not absorbed and therefore remain visible. Without pigments or dye, fabric fibers, paint base and paper are usually made of particles that scatter white light (all colors) well in all directions. When a pigment or ink is added, wavelengths are absorbed or "subtracted" from white light, so light of another color reaches the eye.

If the light is not a pure white source (the case of nearly all forms of artificial lighting), the resulting spectrum will appear a slightly different color. Red paint, viewed under blue light, may appear black. Red paint is red because it scatters only the red components of the spectrum. If red paint is illuminated by blue light, it will be absorbed by the red paint, creating the appearance of a black object.

Structural color

Structural colors are colors caused by interference effects rather than by pigments. Color effects are produced when a material is scored with fine parallel lines, formed of one or more parallel thin layers, or otherwise composed of microstructures on the scale of the color's wavelength. If the microstructures are spaced randomly, light of shorter wavelengths will be scattered preferentially to produce Tyndall effect colors: the blue of the sky (Rayleigh scattering, caused by structures much smaller than the wavelength of light, in this case air molecules), the luster of opals, and the blue of human irises. If the microstructures are aligned in arrays, for example the array of pits in a CD, they behave as a diffraction grating: the grating reflects different wavelengths in different directions due to interference phenomena, separating mixed "white" light into light of different wavelengths. If the structure is one or more thin layers then it will reflect some wavelengths and transmit others, depending on the layers' thickness.

Structural color is studied in the field of thin-film optics. The most ordered or the most changeable structural colors are iridescent. Structural color is responsible for the blues and greens of the feathers of many birds (the blue jay, for example), as well as certain butterfly wings and beetle shells. Variations in the pattern's spacing often give rise to an iridescent effect, as seen in peacock feathers, soap bubbles, films of oil, and mother of pearl, because the reflected color depends upon the viewing angle. Numerous scientists have carried out research in butterfly wings and beetle shells, including Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke. Since 1942, electron micrography has been used, advancing the development of products that exploit structural color, such as "photonic" cosmetics.[19]

Additional terms

  • Color wheel: an illustrative organization of color hues in a circle that shows relationships.
  • Colorfulness, chroma, purity, or saturation: how "intense" or "concentrated" a color is. Technical definitions distinguish between colorfulness, chroma, and saturation as distinct perceptual attributes and include purity as a physical quantity. These terms, and others related to light and color are internationally agreed upon and published in the CIE Lighting Vocabulary.[20] More readily available texts on colorimetry also define and explain these terms.[16][21]
  • Dichromatism: a phenomenon where the hue is dependent on concentration and thickness of the absorbing substance.
  • Hue: the color's direction from white, for example in a color wheel or chromaticity diagram.
  • Shade: a color made darker by adding black.
  • Tint: a color made lighter by adding white.
  • Value, brightness, lightness, or luminosity: how light or dark a color is.

