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Choosing Colors

When designing your Web site, you will want to come up with a color scheme that you can use throughout the site, or that part of the site that you are working on.

When choosing your color scheme, there are a few basic parameters that will help you with your task, as shown in Table 3.

Table 3-Color Nomenclature




The "hue" of a color is analogous to the angle of the color on the color wheel. You will usually specify hue on a "color picker" that is either circular or linear with Red or Violet at each end.


Represents the amount of color mixed in. The primary colors are fully saturated; White has no saturation. (Black and the various shades of gray may or may not be saturated, depending on whom you ask.)


Analogous but not strictly the same as saturation. Technically speaking, the average value of the Red, Green and Blue components of a color can be used as the value of that color.


The subjective difference between two colors. High and low saturation or value create contrast; colors opposite each other on the wheel create contrast.


Warm colors are those on the Red-Orange-Yellow side of the wheel; Cool colors are those on the Green-Blue-Violet side.

When you are designing your site, think about those aspects. Highlight the important stuff with contrasting value or hue; use a warm or cool color scheme to impart the feeling that you want for the site. Experiment a little and find something that pleases you (and your client!).

When displaying text over a colored background, be sure to use contrasting value for the text; contrasting color is not enough. Use a background color at one end of the value scale and text color the other end. If the text is a light color on a dark background, think about creating a "printable" version of the text with black letters on a white background.

Where to Learn More

For a thorough exploration of Web color, I recommend the book Coloring Web Graphics by Bruce Heavin and Lynda Weinman (by way of disclosure, Lynda Weinman is my sister). It's been out of print for a while, but you can probably find a copy at a used bookstore or an online auction site. I have never seen a more complete discussion of the subject.

Here is an excellent article on additive (projected) and subtractive (reflected) light, by artist Lee Harrington (

There are a number of Web sites that show different views of the Web-safe color cube. This site by William Johnston ( includes good slices of the cube, so you can see all the colors inside. Search for "color cube" on your favorite search engine to find more.

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