We all see the world in colour. Even if you are colour blind, you are able to see a spectrum of colours far greater than a cat (whose eyes have mostly rods – which detect differences in light – rather than cones – which detect differences in colour).
In our graphic design department, however, we don’t just see colour. We eat, breathe and dream in colour. Are we mad, do you think? No, we just understand that the human brain reacts to colour in very complex ways, often subconsciously. Any driver knows that a red light means stop and a green light means go, without having to consciously think about it. Red in virtually all cultures is a universal colour for danger.
But what is ‘red’? This is where life becomes more complicated for graphic designers, who must ensure that a colour is consistent across different media (a business card, a leaflet, a magazine advertisment, a website, etc). There are many different colour models which we use, the most common being:
RGB (Red-Green-Blue): this is the model used if something is to be viewed on screen. It’s an additive model where screens are made up of red, green and blue light mixed together to produce a full spectrum of colours.
CMYK (Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Key): this is the model used if something is going to be printed using the four colour process, ie the four inks which are put on the paper. The ‘Key’ actually refers to black, as the other colour printing plates are ‘keyed’ (aligned) with the black plate. It’s a subtractive colour model as each piece of ink takes away light which would otherwise be reflected from the white paper.
Pantone: this colour palette was invented in 1963 by Lawrence Herbert as a way of ensuring colour consistency across different media. Each colour has a reference number, one of the most famous of which is Pantone 151 (well, famous amongst graphic designers, at least!) 151 was the colour used by Orange Mobile, and became a central part of its brand identity. So when Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder of easyJet, launched easyMobile in 2004, Orange were incensed when he adopted a similar shade. In fact, it was a different, slightly darker, colour – Pantone 021 if you’re interested – and was the colour used across the easy brand. Orange, however, successfully argued in court that the use of this similar shade of orange in another mobile phone brand was detrimental to its own business.
We haven’t even started talking about black – yes, there really are many different sorts of black! That will be a subject for another post.