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Shades and Tones of Yellow and Orange
Of all the colours in the spectrum, bright yellow and bright orange are two of the most vivid and intense. Of course they are two colours which are also related to each other. Yellow, in the visible spectrum, lies adjacent to orange, and there is clear merging between the two. But how can these two colours be created by mankind? And how can all the various shades and tones of yellow and orange be named and described to best effect? And what is their role in history and nature?
This page utilises the RGB colour generation system (the method used in all visual display units) to show how different shades and tones of yellow and orange can be produced today. Other methods of creating colour including CMYK printing inks and paint mixing, are very different in the way they work to create a range of hues, but these, as well as natural mineral pigment production, will also be mentioned in terms of their role in the history of yellow and orange colour usage by mankind. Other aspects of these two colours will also be discussed on this page.
- This is one of a series of pages looking at different shades and tones of colour. Three others have so far been published. There is also a home page to this series which is referenced below. Links to other pages in the series can be found towards the foot of this page.
Unless otherwise indicated, all images on this page have been created by the author using 'Paint' or 'Photoshop' programmes. All can be generated in a matter of seconds
NAMING OF YELLOW AND ORANGE HUES
The human eye perhaps finds it rather less easy to distinguish subtle shades and tones of yellow, than shades of many other colours. Yellow, almost by definition, always tends to be pale. It can be easily overwhelmed by any strong influence from red, green or blue light, or from pigments of other hues. There are therefore, comparatively few shades and tones of yellow which are clearly and readily identifiable by common English names. Most yellows which do have common names reflect a natural or man made object of similar tone - such as Lemon Yellow, Corn Yellow and School Bus Yellow.
Similarly, tones of reddish-yellow (or yellowish-red) may also be named by association with objects such as flowers and fruits, including - of course - the fruit which has given this particular group of colours its blanket name of 'orange'.
A CONFUSION OF COLOURS
Unfortunately, there has been no standardisation of the names of the many different shades and tones of colours. The manufacturers of dyes, pigments and paints can give their colour range whatever labels they choose to describe and sell their products, and therefore the same colour tone may have many different names. In addition to this, various colour creation processes produce slightly different hues (as anyone who has tried to exactly reproduce the colour of a computer generated image on to a sheet of paper will know).
Therefore the names of the shades and tones described on this page are not definitive, but may I think be fairly used to describe the colours I show. However, most of the yellows and oranges on this page are not given common names, but are defined by the proportions of Red, Green and Blue light (RGB) used to generate the tone in visual display units. Different television or computer monitors will produce slightly different results but hopefully on the screen which you are using, the colour reproduction will be true to the tones I am presenting.
In the layout of this article I will separate yellow and orange. First we will look at the colour yellow. But before we look at the generation of yellow tones in modern visual displays, we should give a brief history of yellow before the electronic age.
Shades and Tones of Colour - Colour Creation using the RGB Code, CYMK, Pigments and Dyes
This is the Home Page for this 'Shades and Tones' series. On this page I explain the spectrum of light, and the history of colour production using pigments. I also describe in more detail the RGB system, and I explain the colour coding which is used in this series. Finally I attempt to explain the terminology of 'shades' and 'tones' as used here.
LIMITATIONS OF THIS PAGE
This page is primarily concerned with the generation of the colours yellow and orange in electronic displays. As such I give a brief explanation of how different shades of yellow and orange can be produced by light in computer monitors, televisions, iPhones etc.
If you wish to understand much more about coloured light, and exactly how the huge range of different intensities of red, blue and green light may be manipulated to produce all the other colours in a visual display unit, I refer you to my Home Page opposite.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF YELLOW
The word 'Yellow' comes from the Old English 'geolu' or 'geolwe', and its first known use in English dates to the year 695 AD when it is mentioned in a dictionary now known as the 'Epinal Glossary' after the town in France where it is preserved. There may also be a link to the Indo-European 'ghel' meaning 'bright' or 'gleaming'.
