Which of course explains why it causes us so much trouble when trying to colour match on different surfaces and view them in different lights – doesn’t it?
Ok, so I realise that probably makes no sense, because you can see what we agree are colours, so when someone says that car is red, we know what they are talking about and we can associate it other objects such as red pillar boxes, red telephone boxes (if your old enough) and red London buses.
It Didn’t Look Like This in the Shop!
Ever purchased something only to get it home and think, it doesn’t look the same as when I saw it in the shop! So, what happened, did it change colour on the way home? No, nothing so drastic . . . but let’s start with . . .
Proof Colour Doesn’t Exist!
Take your printed leaflet, brochure or simple business card into a room that has no light – what colour do you see? BLACK, the objects do not emit any colour – so what do we see when looking at colour?
What is Colour Made Up Of?
What we ‘actually see’ is light reflecting off a surface, but what are we really looking at? Of course, I could get ultra-technical at this point, but within a paragraph or two you’d be fast asleep, or you’d leave, so, I’m going to try and explain without any use of technical jargon.
The Two Elements of Colour
There are two things that determine what colour we perceive:
- The type of light
- The surface finish
Of course, if you’ve been involved in print where colour matching is important you’ll probably be aware of the different light sources and used a light box with a selection of light types to check the colour, to make sure everything looks right when viewed in store.
Colour in the Shop Colour at Home
Retail has known for a long time that having a well-lit shop will help sell more goods, so stores will have a standard lighting to ensure all products look the same in each store.
This means you buy in lighting that’s designed to show the products at their best and then take them home and in our non-optimum lighting they don’t look the same!
Story of Poor Lighting
I remember a gift shop that a friend owned, that had an electrical problem, resulting in one corner of the shop being very poorly lit for some days. The products in that corner of the shop generally sold well, but during this period the sales of the products in that section of the shop crashed, but as soon as the lighting was fixed, they went back to normal.
Lighting – Tennis Ball – Shuttlecock
So, if in a room with no light everything looks black, it’s clear that lighting plays an important role in what we perceive but what’s happening with different light types to change the colour?
Let’s start by recognising light is an energy which travels and bounces off objects, well some of it does!
If you take a tennis ball and throw it at a wall some of the energy is absorbed by the wall, so it doesn’t come back off the wall at the same speed. If you throw the shuttlecock at the wall it will hit the wall and lose speed at a different rate.
Now imagine that the tennis ball and the shuttlecock are different light types and you measure or could view the energy that came back off the wall you’d see two different energies or two different types of light – bright and not so bright.
Is Energy Colourful?
When a white light hits an object, the object absorbs some of the energy as described above. What bounces off the object is what we see and we are able to interpret that energy into what we call colour.
With different lights having different energies to start with, which are affected by the objects surface in different ways you can now see why something can look one colour in the shop and another at home.
Surface and the Impact on Colour
Light is only one half of the equation, the other is the surface itself.
If you take the tennis ball and throw it at a brick wall the energy coming back will be minimally affected, but if you throw the tennis ball at a large piece of foam, the foam will absorb much of its energy.
Same Colour Printed on Different Surfaces
Two elements, the light type and the surface, will determine what energy bounces of the surface and therefore what we perceive the colour. Therefore, the same ink printed on different surfaces can look very different, which can be challenging when a customer brings in a shiny piece of plastic and wants the colour matched on a flat paper – we’re throwing the tennis ball at a hard brick wall and trying to match the way the tennis ball bounce back when thrown at a piece of foam – it won’t happen, but not to worry, we like a challenge!