See also


  1. ^ Wyszecki, Günther; Stiles, W.S. (1982). Colour Science: Concepts and Methods, Quantitative Data and Formulae (2nd ed.). New York: Wiley Series in Pure and Applied Optics. ISBN 978-0-471-02106-3.
  2. ^ R.W.G. Hunt (2004). The Reproduction of Colour (6th ed.). Chichester UK: Wiley–IS&T Series in Imaging Science and Technology. pp. 11–12. ISBN 978-0-470-02425-6.
  3. ^ Arikawa K (November 2003). "Spectral organization of the eye of a butterfly, Papilio". J. Comp. Physiol. A. 189 (11): 791–800. doi:10.1007/s00359-003-0454-7. PMID 14520495.
  4. ^ Cronin TW, Marshall NJ (1989). "A retina with at least ten spectral types of photoreceptors in a mantis shrimp". Nature. 339 (6220): 137–40. Bibcode:1989Natur.339..137C. doi:10.1038/339137a0.
  5. ^ Craig F. Bohren (2006). Fundamentals of Atmospheric Radiation: An Introduction with 400 Problems. Wiley-VCH. p. 214. ISBN 978-3-527-40503-9.
  6. ^ Berlin, B. and Kay, P., Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.
  7. ^ Waldman, Gary (2002). Introduction to light : the physics of light, vision, and color. Mineola: Dover Publications. p. 193. ISBN 978-0-486-42118-6.
  8. ^ Pastoureau, Michael (2008). Black: The History of a Color. Princeton University Press. p. 216. ISBN 978-0691139302.
  9. ^ a b Judd, Deane B.; Wyszecki, Günter (1975). Color in Business, Science and Industry. Wiley Series in Pure and Applied Optics (third ed.). New York: Wiley-Interscience. p. 388. ISBN 978-0-471-45212-6.
  10. ^ Hermann von Helmholtz, Physiological Optics – The Sensations of Vision, 1866, as translated in Sources of Color Science, David L. MacAdam, ed., Cambridge: MIT Press, 1970.
  11. ^ Palmer, S.E. (1999). Vision Science: Photons to Phenomenology, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-16183-4.
  12. ^ "Under well-lit viewing conditions (photopic vision), cones  ...are highly active and rods are inactive." Hirakawa, K.; Parks, T.W. (2005). Chromatic Adaptation and White-Balance Problem (PDF). IEEE ICIP. doi:10.1109/ICIP.2005.1530559. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 28, 2006.
  13. ^ a b Jameson, K.A.; Highnote, S.M.; Wasserman, L.M. (2001). "Richer color experience in observers with multiple photopigment opsin genes" (PDF). Psychonomic Bulletin and Review. 8 (2): 244–61. doi:10.3758/BF03196159. PMID 11495112.
  14. ^ Jordan, G.; Deeb, S.S.; Bosten, J.M.; Mollon, J.D. (20 July 2010). "The dimensionality of color vision in carriers of anomalous trichromacy". Journal of Vision. 10 (8): 12. doi:10.1167/10.8.12. PMID 20884587.
  15. ^ Depauw, Robert C. "United States Patent". Retrieved 20 March 2011.
  16. ^ a b M.D. Fairchild, Color Appearance Models Archived May 5, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, 2nd Ed., Wiley, Chichester (2005).
  17. ^ "Chart: Color Meanings by Culture". Archived from the original on 2010-10-12. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
  18. ^ Gnambs, Timo; Appel, Markus; Batinic, Bernad (2010). "Color red in web-based knowledge testing". Computers in Human Behavior. 26 (6): 1625–31. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2010.06.010.
  19. ^ "Economic and Social Research Council – Science in the Dock, Art in the Stocks". Archived from the original on November 2, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-07.
  20. ^ CIE Pub. 17-4, International Lighting Vocabulary Archived 2010-02-27 at the Wayback Machine, 1987. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-02-27. Retrieved 2010-02-05.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  21. ^ R.S. Berns, Principles of Color Technology Archived 2012-01-05 at the Wayback Machine, 3rd Ed., Wiley, New York (2001).

External links and sources

  • ColorLab MATLAB toolbox for color science computation and accurate color reproduction (by Jesus Malo and Maria Jose Luque, Universitat de Valencia). It includes CIE standard tristimulus colorimetry and transformations to a number of non-linear color appearance models (CIE Lab, CIE CAM, etc.).

Black is the darkest color, the result of the absence or complete absorption of visible light. It is an achromatic color, literally a color without hue, like white and gray. It is often used symbolically or figuratively to represent darkness, while white represents light. Black and white have often been used to describe opposites; particularly truth and ignorance, good and evil, the Dark Ages versus Age of Enlightenment. Since the Middle Ages, black has been the symbolic color of solemnity and authority, and for this reason is still commonly worn by judges and magistrates.Black was one of the first colors used by artists in neolithic cave paintings. In the 14th century, it was worn by royalty, clergy, judges and government officials in much of Europe. It became the color worn by English romantic poets, businessmen and statesmen in the 19th century, and a high fashion color in the 20th century. In the Roman Empire, it became the color of mourning, and over the centuries it was frequently associated with death, evil, witches and magic. According to surveys in Europe and North America, it is the color most commonly associated with mourning, the end, secrets, magic, force, violence, evil, and elegance.Black ink is the most common color used for printing books, newspapers and documents, as provides the highest contrast with white paper and thus the easiest color to read. Similarly, black text on a white screen is the most common format used on computer screens.

Black and white

Black-and-white (B/W or B&W) images combine black and white in a continuous spectrum, producing a range of shades of gray.

CMYK color model

The CMYK color model (process color, four color) is a subtractive color model, used in color printing, and is also used to describe the printing process itself. CMYK refers to the four inks used in some color printing: cyan, magenta, yellow, and key.

The CMYK model works by partially or entirely masking colors on a lighter, usually white, background. The ink reduces the light that would otherwise be reflected. Such a model is called subtractive because inks "subtract" the colors red, green and blue from white light. White light minus red leaves cyan, white light minus green leaves magenta, and white light minus blue leaves yellow.

