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Color Physics

First off, you don't need to know everything about physics of colors to understand color theory. Learning about this certainly won't hurt, but skipping over them shouldn't affect your ability to use colors in an effective way.

There are websites that are dedicated to physics, and they go more into the details. Please see a list of a few of these at the bottom of this page.

Color Physics

Technically speaking, colors are the way our brain, by use of our eyes, interprets electromagnetic radiation of a wavelenght within the visible spectrum. Visible light lies between 400 and 700 nanometers.

The different wavelengths are seen as different colors, as in the spectrum below. You see a spectrum like this everything you see a rainbow.

Traditionally the spectrum is divided into seven separate bands. The first person to really define this was Newton. Some people believe that he included the color indigo only to make seven steps to match the number of notes in major musical scale. These are the approximate wavelengths for each of the colors:

Color Wavelength (nm)
Red 650 - 800
Orange 590 - 640
Yellow 550 - 580
Green 490 - 530
Blue 460 - 480
Indigo 440 - 450
Violet 390 - 430
Source: Johannes Itten - The Art of Color (Kindle Edition)

Electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength of over 750 nm is called infra-red, and radiation under 350 nm is ultra-violet. Each color on the spectrum can vary in saturation, lightness and darkness, and it's estimated that a human eye can distinguis about 10 million color variations.

Color Wheel

basic color wheel

In color theory, we often talk about the color wheel. A color wheel is really just the spectrum twisted around so that the violet and red ends are joined. The color wheel is particularly useful for showing how the colors relate to each other and how you can create new colors by mixing two or more colors.

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