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Ignaz Schiffermüller’s Color System

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Ignaz Shriffermuller

Ignaz Schiffermüller (1727-1806) was an Austrian naturalist mainly interested in insects, specially butterflies. He was a teacher at the Theresianum College in Vienna. Schiffermüller is also recognised for his work in optics and colour theory. He developed scientifically based colour nomenclature to describe the countless tones of nature.

Butterfly Study

In 1772 his work “Versuch eines Farbensystems” was published . It contained an attractive full-page engraving with a colour circle, inspired by the optical theory of French Jesuit Louis Bertrand Castel(1688–1757) and hand-tinted with twelve colours continuously shading into one another. The circumference of Schiffermüller’s circle is filled with twelve colours to which he has given some very fanciful names: blue, sea-green, green, olive-green, yellow, orange-yellow, fire-red, red, crimson, violet-red, violet-blue and fire-blue. The three primary colours of blue, yellow and red are not placed at equal distances from each other; between them come three kinds of green, two kinds of orange and four variations of violet (excluding the secondary colour violet). Schiffermüller selects a total of 12 colours like Father Castel who linked his system to music — more specifically, the twelve semi-tones of the musical scale.

The Colour Circle

Ignaz Schiffermuller’s system served to illustrate Newton’s discovery that the pure colours could be arranged in a circle. He was one of the first to arrange the complementary colours opposite one another: blue opposite orange; yellow opposite violet; red opposite sea green. Schiffermüller also placed a sun (only suggested here) inside his colour circle in order to emphasise that all colours are produced by nature.

Circle Drawing with the Sun


Saturday, March 24, 2018

The color system ‘Coloroid’ was originated in Hungary, developed between 1962 and 1980 by the Professor Antal Nemcsics. The objective of this arrangement was to provide technical and artistic help to architects involved in colored environmental design. There was no contemporary color system that fulfilled the requirements stipulated for color planning.
In August 2000, the Coloroid system has been registered as Hungarian Standard, and used as the main colour system.

The system is operated with the three parameters of color-hue, saturation and brightness.
Basically, the value ‘T’ stands for saturation, or purity of the color, the cilinder is created around a 48-part color circle ‘A’ or wavelength, and the ‘V’ is the luminosity, the higher it gets, the luminosity is higher, and vice versa.



The form that it creates is a modified cylinder based on ‘psychosomatic scales’.


The guiding principle behind the system is to show the aesthetic distance between colors as being uniform, due to the fact that the 48 different colors are being located at approximately identical number of harmony intervals to each other.

Within this as the smaller perceptual volume defined by the limit of colors it is possible to reproduce with physical media (material, pigment colors).


The interesting part of this system for me is the idea of harmony, and how it can be defined or create with a simple linear or geometrical combination of colors.


Friday, March 23, 2018

Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909) was a German psychologist who pioneered the experimental psychology of memory. He is mostly known for his discovery of the forgetting curve (describes how the ability of the brain to retain information decreases in time), the learning curve (graphical representation of the rate at which you make progress learning new information) and the spacing effect (phenomenon whereby information is learned and retained more easily and effectively when its studying is spread out over time).


However, Hermann Ebbinghaus has also been known thanks to its colour system. Indeed, the concept of the double pyramid gained in popularity thanks to the latter.


In 1902, he proposed a new version of Hofler’s double pyramid. Ebbinghaus constructed a colour system rest on this system of double pyramid but made few modifications: he put rounded corners and an inclined central plane.

He rounds off the corners of the solid as he considered the transition between colours as fluid and not sharply defined. The Hering-type fundamental opponent colours are located at the six corners (black, green, red, blue, yellow, white).
The resulting chromatic body, from the four primary colours, links Leonardo da Vinci’s idea that colours vary in brightness and can thus be differentiated. The idea was to separate and so distinguish those four colours due to the variation of brightness.
The base-square of the double solid is tilted in such a way that the best yellow hues, which are relatively bright, are nearer to white, and the best blue tones, which are relatively dark, are nearer to black. His system does not predict the mixtures of colours and the complementary pairs are not arranged opposite one another.



