Philosophers, scientists, researchers, and educators have all studied the complexities of seeing color. Noted biologist Nicholas Humphrey believes that the ability to see color (such as the glowing red of an ember) evolved to meet human beings' survival needs.1 In packaging design, survival on shelf is very much tied to the use of color.

The human eye sees color before the brain recognizes imagery in the form of shapes, symbols, words, or other visual elements. Seeing color is a complex process. Objects, shapes, and images are recorded in our brains via light. Absorbed through the retina, light sends a signal to the brain. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) estimates that the human eye can distinguish more than ten million different colors. The colors that the eye perceives are really different wavelengths of projected or reflected light.

Projected light determines how bright an object appears; it is what gives colors their value. Reflected light is responsible for how we see surface color. An object does not emit any light of its own: light is either absorbed by or reflected off of its surface. Painted and printed matter creates color by reflecting light off of substances such as pigment, ink, dye, and toner.

Sunlight is the standard by which colors are measured. Since the color of daylight changes with the time of day and conditions of the atmosphere, “natural” light is as ephemeral as color itself. Color is constantly changing because the qualities ...

Get Packaging Design: Successful Product Branding From Concept to Shelf, 2nd Edition now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from nearly 200 publishers.