In additive color models, such as RGB, white is the "additive" combination of all primary colored lights, while black is the absence of light. In the CMYK model, it is the opposite: white is the natural color of the paper or other background, while black results from a full combination of colored inks. To save cost on ink, and to produce deeper black tones, unsaturated and dark colors are produced by using black ink instead of the combination of cyan, magenta, and yellow.

Color blindness

Color blindness, also known as color vision deficiency, is the decreased ability to see color or differences in color. Simple tasks such as selecting ripe fruit, choosing clothing, and reading traffic lights can be more challenging. Color blindness may also make some educational activities more difficult. However, problems are generally minor, and most people find that they can adapt. People with total color blindness (achromatopsia) may also have decreased visual acuity and be uncomfortable in bright environments.The most common cause of color blindness is an inherited problem in the development of one or more of the three sets of color sensing cones in the eye. Males are more likely to be color blind than females, as the genes responsible for the most common forms of color blindness are on the X chromosome. As females have two X chromosomes, a defect in one is typically compensated for by the other, while males only have one X chromosome. Color blindness can also result from physical or chemical damage to the eye, optic nerve or parts of the brain. Diagnosis is typically with the Ishihara color test; however, a number of other testing methods also exist.There is no cure for color blindness. Diagnosis may allow a person's teacher to change their method of teaching to accommodate the decreased ability to recognize colors. Special lenses may help people with red-green color blindness when under bright conditions. There are also mobile apps that can help people identify colors.Red-green color blindness is the most common form, followed by blue-yellow color blindness and total color blindness. Red-green color blindness affects up to 8% of males and 0.5% of females of Northern European descent. The ability to see color also decreases in old age. Being color blind may make people ineligible for certain jobs in certain countries. This may include being a pilot, train driver and working in the armed forces. The effect of color blindness on artistic ability, however, is controversial. The ability to draw appears to be unchanged, and a number of famous artists are believed to have been color blind.

Eye color

Eye color is a polygenic phenotypic character determined by two distinct factors: the pigmentation of the eye's iris and the frequency-dependence of the scattering of light by the turbid medium in the stroma of the iris.In humans, the pigmentation of the iris varies from light brown to black, depending on the concentration of melanin in the iris pigment epithelium (located on the back of the iris), the melanin content within the iris stroma (located at the front of the iris), and the cellular density of the stroma. The appearance of blue and green, as well as hazel eyes, results from the Tyndall scattering of light in the stroma, a phenomenon similar to that which accounts for the blueness of the sky called Rayleigh scattering. Neither blue nor green pigments are ever present in the human iris or ocular fluid. Eye color is thus an instance of structural color and varies depending on the lighting conditions, especially for lighter-colored eyes.

The brightly colored eyes of many bird species result from the presence of other pigments, such as pteridines, purines, and carotenoids. Humans and other animals have many phenotypic variations in eye color. The genetics of eye color are complicated, and color is determined by multiple genes. So far, as many as 15 genes have been associated with eye color inheritance. Some of the eye-color genes include OCA2 and HERC2. The earlier belief that blue eye color is a simple recessive trait has been shown to be incorrect. The genetics of eye color are so complex that almost any parent-child combination of eye colors can occur. However, OCA2 gene polymorphism, close to proximal 5′ regulatory region, explains most human eye-color variation.


The Graphics Interchange Format (GIF, JIF or GHIF), is a bitmap image format that was developed by a team at the online services provider CompuServe led by American computer scientist Steve Wilhite on June 15, 1987. It has since come into widespread usage on the World Wide Web due to its wide support and portability.The format supports up to 8 bits per pixel for each image, allowing a single image to reference its own palette of up to 256 different colors chosen from the 24-bit RGB color space. It also supports animations and allows a separate palette of up to 256 colors for each frame. These palette limitations make GIF less suitable for reproducing color photographs and other images with color gradients, but it is well-suited for simpler images such as graphics or logos with solid areas of color.

GIF images are compressed using the Lempel–Ziv–Welch (LZW) lossless data compression technique to reduce the file size without degrading the visual quality. This compression technique was patented in 1985. Controversy over the licensing agreement between the software patent holder, Unisys, and CompuServe in 1994 spurred the development of the Portable Network Graphics (PNG) standard. By 2004 all the relevant patents had expired.

Game Boy Color

The Game Boy Color (GBC) is a handheld game console manufactured by Nintendo, which was released on October 21, 1998 in Japan and was released in November of the same year in international markets. It is the successor of the Game Boy.

