Light Science pp 203-228 | Cite as

Sources of Color

  • Thomas D. RossingEmail author
  • Christopher J. Chiaverina


Color surrounds us. It is a sensation that adds excitement and emotion to our lives. Everything from the clothes we wear to the pictures we paint revolves around color. In this chapter, methods of producing and manipulating color through the use of paints, dyes, filters, and lighting will be explored.


Glossary of Terms

complementary colors (oflight)

Two colors that produce white light when added together.

complementary colors (of pigment)

Two colors that produce black when added together.


A solution of molecules that selectively absorbs light of different colors.


A thin layer of glass fused to a metal.


A thin layer of glass covering the surface of pottery.

halftone process

Printing with black dots of various sizes to represent shades of gray.


Color name; what distinguishes one color from another.


Coloring agent consisting of alumina particles covered with dye.


Filter that allows only one wavelength (color) to pass through.

neutral density filter

Gray filter that reduces the intensity of light without changing its spectral distribution (color).

Newton’s color circle

Three primary colors arranged around a circle with the complementary secondary colors directly opposite.


Color-absorbing powders suspended in a medium such as oil or acrylic.

primary colors (additive, of light)

Three colors that can produce white light.

primary colors (subtractive, of filters or pigments)

Three colors that can produce black.


Purity of a color; spectral colors have the greatest saturation; white light is unsaturated.

spectral filter

Filter that passes a distribution of wavelengths of light.


Graph indicating the portion of light reflected at each wavelength.


Instrument that measures the power (in watts) of light at each wavelength.

spectral power distribution (SPD)

Power of light as a function of wavelength.

Further Reading

  1. Coren, S., Porac, C., & Ward, L. M. (1984). Sensation & Perception. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.Google Scholar
  2. Eckstut, J., & Eckstut, A. (2013). The Secret Language of Color. New York: Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, Inc.Google Scholar
  3. Finlay, V. (2014). The Brilliant History of Color in Art. Los Angeles: Getty Publications.Google Scholar
  4. Franklin, B. (1996). Teaching about Color and Color Vision. College Park, MD: American Association of Physics Teachers.Google Scholar
  5. Goldstein, E. B. (1989). Sensation and Perception, 3rd ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  6. Judd, D. B., & Kelly, K. L. (1965). The ISCC-NBS Method of Designating Colors and a Dictionary of Color Names. U.S. National Bureau of Standards Circular 553, 2nd ed. Washington, DC: U.S. National Bureau of Standards.Google Scholar
  7. Overheim, R. D., & Wagner, D. L. (1982). Light and Color. New York: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  8. Williamson, S. J., & Cummins, H. Z. (1983). Light and Color in Nature and Art. New York: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas D. Rossing
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christopher J. Chiaverina
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Music, Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA)Stanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.New Trier Township High SchoolWinnetkaUSA

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