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History of Colors

History of Colors

How digital colors came to be? A brief look into the history of CMYK and RGB color models.

Perception of the surroundings is seen as the breakthrough in human evolution and what neurologists believe to be our most dominant sense. The vast mysteries of our vision have attracted many of the brightest minds in both science and art.

Primitive Instints

History is founded upon countless patterns, colors and shapes. It was by years of collective effort that this filled with visual content era was created. An era which opened the way for many to freely express themselves. It became an opportunity to observe the creativity and thoughts of countless other individuals.

And now, the norm is set for a society in which the bar for quality is continuously raised in hopes to gain an advantage in a never-ending battle of exposure. Each creator is an individual highly dependent on their sight and the ability to effortlessly surf through information. The example of a modern person.

The modern person lives in an environment of constant sense stimulation that pushes the general expectations of the world. Food seems more delicious when it looks good. Ads are more influential when they appeal to your needs. We use movies to create and share unique emotional atmospheres. All of this was brought into reality through the masterful usage of colors.

We are creatures deeply affected by their primitive instincts even during a time of modernity. Our sight guided the rise of humanity and remained to this day a sense that shapes our individualism.

Subtractive Color System

The rapid advancement of technology eased our life in terms productivity and simplification. One benefit we often don’t even think about is our mastery over the visual spectrum. Colors are an integral part of our life and taken as a norm by all of us. Using said technology to distinguish colors from any material or source of light has become accessible to many.

The visual world around us did not shape overnight though. It took centuries of studies and experiments to develop the two color systems on which we stand upon.

To ensure you understand these two systems better, we need to get familiar with the scientific base of what are these colors and visuals mentioned in this article. Depending on the chemical structure of any surface, the material it is made of, it reflects light in its own different way.

Our eyes are a very powerful organ and are constantly catching any changes in the light that is reflected back from the material. The last step is for our brain to process the transferred information from our eyes and visualise it in the form of colors.

In 1710, Jacob Christoph Le Blon [painter from Frankfurt 1667 – 1741 ] successfully applied a three-color printing method. His vast research and practical executions were improved upon in modern color printing, media, interior and industrial design.

The number of people educated in colors and their possible implications grew at a rapid pace. This attracted many researchers to the field and saw the beginning of scientific developments that later visually shaped our future.

Parallel advancements in chemistry gradually allowed us to control the hue of colors by printing the paint in three layers, thus making it more efficient.

The three layer printing was very easy to recreate and so its potential remained unnoticed for a very short time. The idea was that Cyan, Magenta and Yellow [CMY] were used as the primary pigments, which were pressed over a Black key plate [K] to control the shade of what was printed.

The whole sequence [CMYK] opened a wide window of opportunities for the press mass-production to begin. This method remained dominant throughout the flood of printed content.

Additive Color System

In the 1660s, Sir Isaac Newton, an English mathematician & physicist [1642 – 1727], began a series of experiments with light. His most notable find was when he demonstrated the dispersion of clear white light through a glass prism. The result was a clear projection of the visible spectrum.

In 1704, the essence of this incredible research was published in Newton’s book “Opticks”. A piece of work defining the key principles in our model of light. Newton later became the inspiration for a series of further scientific advancements in the field of colors that led to numerous breakthroughs in physics, chemistry, engineering and physiology.

With the coming of the digital era and the ambition of people to move forward, many new answers were found in Newton’s theories. Most notable would be the creation of the additive color system. An achievement holding its impact even to this day.

It became the foundation of our colored screens, which by themselves became a personal and industry standard. With the use of Red, Green and Blue [RGB] rays, a screen pixel was formed.

This allowed us to gain full control over the visualization of colors and lay the foundations for our digital lifestyle.

Color Psychology

Similar to many popular achievements, Newton’s views became widespread and his ideas began to gather some criticism. In fact, a strongly documented opposition was in the making by a very unlikely source.

In 1810, the German poet, artist, and politician Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published the book “Theory of Colors”. He opposed Newton’s followers with the reasoning of colors being not just a scientific measurement, but rather a personified experience.

Goethe’s studies were mainly focused on the psychology behind colors and his views were very popular. Artists, for example, used the knowledge to gain a deeper impact on people with their work. Goethe considered his findings on the “Theory of Colors” his most valued, regardless of the fact that he was a renowned writer.

It is true that the most notable discoveries in color theory were a more recent event in history, but it wasn’t that people were unaware of them before that. For 2000 years prior to modern theories, there was another, firmly held belief. The first ever theory on colors was created by Aristotle.

He considered them sent by God through the divine rays of light. Aristotle’s belief was that all colors originate from lightness and darkness and were split apart into four elements: fire, earth, air and water.

Aristotle was the first person to write a documented theory on how colors work. Similar to modern researchers he too founded his beliefs on previously shared knowledge.

The secrets of our eyes were studied long before that and in many different cultures. Colors were integral part societies like Early Egypt, The Roman Empire, China and Ancient Greece. The effects of colors are ever-present and deprived strict of origin.