The Game Boy Color features a color screen. It is slightly thicker and taller and features a slightly smaller screen than the Game Boy Pocket, its predecessor. As with the original Game Boy, it has a custom 8-bit processor made by Sharp that is considered a hybrid between the Intel 8080 and the Zilog Z80. The spelling of the system's name, Game Boy Color, remains consistent throughout the world with its American English spelling of color.

The Game Boy Color's primary competitors in Japan were the grayscale 16-bit handhelds Neo Geo Pocket and the WonderSwan, though the Game Boy Color outsold these by a wide margin. SNK and Bandai countered with the Neo Geo Pocket Color and the Wonderswan Color respectively but this did little to change Nintendo's sales dominance. With Sega discontinuing the Game Gear in 1997, the Game Boy Color's only competitor in the United States was its predecessor, the Game Boy, until the short-lived Neo Geo Pocket Color was released in August 1999. The Game Boy and Game Boy Color combined have sold 118.69 million units worldwide making it the 3rd best selling system of all time. including Game Boy units It was discontinued in 2003, shortly after the release of the Game Boy Advance SP. Its best-selling game was Pokémon Gold and Silver, shipping approximately 14.51 million combined in Japan and the USA.


Green is the color between blue and yellow on the visible spectrum. It is evoked by light which has a dominant wavelength of roughly 495–570 nm. In subtractive color systems, used in painting and color printing, it is created by a combination of yellow and blue, or yellow and cyan; in the RGB color model, used on television and computer screens, it is one of the additive primary colors, along with red and blue, which are mixed in different combinations to create all other colors. By far the largest contributor to green in nature is chlorophyll, the chemical by which plants photosynthesize and convert sunlight into chemical energy. Many creatures have adapted to their green environments by taking on a green hue themselves as camouflage. Several minerals have a green color, including the emerald, which is colored green by its chromium content.

During post-classical and early modern Europe, green was the color commonly associated with wealth, merchants, bankers and the gentry, while red was reserved for the nobility. For this reason, the costume of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci and the benches in the British House of Commons are green while those in the House of Lords are red. It also has a long historical tradition as the color of Ireland and of Gaelic culture. It is the historic color of Islam, representing the lush vegetation of Paradise. It was the color of the banner of Muhammad, and is found in the flags of nearly all Islamic countries.In surveys made in American, European, and Islamic countries, green is the color most commonly associated with nature, life, health, youth, spring, hope and envy. In the European Union and the United States, green is also sometimes associated with toxicity and poor health, but in China and most of Asia, its associations are very positive, as the symbol of fertility and happiness. Because of its association with nature, it is the color of the environmental movement. Political groups advocating environmental protection and social justice describe themselves as part of the Green movement, some naming themselves Green parties. This has led to similar campaigns in advertising, as companies have sold green, or environmentally friendly, products. Green is also the traditional color of safety and permission; a green light means go ahead, a green card permits permanent residence in the United States.


HSL (hue, saturation, lightness) and HSV (hue, saturation, value) are alternative representations of the RGB color model, designed in the 1970s by computer graphics researchers to more closely align with the way human vision perceives color-making attributes. In these models, colors of each hue are arranged in a radial slice, around a central axis of neutral colors which ranges from black at the bottom to white at the top. The HSV representation models the way paints of different colors mix together, with the saturation dimension resembling various shades of brightly colored paint, and the value dimension resembling the mixture of those paints with varying amounts of black or white paint. The HSL model attempts to resemble more perceptual color models such as the Natural Color System (NCS) or Munsell color system, placing fully saturated colors around a circle at a lightness value of ​1⁄2, where a lightness value of 0 or 1 is fully black or white, respectively.


Indigo is a deep and rich color close to the color wheel blue (a primary color in the RGB color space), as well as to some variants of ultramarine. It is traditionally regarded as a color in the visible spectrum, as well as one of the seven colors of the rainbow: the color between violet and blue; however, sources differ as to its actual position in the electromagnetic spectrum.

The color indigo is named after the indigo dye derived from the plant Indigofera tinctoria and related species.

The first known recorded use of indigo as a color name in English was in 1289.

Light-emitting diode

A light-emitting diode (LED) is a semiconductor light source that emits light when current flows through it. Electrons in the semiconductor recombine with electron holes, releasing energy in the form of photons. This effect is called electroluminescence. The color of the light (corresponding to the energy of the photons) is determined by the energy required for electrons to cross the band gap of the semiconductor. White light is obtained by using multiple semiconductors or a layer of light-emitting phosphor on the semiconductor device.Appearing as practical electronic components in 1962, the earliest LEDs emitted low-intensity infrared light. Infrared LEDs are used in remote-control circuits, such as those used with a wide variety of consumer electronics. The first visible-light LEDs were of low intensity and limited to red. Modern LEDs are available across the visible, ultraviolet, and infrared wavelengths, with high light output.

