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Tip 3: 'Value' Has the Highest Value of All

This tip is especially important. Students (and sometimes even professionals) ask, “Which trait is most important-hue, saturation, or value?” This question is nonsensical, a bit like asking, “What's most important-fish, seaweed, or water?” Difficult-to-quantify rankings of significance aside, fish, seaweed, and water are all important, each in its own way. Trying to answer this second question sensibly, you might point out that water functions perfectly well without fish or seaweed, but both fish and seaweed are high, dry, and dead without water.

Insert hue, saturation, and value into the scenario, and you get another truism: Value is just fine without the presence of either hue or saturation. Black-and-white photos pose a good example—imagery that contains plenty of values, but not a trace of either hue or saturation. Hue and saturation can't even enter the picture, so to speak, without values in which they can reside.

So, while all three qualities—hue, saturation, and value-are highly worthy of thoughtful consideration when developing color combinations, value has to be priority one, since neither hue nor saturation can exist without it.

Painters have long understood the extreme importance of good value structure when applying color to their works of art; hence the oft-repeated axiom: A color can't be right if its value is wrong.

What makes a piece's value structure good or bad? The main thing to know about good value structure is that it establishes clear boundaries between compositional elements. Poor value structure, on the other hand, leads to a kind of visual mush that can cause frustration, confusion, and even revulsion in the eyes and minds of viewers.

Some value-related advice: Whenever possible (and when software allows), develop the look of your to-be-colored layouts, logos, graphics, and illustrations using 2-8 shades of gray (plus black and white, if you like). Once the image looks good, replace the grays with colors that match their values (see Figure 2). You'll be amazed at how this process can streamline the creation of attractively colored visuals.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Try developing your layouts and illustrations using grays; then convert the grays to colors that have same values.

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