14 Jun 2010

Gamut: Let’s get Techni-Colour

What is color?

Colour is a wavelength of light reflected off object surfaces, but also sets the mood, binds a space or design together through harmony and creates powerful associations.

Examples from largest to smallest gamut:

  • Laser Projector
  • CMOS Digital Camera Sensor
  • Photographic Film
  • CRT Monitor
  • LCD Monitor
  • PAL, NTSC (less) Television
  • Paint
  • Pantone® Printing
  • CMYK Printing
  • Monochrome Display/Printing
More on Color Theory

The colour gamut is a range of colours that can be reproduced using:

  • a projector or printer: a colour device
  • selected range of colours: a color space like RGB, CMYK, L.a.b or Pantone®

RGB: Additive Colour Space

color-additiveAfter research into colour, it was discovered that our eye’s retina have physical receptors for Red, Green and Blue, called trichromacy and the RGB colour space was born. To create a colour in RGB, you specify the amount of color light to be used for each Red, Green and Blue, which when combined create the colour. This standard is used today when defining colours for images in Photography, Monitors, HDTVs and Projectors. The background color for RGB is black.

CMYK: Subtractive Color Space

color-subtractiveAt the same time, the printing and chemical industry was hard at work to create stable synthetic pigments that could be used to create colour-printing with only 3 or 4 inks. Since the background color for printing is white, the color space was inverted to Cyan, Magenta, Yellow (CMY). These inks on white paper would subtract until black was reached when all three colors were used. Since very dark black was never achievable, they added blacK (K) to ensure a pure black, or rich black was achievable.

L* a* b*: Color Space in 3D

color-labUnlike the RGB and CMYK color models, L*a*b* color is designed to approximate human vision. It aspires to perceptual uniformity, and its L component closely matches human perception of lightness.

Since the L*a*b* model is a three-dimensional model, it can only be represented properly in a three-dimensional space. This color space is now used as the master color behind most printable colors.

Pantone® Colour Matching System

pantone-bookThe Pantone® Colour Matching System is largely a standardised color reproduction system, so different manufacturers in different locations can all refer to the Pantone system to make sure colors match without direct contact with one another.

Most of the Pantone system’s 1,114 spot colours, cannot be simulated with CMYK but only with 13 base pigments (15 including white and black) mixed in specified amounts.

The Pantone system also allows for many ‘special’ colors to be produced such as metallics and fluorescents.

More on Pantone®
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