Early LEDs were often used as indicator lamps, replacing small incandescent bulbs, and in seven-segment displays. Recent developments have produced white-light LEDs suitable for room lighting. LEDs have led to new displays and sensors, while their high switching rates are useful in advanced communications technology.

LEDs have many advantages over incandescent light sources, including lower energy consumption, longer lifetime, improved physical robustness, smaller size, and faster switching. Light-emitting diodes are used in applications as diverse as aviation lighting, automotive headlamps, advertising, general lighting, traffic signals, camera flashes, lighted wallpaper and medical devices.Unlike a laser, the color of light emitted from an LED is neither coherent nor monochromatic, but the spectrum is narrow with respect to human vision, and functionally monochromatic.

Lists of colors

These are lists of colors:

List of colors: A–F

List of colors: G–M

List of colors: N–Z

List of colors (compact)

List of colors by shade

List of color palettes

List of fictional colors

List of Crayola crayon colors

X11 color names

Portable Network Graphics

Portable Network Graphics (PNG, pronounced PEE-en-JEE or PING) is a raster-graphics file-format that supports lossless data compression. PNG was developed as an improved, non-patented replacement for Graphics Interchange Format (GIF).

PNG supports palette-based images (with palettes of 24-bit RGB or 32-bit RGBA colors), grayscale images (with or without alpha channel for transparency), and full-color non-palette-based RGB/RGBA images (with or without alpha channel). The PNG working group designed the format for transferring images on the Internet, not for professional-quality print graphics, and therefore it does not support non-RGB color spaces such as CMYK. A PNG file contains a single image in an extensible structure of "chunks", encoding the basic pixels and other information such as textual comments and integrity checks documented in RFC 2083.PNG files nearly always use the file extension PNG or png and are assigned MIME media type image/png.

PNG was published as informational RFC 2083 in March 1997 and as an ISO/IEC standard in 2004.

RGB color model

The RGB color model is an additive color model in which red, green and blue light are added together in various ways to reproduce a broad array of colors. The name of the model comes from the initials of the three additive primary colors, red, green, and blue.

The main purpose of the RGB color model is for the sensing, representation and display of images in electronic systems, such as televisions and computers, though it has also been used in conventional photography. Before the electronic age, the RGB color model already had a solid theory behind it, based in human perception of colors.

RGB is a device-dependent color model: different devices detect or reproduce a given RGB value differently, since the color elements (such as phosphors or dyes) and their response to the individual R, G, and B levels vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, or even in the same device over time. Thus an RGB value does not define the same color across devices without some kind of color management.

Typical RGB input devices are color TV and video cameras, image scanners, and digital cameras. Typical RGB output devices are TV sets of various technologies (CRT, LCD, plasma, OLED, quantum dots, etc.), computer and mobile phone displays, video projectors, multicolor LED displays and large screens such as JumboTron. Color printers, on the other hand are not RGB devices, but subtractive color devices (typically CMYK color model).

This article discusses concepts common to all the different color spaces that use the RGB color model, which are used in one implementation or another in color image-producing technology.


Red is the color at the end of the visible spectrum of light, next to orange and opposite violet. It has a dominant wavelength of approximately 625–740 nanometres. It is a primary color in the RGB color model and the CMYK color model, and is the complementary color of cyan. Reds range from the brilliant yellow-tinged scarlet and vermillion to bluish-red crimson, and vary in shade from the pale red pink to the dark red burgundy. The red sky at sunset results from Rayleigh scattering, while the red color of the Grand Canyon and other geological features is caused by hematite or red ochre, both forms of iron oxide. Iron oxide also gives the red color to the planet Mars. The red colour of blood comes from protein hemoglobin, while ripe strawberries, red apples and reddish autumn leaves are colored by anthocyanins.Red pigment made from ochre was one of the first colors used in prehistoric art. The Ancient Egytians and Mayans colored their faces red in ceremonies; Roman generals had their bodies colored red to celebrate victories. It was also an important color in China, where it was used to colour early pottery and later the gates and walls of palaces. In the Renaissance, the brilliant red costumes for the nobility and wealthy were dyed with kermes and cochineal. The 19th century brought the introduction of the first synthetic red dyes, which replaced the traditional dyes. Red also became the color of revolution; Soviet Russia adopted a red flag following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, later followed by China, Vietnam, and other communist countries.

