Skip to Content Skip to Search Go to Top Navigation Go to Side Menu

Archive for March, 2018


Sunday, March 18, 2018

The ISCC-NBS system of color designation is a system of naming colors based on a set of 13 basic color terms, it was first established in the 1930’s by a joint effort of the Inter Society Color Council and the National Bureau of Standards.

The ISCC-NBS system believed colors should have names. The objective of the system is to assign precise names to the individual blocks of color of the A.H. Munsell color system, using ordinary words. And the systems goal is to designate colors in the Unites States Pharmacopoeia, the National Formulary and in general literature. And the system should be acceptable and usable by science, art and industry, and should be understood, at least in a general way by the whole public.

The backbone of the ISCC–NBS system is a set of 13 basic color categories, made up of 10 hue names and three neutral categories: pink(Pk), red(R), orange(O), brown(Br), yellow(Y), olive(OI), yellow green(YG), green(G), blue(B), purple(P), white(Wh), gray(Gy) and black(Bk).

Then there are 16 intermediate categories, such as: reddish orange (rO) so an adjective and the hue name.
other example: purplish blue (pB).

These categories can be further subdivided into 267 named categories by combining a hue name with modifiers. Like the subdivision for Purple, you have all these works for how the color feels/looks, like: “blackish” (bk.), “dark-ish gray” (d.-ish Gy). So they really wanted to find a way to objectively measure a color. And I feel that this way is pretty objective for a color naming system. I find that this system is fast and easily communicated through the system they made using the brackets.

Moses Harris’s Natural System of Colours Wherein is displayed the regular and beautiful Order and Arrangement, Arising from the Three Primitives, Red, Blue, and Yellow, The manner in which each Colour is formed, and its Composition, The Dependence they have on each other, and by their Harmonious Connections Are produced the Teints, or Colours, of every Object in the Creation, And those Teints, tho’ so numerous as 660, are all comprised in Thirty Three Terms

Friday, March 16, 2018

Moses Harris, who lived from 15 April 1730 until 1788 in England, was a fanatic entomologist (this is someone who studies insects). As the first photograph had yet to be taken, it was common to use engravings to use as imagery to support your research. Moses did not outsource the making of these engravings, he made them himself. As the difference between two insect species is sometimes very subtle, the colours of Moses’s engravings needed to be very precise in order to be able to determine a species correctly. Thus grew his interest in colour.

Moses Harris engraving

In Moses’s quest to record insects as best as he could, he needed a new colour system that could help him when he was making the engravings of the insects. He decided to create his own colour system by using a  source that he as an entomologist was very familiar with, namely nature. He claims that blue, red and yellow are the prime colours, because those are the colours to be found back the most in non-domesticated flowers, thus nature must like them the most. He called them the prismatic colours, because those are the colours that are reflected by the prism. Which is quite remarkable, as his whole research is about colour in pigment and not in light. The colours green, orange and purple he calls the compound colours, as they are made up from the prismatic colours. As Moses thinks that nature divides the prismatic colours and the compound colours, he decided to also seperate them into two different colour wheels that together make his colour system. It is said that Moses is the inventor even of the colour wheel.

He finished his colour system somewhere between 1769 and 1776 with a lot of enthusiasm. A bit too much enthusiasm maybe, as he named his colour system:

“Moses Harris’s Natural System of Colours Wherein is displayed the regular and beautiful Order and Arrangement, Arising from the Three Primitives, Red, Blue, and Yellow, The manner in which each Colour is formed, and its Composition, The Dependence they have on each other, and by their Harmonious Connections Are produced the Teints, or Colours, of every Object in the Creation, And those Teints, tho’ so numerous as 660, are all comprised in Thirty Three Terms”

Now this was a bit too long to go on the book cover of his publication about his newly realized colour system thus they shortened it to: “Moses Harris’s Natural System of Colours”