In 1893, Ebbinghaus published a «Theory of Colour Vision» in the Zeitschrift für Psychology (Journal of Psychology), in which he mentioned that humans perceive colours through higher mental processes. As a psychologist, he knew about the perception of the four elementary colour (yellow, red, green, blue) and thanks to physiologists knew there were only three photo-sensitive substances in the eye’s retina (rods, cones, photosensitive retinal ganglion cells) thanks to which the phenomenon of coloured vision and its anomalies could be explained.


In addition, Ebbinghaus has discovered that two white hues produced by spinning either red and green or blue and yellow, appeared to be the same at certain levels of brightness, but appeared different when the illumination was reduced or the speed was reduced.

Phillipp Otto Runge- Colour Sphere

Thursday, March 22, 2018
The colour-sphere has the pure colours around the equator, starting with the three primary colours of red, yellow and blue. Three mixed colours take their place in each of the equal intermediate spaces between the primaries, while white and black form the sphere’s poles. Runge wished to capture the harmony of colours — not the proportions of mixtures. He wished to bring a sense order to the totality of all possible colours, and sought an ideal colour-solid.

• Philipp Otto Runge develops the concept of the color sphere. His goal was to show the complete realm of colors, using only the mixture of the three primary colors (red, blue, yellow). Runge saw the three colors as a “simple symbol of the Holy Trinity” and black and white as “light is goodness, and darkness is evil.” His idea was to expand the hue existing circle into a sphere, with white and black forming the two opposing poles.

•Featured are the primary colours red, yellow and blue. They have the same distance to each other. The secondary colours orange, purple and green also have the same distance. The upper part of the sphere is white; the colours become lighter. The lowest part of the sphere is black; The colours become darker.  Red, blue yellow, black and white have the same distance from each other.


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




Robert Ridgway’s Colour Standards and Colour Nomenclature

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.


The figure above shows how Ridgway visualized his coloursystem. One could imagine a two-dimensional, straight line, which has a lightness-gradient, going from white to black. This line doesn’t contain any colour, but as soon as it’s imagined as a three-dimensional shape, the line is surrounded by all 1,115 colours. The colours Ridgway specified were split up in thirty-six individuals, called the “pure colours”. The different teints in between the white, black, and “pure colour”, were all presented and named on the fifty-three hand-painted colourplates (as shown below).


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.


Hering’s 4-colour wheel

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

I am going to explain to you Ewald Hering’s very exciting colour wheel chart containing of not 3 (RGB) but 4 primary colours (RGBY).

Hering was a German physiologist who specialised in colour perception. So basically how our eyes and brains work in relation to colour which we can call “the physiology of visual perception”
A problem that came up was the colour yellow; Helmholtz, another physicist who came op with the RGB model (the Young-Helmholtz theory) had stated that yellow came from a mixture of red and green (so there being 3 primary colours).

For hering this was not in line with the human experience because the sensation of yellow is very important and is not seen as a mixture of something else.

Instead of seeing complementary colours, like in the 3 primary colour wheel (RGB), Hering talked about opposing colours. Being; blue versus yellow, red versus green and black versus white.


So next to black and white there would be 4 colours which can occur without the “help” of another colour.
Every perception (what we see) is a mixture of the six basic sensations (so these four colours plus black and white) opposing each other and thus interacting.

Hering called these colours the “psychological primaries”.

Hering states that in the human eye thus brain there are three processes happening at the same time in order to see colour; the red-green, yellow-blue and black and white sensation. Later on I will explain why Hering also calls these sensations the “opposing pairs”.

(In his system, red green yellow and blue can be seen as primary colours. Anyone who is seeing orange can imagine it to be a mix of red en yellow. But no one looks at red, yellow or blue and sees it as a mixture of other colours.)

Hering wasn’t the first to talk about 4 primary colours. Before him so did Leonardo da Vinci. Only the arranging of the colours in a circular model was something Hering did. So the wheel is his invention with which he proved to have a real point.

The outer ring of the wheel shows how every primary colour has a warm and a cool side.
So warm red is red with a lot of yellow while cool red is more bluish
Warm yellow goes towards red and cool yellow towards green. Etc.

Each primary colour pair in the wheel has the same warm and cool side.
For example: Green and red have yellow for warm and blue for cold which makes them pairing as well as opposing.

Although having the same hot and cold sensations, the opposing colours in the weel cannot be part of each other.
- yellow can be kind of green or red but never blue
- green can be kind of blue or yellow but never red.

Complementary colours complete each other (like in the RGB wheel) but Hering’s opposing colours do the exact opposite.

