The Challenge of Communicating in Color

The Challenge of Communicating in Color

by Sandra Sampson, Simple Modern Style 

Communicating in color - colors of spices

Did you have a color in mind that would be perfect for your next product design, paint color, plastic surface, or printed marketing piece? Have you ever wondered how you would accurately communicate that color to your printer, materials developer, or pigment manufacturer?

Translating a specific color from trend inspiration to final product is a necessity for product development. Fortunately, color scientists have been hard at work for years to establish a repeatable and accurate way to communicate in color that can be applied across all industries worldwide.

Communicating in color -Orange bird on blue water

“The world is a colorful place and how we interpret it matters.”
— Sandra Sampson, Color Marketing Group, VP PR & Communications

How do we perceive color?

Colors of an object are a reflection of the light coming from the object and being interpreted by our brain. We can see these colors of the visible spectrum which is only a tiny fraction of colors as a whole.

Sir Isaac Newton took a band of colors that was joined at the ends and created his version of a color wheel of reflected hues. All the wavelengths reflected from an object’s surface are the one’s that we can see. The others are absorbed by the surface.

Communicating in color - rainbow water feature

Newton’s color wheel was a good starting point for color communication, however there is more to color than just the first attribute, hue. There are three physiological color attributes.  A color can have a  lightness and a darkness to it and that is what we refer to as a color’s value– not to be confused with its monetary value or ability to sell products. Then there is chroma, also known as saturation. Colors are more intense the stronger their chroma.

So we have moved from a circle of hues, added a vertical value pole going from light to dark, and a sphere of saturation. It is starting to sound like a three-dimensional color science project, which for some, may be a bit confusing at first.

Looking back about 100 years ago, we see that Color Theorist, Albert Munsell decided that a 3D color communication system was needed. He imagined that this system would provide a consistent communication tool for color pigments and their names and thus help scientists, artists, and industries communicate color more accurately.

Consistent Color Specification

Color accuracy is required when specifying color for manufacturing products such as socks, flooring, paint, paper, ink, and many more. Imagine if your Coke can came in many variations of the “Coke”red! Brands demand color accuracy which in turn increases the product’s value and selling power. With the support of a color communications system such as Munsell or NCS Colour, brands reduce significantly the chances of color inaccuracy.

Colors by the Numbers

Categorizing color is exactly what the Natural Color System (NCS) does. The system takes the guess work out of identifying what color aubergine really is. By describing a color numerically, a natural consistency emerges of what color we are speaking of versus “aubergine, you know, eggplant but a little bluer”.

NCS Colour is a proud partner of Color Marketing Group. Accurate color trend forecasts are critical for choosing color choices for your next product. NCS provides CMG an easy-to-use color communication tool, digitally and physically, to accurately capture and communicate our Summit and ChromaZone® color discussions and World Color Forecast™.


NCS Colour CEO Elin Askfelt

NCS Colour CEO Elin Askfelt

 “CMG provides a unique international platform for its members to be inspired by, and to contribute and share, as well as gain knowledge in colour and colour forecasting.  It’s our pleasure to partner with CMG for the 12th year and to sponsor an organization which shares our passion and dedication for colour.”
— Elin Askfelt, CEO NCS Colours


NCS Natural Colour System


NCS White Paper on Colour Trend Forecasting



Leave a Reply

Translate »