Since red is the color of blood, it has historically been associated with sacrifice, danger and courage. Modern surveys in Europe and the United States show red is also the color most commonly associated with heat, activity, passion, sexuality, anger, love and joy. In China, India and many other Asian countries it is the color of symbolizing happiness and good fortune.

Shades of green

Varieties of the color green may differ in hue, chroma (also called saturation or intensity) or lightness (or value, tone, or brightness), or in two or three of these qualities. Variations in value are also called tints and shades, a tint being a green or other hue mixed with white, a shade being mixed with black. A large selection of these various colors is shown below.

Visible spectrum

The visible spectrum is the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to the human eye. Electromagnetic radiation in this range of wavelengths is called visible light or simply light. A typical human eye will respond to wavelengths from about 380 to 740 nanometers. In terms of frequency, this corresponds to a band in the vicinity of 430–770 THz.

The spectrum does not contain all the colors that the human eyes and brain can distinguish. Unsaturated colors such as pink, or purple variations like magenta, for example, are absent because they can only be made from a mix of multiple wavelengths. Colors containing only one wavelength are also called pure colors or spectral colors.

Visible wavelengths pass largely unattenuated through the Earth's atmosphere via the "optical window" region of the electromagnetic spectrum. An example of this phenomenon is when clean air scatters blue light more than red light, and so the midday sky appears blue. The optical window is also referred to as the "visible window" because it overlaps the human visible response spectrum. The near infrared (NIR) window lies just out of the human vision, as well as the medium wavelength infrared (MWIR) window, and the long wavelength or far infrared (LWIR or FIR) window, although other animals may experience them.

Web colors

Web colors are colors used in displaying web pages on the World Wide Web, and the methods for describing and specifying those colors. Colors may be specified as an RGB triplet or in hexadecimal format (a hex triplet) or according to their common English names in some cases. A color tool or other graphics software is often used to generate color values. In some uses, hexadecimal color codes are specified with notation using a leading number sign (#). A color is specified according to the intensity of its red, green and blue components, each represented by eight bits. Thus, there are 24 bits used to specify a web color within the sRGB gamut, and 16,777,216 colors that may be so specified.

Colors outside the sRGB gamut can be specified in Cascading Style Sheets by making one or more of the red, green and blue components negative or greater than 100%, so the color space is theoretically an unbounded extrapolation of sRGB similar to scRGB. Specifying a non-sRGB color this way requires the RGB() function call; it is impossible with the hexadecimal syntax (and thus impossible in legacy HTML documents that do not use CSS).

The first versions of Mosaic and Netscape Navigator used the X11 color names as the basis for their color lists, as both started as X Window System applications.

Web colors have an unambiguous colorimetric definition, sRGB, which relates the chromaticities of a particular phosphor set, a given transfer curve, adaptive whitepoint, and viewing conditions. These have been chosen to be similar to many real-world monitors and viewing conditions, in order to allow rendering to be fairly close to the specified values even without color management. User agents vary in the fidelity with which they represent the specified colors. More advanced user agents use color management to provide better color fidelity; this is particularly important for Web-to-print applications.


White is the lightest color and is achromatic (having no hue). It is the color of fresh snow, chalk, and milk, and is the opposite of black. White objects fully reflect and scatter all the visible wavelengths of light. White on television and computer screens is created by a mixture of red, blue and green light.

In ancient Egypt and ancient Rome, priestesses wore white as a symbol of purity, and Romans wore a white toga as a symbol of citizenship. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance a white unicorn symbolized chastity, and a white lamb sacrifice and purity. It was the royal color of the Kings of France, and of the monarchist movement that opposed the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War (1917–1922). Greek and Roman temples were faced with white marble, and beginning in the 18th century, with the advent of neoclassical architecture, white became the most common color of new churches, capitols and other government buildings, especially in the United States. It was also widely used in 20th century modern architecture as a symbol of modernity and simplicity.

According to surveys in Europe and the United States, white is the color most often associated with perfection, the good, honesty, cleanliness, the beginning, the new, neutrality, and exactitude. White is an important color for almost all world religions. The Pope, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, has worn white since 1566, as a symbol of purity and sacrifice. In Islam, and in the Shinto religion of Japan, it is worn by pilgrims. In Western cultures and in Japan, white is the most common color for wedding dresses, symbolizing purity and virginity. In many Asian cultures, white is also the color of mourning.

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