A lot of us have learned in high school that there are three primary colours; red yellow and blue. The thing is actually that this 3 primary colour wheel is how to mix colours by knowing what colours complement each other and what colours generally look good together.
If we are talking about how we actually see colours, there are 4 primary colours!
So this is the big difference between the two wheels; the three colour wheel is about aesthetics while the 4 colour wheel (Hering’s) is about the psychological relationship we have towards colour.


You have to look at the 4 colour wheel like meters in your head. When the meter goes one way, there is more red, if it goes the other way you get green. If the meter stays in the middle you get zero so no colour (or actually a kind of greyish or brownish), same with yellow and blue.
Then at the same time you have a meter that, for example, goes from a reddish yellow to a greenish yellow and that goes from a yellowish green to a blueish green
And then there is also a meter that adds more or less black or white, also changing the colour.

R – 0 – G , so there is no greenish red
B – 0 – Y , so there is no yellowish blue

There is a greenish blue or a reddish blue (purple)
There is also a greenish yellow or a reddish yellow (orange)

Hering’s colour wheel is used a lot because it shows how the eye naturally perceives colour. So it’s less a bout just mixing paint or seeing how colors can be made in different media in what case you would need only three colours (RGB).

Instead, the wheel is better at showing what happens in the upper, brain level, and describing humans colour sensations.

CMYk printing advices:

Tuesday, February 27, 2018
CMYk is color system used for printing. To print an mage, first you have to separate it into four colors: CyanMagenta,Yellow and BlackEach of this colors consists from halftone dots, when dots of different colors overlap each other you can get all colors of rainbow. By using halftones of each colour, we are able to mix various percentages of all four process colours to print a huge spectrum of colours. If you take a magnifying glass to the full colour image, you will see that it is comprised of dots of various process colour. There is a measure of density of this color dots, it is called DPI, in particular the number of individual dots that can be placed in a line within the span of 1 inch (2.54 cm). If you are printing photo, dpi should be around 300. But if you are printing big board or poster, something that people will observe from the distance dpi can be less than that.


Monday, February 26, 2018

RGB is an additive colour model, meaning that lights are added together in different frequencies to create colours. For example, when red and green lights are added together they create a yellow colour. This is different to a subtractive colour model where colours are created by mixing dyes, pigment paints etc. which then absorb parts of the full spectrum of colour frequencies available in white light and reflect other frequencies which then give the surface it’s colour.





RGB is used in digital colour sensors and digital colour displays and projectors. Each pixel on a screen has three tiny light sources, red, green and blue in colour. These emit different brightnesses which in the combined effect create the specified colour of the pixel. The sum of all the pixels on the screen will create an image.




These three colours, Red, Green and Blue, are chosen because they correspond to the way the human eye sees colour. We have photoreceptor cells in our eyes called rods and there are three types of rods. One which detects long-wave frequencies of light, another for middle-wave and another for short-wave. Specifically, these correspond to the frequencies of blue, green and red.




CMN Colour System

Sunday, February 25, 2018





The CMN system was first introduced in Venice, 1986. Colours transform; they get brighter and darker until they eventually become white or black, as well as altering the quality of transparency and reflectiveness. The system shows why and how colours appear, change and disappear. Eat point of the tetrahedral structure marks the different qualities in reflectiveness, transparency, brightness and darkness the colour can posses. This single tetrahedron can be combined with others and create a complete range of spacial models required to find the origins of the colour as well as reflect the intentions of the observer. Despite transparency and reflection stemming from an object which is illuminated, the colours appearing will be the result of the contribution made by the observer. The effect these two qualities have on colours is at the forefront of this colour system, as it is the first to consider transparency and reflection in a colouring ordering system.

The tetrahedron constructionwas a form first seen in Plato’s geometrical idea of colour. The radiance must appear along side the colours and have equal value, only white being allowed dominance. The tetrahedron is taken as a basis, three can be assembled with their tip representing white interlocking acting as the central point and remains colourless. This forms a second triangular plane with a colour appointed to eat corner. The white centre being empty allows colours to be mixed. This idea given by Plato is not a formally constructed colour system, rather the personal view is intended to aid understanding the colour mixtures he describes.       pyt02    pyt03

Herman von Helmholtz colour theory

Saturday, February 24, 2018

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