Moses Harris's prismatic colour wheel Moses Harris's compound colour wheel

William Benson Cuboid Colour System

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The English architect William Benson developed a color system for practical application in the decorative arts. He kept well informed on the scientific findings in the color field. With experience in pigment mixture as well as his own experiments with a prism and mixtures, Benson fully understood the difference between light and colorant mixture.
In 1868, Benson published ‘Principles of the Science of Colour’, which describes a cubic color system. Based on this system, he derived rules of color harmony for color-design use. Later editions appeared in 1872, 1876, and 1886. Benson attempted to cover the totality of color sensation in appropriate geometric model named the Natural System of Cours. Benson’s system is a conceptually additive one. He considered spectral colours to best approximate pure color sensations:

In their binary mixtures, the primary colours red, green and blue form the secondaries, taken to complement the primaries, as determined with the help of edge spectra.The cube stands on its black corner, and three edges extend outwards to the basic colours of red, green and blue. 

Screen Shot 2018-02-08 at 15.21.34

From the top, the edges lead to a yellow, a “sea-green” and a pink corner. Benson’s cube contains 13 main axes which he divides into three groups:

‘Primary axes’, connecting the central points of opposing side, meaning that the primary colours changes involving  3 axes.

‘Secondary axes’, connecting the middle points of opposing edges, meaning that two primary colours will change involving 6 axes.

‘Tertiary axes’, joining opposing corners meaning that all the three primary colours will change involving 4 axes.

Benson gave exact colour names to all the many points;

He named all the colours on his cube,mostly in name pairs to accurately describe the intermediacy of the colours, and where they would lay spatially. His model might be one of the first three dimensional color model.

Screen Shot 2018-02-08 at 15.22.09

genuine product of light and shadow

Wednesday, March 7, 2018


Athanasius Kircher,was a German Jesuit scholar and polymath. As he had outstanding talents and  wide range of interests in mathematics, geology, medicine, etc.  he has been often compared to fellow scholar Roger Boscovich and to Leonardo da Vinci.


Kircher also was a follower of the theory called DE COLORIBUS which argues that all colors (yellow, red, and blue) are derived from mixtures of black and white.


As we can see in the diagram below, all the color points of the system can  be reached from white and black, and this shows his fundamental view on colors as genuine product of light and shadow.



In his system, all combinations of colors are produced with three colors between white and black and all the possible mixtures are shown on half-circles. 


For example, in the case of green, which is a mixture of yellow and blue, it is located at the overlap of yellow and blue and takes a special position as it is in the center with red below. 


His idea of combinations of colors was already pioneering and had a big influence on the color theories in that time.


It remained influential until Isaac Newtons’s experiments with light refraction came out. In fact, the prism, and its effect on light, was something already known to Kircher, but he made an incorrect ordering of colors from bright to black. Newton was the one who defined the right order of the rainbow colors.




Although, his system still has significance for the color theories for these reasons.


It is a linear diagram with red, yellow and blue as the basic colors

It is  a theory behind De Coloribus (all colors are derived from mixtures of black and white)

It also provides a firm idea of mixed colors, characterised by semi-circular bows




Sunday, March 4, 2018



Robert Ridgway (Illinois, 1850-1926) was an ornithologist who, next to hundreds of publications on bird species, wrote two books on color-classification. In the first book, A Nomenclature of Colors for Naturalists (1886), was relatively simple, but already gave 186 colors their own names, which was different to how colors were described at that time; usually they were named and described subjectively.

Looking for a way to create a more advanced and expanded work, Ridgway published his second book in 1912: Color Standards and Color Nomenclature, with 1,115 new names for colors. This way it was a lot easier to communicate about specific colors between taxonomists in all kinds of scientific fields. Ridgway’s system is still used a lot in taxonomy to this day.



Maxwells Colour System

Saturday, March 3, 2018

The scientist James Clerck Maxwell discovered the additive colour system and showed the first colour photography. He lived in the 19 Century influenced by the Works of Isaac Newton and Thomas Young. He has impact on our knowledge of the Saturn Rings, Electromagnetic waves and the RGB colours.

Maxwell Photography

In his student years at the Cambridge he was fascinated by the questions:

What are colours? Why do we perceive colour? And why are we so coloured?

