In the beginning, there was darkness well, the beginning of the day, that is.
You wake up in the wee hours of the morning to find that every object in your bedroom is the same shade of black. It’s strange, too, because the last time you checked, your room was filled with a wide array of colours.
Then, you strike a match, flip a light switch or maybe tap open your smartphone. Suddenly, the room takes on a different character, illuminated by the reddish glow of a flame, the yellow-white hue of a light bulb or the cool blue aura of your phone’s screen.
The objects in your room look different under each different light source. And that begs the question: Are these objects actually changing colour, or do we just perceive them differently?
Of course, the answer might seem obvious, but the explanation is far more complex than you’d think.
It all starts with a basic understanding of where colour comes from, and how we experience it in our daily lives.
Let there be light
As our bedroom scene illustrates, there can be no colour in the absence of light.
The Sun is our most potent source of visible light, which appears white or colourless. However, a closer study of visible light would reveal that each beam actually contains a spectrum of colour that, when combined, creates the appearance of whiteness.
That’s why whenever light is refracted or split up, like the way moisture creates a rainbow the traditional colour spectrum can be seen.
So what makes the grass green and your car red?
Surprisingly, the colours contained in visible light don’t “paint” the world; knowing how each beam of light contains every colour we see, it’d be easy to imagine the grass, say, soaking up every drop of green.
In reality, though, it’s the opposite: Grass soaks up every colour on the spectrum except green. The green that humans perceive is a result of the colour being reflected off the grass, not absorbed.
This is called “subtractive colour,” meaning that an object takes away several colours from the light spectrum, and reflects the remaining colour or colours for us to see. Using this framework, we can understand that our perception of “black” is result of total colour absorption and our perception of “white” is the result of total colour reflection.
RGB vs. CMYK vs. Pantone
Now that we’ve established how we see colour, let’s discuss how we create it.
Colour creation is rooted in the RGB system. RGB (red, green, blue) is based on “additive” colour principles. Unlike subtractive, additive colour doesn’t assume the full spectrum of visible light. Instead, it uses controlled amounts of red, green, and blue light to create other colours, like cyan (green and blue), magenta (red and blue) and yellow (red and green).
RGB is the foundation of electronic colouration. Because every television, phone and computer screen has its own light source, the colours on screen are the result of manipulated dosages of red, green and blue.
However, as we discussed earlier, when the visible light is your primary source, as with physical objects like furniture or magazines, subtractive principles govern the colouration process. And that’s why CMYK and Pantone systems were born.
CYMK is the primary colouration mode for print media, like magazines. Descended from the RGB system, CMYK or four-colour printing uses combinations of cyan, magenta, yellow and black to produce full-colour images. During the CMYK printing process, the image is printed four times, once for each colour (or plate). Once each plate is layered on, the colours blend together to create the full range of shades and tones.
But what if you could replicate these tones without several layers of printing, and guarantee colour consistency? That’s what the Pantone Matching System aims to solve. Pantone colours are premixed RGB and CMYK combinations that help take the guesswork out of colouration. Pantones are used to colour a variety of materials, from cars to furniture.
But remember, although Pantones can create specific shades of a colour or CMYK prints look like real life, no colour really “exists” in the abstract it’s all just our perception.
Colour, at the end of the day, just comes down to how light is absorbed and reflected by specific objects.
The Prizm difference
Here’s the kicker about colour: Our eyes aren’t perfect.
Left unaided, our eyes have the virtually impossible task of seeing the world with complete focus, clarity and depth that it deserves. Our eyes struggle because there are simply too many colours to take in at once, and this influx of colour can pollute and distort our vision.
That’s why Oakley create Prizm lenses. Prizm is a complete revolution in lens optics built on decades of colour science research. Prizm lenses can control light transmission helping our eyes handle the colour overload filter out bad colour and maximize contrast for an unprecedented level of visibility.
With Prizm, your eyes have the technology to keep you safe and take your performance to new heights.
To learn more about the Prizm difference, or to order your Prizm lenses today, click here.