Thursday, March 24, 2011

Textile Colour Systems

As the human eye can distinguish between 10 million colours, it is clear that to describe colour experiences by name is imprecise. While everyone knows what is meant by tomato red, different people have different ideas as to exactly what colours are meant by beige and sand; mauve and lilac. In order to accurately describe or pinpoint colours, a reference or colour system is required.

All the attempts to notate colour can be traced back to the work of Sir Isaac Newton. In 1660 he re-created a spectrum by directing a narrow beam of white light through a prism; he went on to develop a colour wheel by taking the two ends and bending the spectrum into a circle. This colour wheel evolved and changed over the centuries and in 1810 Otto Runge created a spherical model, with white at the North Pole and black at the South Pole and with Newton’s colour circle forming its equator. In 1915 Williem Ostwald devised his double-cone colour solid; also in 1915, Albert Munsell developed another system of colour notation that added steps to the constituent hues.


Munsell allowed his three-dimensional colour solid to respond in shape to the different potential strengths between hues, creating an asymmetrical colour solid. His colour model can be explained in three dimensions, in terms of hue, value and chroma. Hue is the ‘colour’ of a colour, i.e., its redness, greenness or yellowness, value refers to the amount of lihtness or darkness, while chroma refers to its saturation or its colour strength.
A number of commercial colour specification ranges have been developed from Munsell’s work including the BS4800 and the Pantone and Colour Dimension systems. In textiles and clothing, the Pantone system is probably the most commonly used, and a whole range of products is available in its defined colours. These include ranges of marker pens, paper and even fabric samples.

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