Color Theory and Superheroes
It is a guilty pleasure of mine that I love good color theory. Recently I have endeavored to impart some of my passion for it to others with varying results. The first few attempts were met with blank stares and, at best, vague nods. It wasn't until my latest few attempts that I met with success. The key? Superheroes.
Explaining my rationale for color choices during client meetings has just become a LOT more fun. My aim is to let you in on a few tricks to help you remember basic color harmonies by illustrating their concepts through superhero costumery.
Find here a list of the various terms describing color relationships as they might pertain to the costumery of popular heroes and a villain (and a hero that is sometimes a villain.)
The Dark Knight:
This is a excellent example of monochromatic color theory. To keep him dark and brooding, the costume designers for Batman went with all cool blues and greys (yes, grey can be cool or warm - See Batman's utility belt.)
This color scheme adds to the overall subtle and stealthy feel of our hero (sometimes villain).
When proposing a monochromatic color scheme, research the psychology of color. These schemes are loaded with emotion. All-red tint choices emote something entirely different from all-yellow schemes.
These can be the most limiting of schemes but at the same time, you can chose your hue and its tints with ease. Less brain damage means more productive design time.
One of the strongest methods of choosing two colors for your site/brochure/card/shirt etc. is to go with two colors that are complementary to one another. These are colors that lay opposite one another on the color wheel.
Here we see classic Wolvie with a blue and orange color scheme. It really makes his suit POP out of the picture. Note, there are some yellows in the highlights of the suit. This is just good highlighting.
You might have seen psychedelic posters that employ complementary colors to create a bizarre visual effect. This is dangerous in most design because you want your colors to play well with each other and not induce flashbacks. To avoid the "visual vibration" of complementary hues, try pumping up the contrast or varying the saturation of one of the colors. This will go a long way toward saving an otherwise visually painful design.
Aquaman puts a spin on Complementary Color:
This gets a little more geeky (as if comics weren't geeky enough.)
Split complements are achieved when you choose a main color for the scheme (in this case it is Yellow) and, instead of going with the direct complement (the color directly across from your choice on the color wheel), you choose TWO colors on either side of the complement. This gives us the strong color pop of a complementary color scheme while also providing three colors to make the main palette of your brochure/site/card etc.
The choice of a split complement is subtle and clever. Don't be afraid to push the envelope a little. These colors have the oompfh of a true complementary scheme with the flexibility of other schemes we have yet to look at.
Superman and his TRUE TRIAD:
It's hard to think of superheroes without thinking about Superman. His is an iconic image with sound color theory behind his Triad of super colors.
This is a very balanced approach to color theory as the method of choosing the colors is quite rational. Simply start with a color you like and choose two colors that are equally spaced on the color wheel from one another. BAM.
This approach yields a wild array of contrasting color choices and will certainly stand apart as the strongest of the 3 color choices.
A Tetrad? You must be kidding... :
The classic joker. I am not going to lie... I had a heck of a time finding a hero to fit the bill for the Tetrad example and I had to look pretty hard just to find a villain to do the same! But Jack Nicholson came through in a pinch.
A Tetrad is four colors chosen from the color wheel. Simply chose every fourth color on your color wheel... this varies depending upon the depiction of the wheel and often it is best chosen with a solid notion of color harmony.
To make things really easy, use the Prang color wheel and every fourth color actually make up a pair of complementary pairs!
I have an action item for you... if you are still reading. There is one color harmony I have yet to explore in this post. Can you find it? Better yet, find it and shoot me an email with a hero (or villain) that utilizes that scheme. It's worth a free business card design or 25% off your next major design project.
Good luck heroes!