At that time he read the studies of Thomas Young. Young thought that painters have a much better understanding of colours then scientist had at that time. They used the primary colours to get the full colour spectrum of a painting. He found that there’s a significance of these three primary colours and that Biology has a role to play. He assumed there are three receptors for each of the primary colours in the human brain. By mixing these we receive our full colour view.

Maxwell read about this theory and wanted to prove it by mathematics. He developed a tool to trick the human brain. By spinning the right amounts of red, green and blue on a wheel, it seems like the colours are melting together to white. With this experiment he could prove that what we perceive as white is actually a mix of colours. And that there’s a difference of mixing colours in light and colours in pigments.

Colour Pyramid

From this he developed a Red, Green and Blue colour pyramid. On each corner there is the absolute of one of the primary colours. Towards the middle you get different hues of the colour and the center is white. The Pyramid is built on a x/y Axe. Mapping out a point on the pyramid gives a value of each of the primary colours.

To display his founds, he was invited to give a lecture on colour vision. What he did was to screen the same photograph with a red then green and blue light on top of each other. Where the colours intersect, there is white.

Maxwell Colour Experiment

At this time there was only black and white photography. With this experiment he made the world’s first colour photography. The additive colour system can be understood as the foundation of RGB colours and is used in the screens of most electronic devices today.

Isaac Newtons Colour Wheel

Friday, March 2, 2018

Around 1665 Isaac Newton first passed white light through a prism and he identified seven colours: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. These colours he referred to the colours of the rainbow and that they were analogous to the notes of the musical scale.


In Newton’s color wheel, in which the colors are arranged clockwise in the order they appear in the rainbow, each “spoke” of the wheel is assigned a letter. These letters correspond to the notes of the musical scale.

What he did was that he projected white light through a prism onto a wall and had a friend mark the boundaries between the colours, which he then named. In his diagrams, which show how colours respond to notes, Newton introduced two new colours, orange and indigo. These to colours would correspond to half the steps in the octatonic scale.


In physics terminology, an octave is the frequency range from x to 2x, and that premise holds true for musical octaves. If light behaved like music, then photon frequencies of the spectrum would also range from x to 2x, and their wavelengths, inversely proportional to their frequencies, would too. Instead, the wavelengths of visible light range from 400 to 700 nanometers, which, if translated to sound waves, would be approximately equivalent to a major sixth.
Therefore Isaac Newtons colour theory was actually incorrect as the frequency range in an octave is different than photon frequencies of light spectrum. Although his theory falls apart his experiments with prisms showed us that white light is a mix of different coloured lights.


Thursday, March 1, 2018

CIE-1931-System is a color matching system. CIE stands for Commission internationale de l’éclairage, which is an international authority for setting standards related to light and color. In this system the goal is not to describe how colors appear to humans but to categorize and measure colors and create a numerically order. Which then also provides a framework for precisely reproducing the measured color in printing or digitally. It’s a mathematical categorization of colors and it’s based on matching combinations of light to colors that appear to most people in this way.


Light is transformed in wavelength and humans can perceive these waves in between 380nm and 750nm. Wavelengths are absorbed and reflected by objects. Inside the human eye we have our own system of perceiving this colors by conephotoreceptors. We have 3 of them and they’re sensitive to different but overlapping wavelengths of light. L is most sensitive to long wavelengths and therefor red, M to middle-long wavelengths and therefor green and S to short wavelengths and therefor blue.


The cone’s of the eye are stimulated by complex spectral distributions of absorbing or reflecting light and then reduces it to numerical values which represents how much the three cones are stimulated. Important to know is that different spectral distributions can stimulate the cones in exactly the same way. This means we don’t need the original light source to reproduce a certain color but we can create a spectral distribution of light that stimulates the cone in the same way in order to reproduce this exact color if we find the right match. And it’s not only about creating a certain color, but it also deals with showing how to reproduce the difference in brightness of the color. And the CIE-1931-system gives us the information we need to find these matches.


The system has 3 functions called the RGB color matching functions. These are three fixed primary colors and the color matching functions are there to show you the amount of each primary output you need to create a desired color when they’re all mixed.


Log in