Yellow pigments, however, have a much older history than that. Hydrated iron oxide - a mineral found in clay soils - was first utilised by humans as the pigment 'Yellow Ochre' for wall painting during the Stone Age. It gave a range of tones from cream through yellow to brown. In the ancient civilisations of the Mediterranean, yellow was still created using Yellow Ochre, but also there was the synthetic pigment 'Naples Yellow' (lead antimonite) and the mineral Orpiment - arsenic trisulphide - all these were important components of ceramic colourings and tomb wall paintings; indeed deep yellow Orpiment was present in a paint box found in Tutankhamun's tomb.
By the Middle Ages, new pigments had been introduced in Renaissance art including a bright coloured oxide of two metals called 'Lead Tin Yellow', and a deeper toned pigment called 'Indian Yellow'. The origin of Indian Yellow is in some doubt, but the popular belief is that it was derived from cow urine (or possibly camel urine) made deeper and richer in tone by feeding the animals on the very poorly nutritious diet of mango leaves and turmeric. Production of Indian Yellow would later diminish and it was stopped in 1908 due in part to the malnourishment of animals fed on this diet.
By the 19th century the chemical industry was experimenting with many more new pigments - some more durable than others, but some more poisonous too. 'Chrome Yellow' (first manufactured in 1809), 'Cadmium Yellow' (first manufactured in 1820), 'Lemon Yellow' (1830), and 'Cobalt Yellow' (1852) were among the new introductions. Some of these declined in use due to toxicity, expense, or instability of the colour over time, but many others remain in use today - including that most ancient of all pigments - Yellow Ochre - the chemical form of which is now produced synthetically.
Yellow pigments have always played an important role in art and design. But in the late 19th century, yellow took on a new found importance with the development of the three-colour printing process which by combining three different pigments allowed the mass reproduction of images in a vast range of hues. One of the three colours used in this process was - and is - yellow (the others are cyan and magenta). Yellow has thus become a major component of printing inks throughout the world.
Then in the 20th century, another method of instant and mass colour generation came into being with the development of electronically produced colour in visual displays. This process also employs a three colour system, but instead of pigments, light is combined in varying intensities to create many different tones. And the three colours in this system are Red, Green and Blue (RGB). But how does this work? And how can the colour yellow be generated using red, green and blue light? There now follows a brief explanation and some examples of how manipulation of light emissions in visual display units using RGB, creates different shades and tones of yellow.
CREATION OF YELLOW USING THE RGB COLOUR MODEL
In modern visual display units such as televisions, computer monitors, sat navs, iPhones and numerous other devices, the wide range of colours we can now produce are created by RGB colour combinations. Although the mechanisms are different in plasma screens, cathode ray tubes, and liquid crystal displays, the principle is the same. Just three primary colours of light - Red, Green and Blue (RGB) are generated within the VDU, and it is the relative intensities and proportions of the emissions of these three colours displayed in the form of many thousands of pixels (picture elements) on the screen which will define the end colour we see.
The diagram here illustrates the very simplest combinations of any two of the three primary colours of equal intensity. In the diagram we can see the effect of combining blue light with red light to create magenta, and of combining blue light with green light to create cyan. But for this page, the two primary colours we are most interested in are red and green:
- Pure yellow light is produced by mixing the two primary colours, red and green, in equal intensities.
As soon as one or other of these two primary colours is altered in intensity the tone changes. And as soon as a low intensity of blue light is added to the mix, a myriad of additional tones can be created. This page aims to show this effect in action.
THE RGB CODING USED ON THIS PAGE
On the visual display unit, all emissions of red, green and blue light combine in each pixel. If all three emissions are present at a maximum intensity of 100% (as shown in the centre of the illustration above) then the end result is WHITE light. If there is no emission of any light, then of course the end result is BLACK. Increasing intensities of light emissions therefore leads to paler, lighter shades, and decreasing intensities lead to darker shades. Combinations of all three different primary colours in different intensities leads to a multitude of different hues. Here are a few simple examples of relevance to this page:
In the examples above it can easily be seen how the RGB code for pure bright yellow shows maximum intensity red light and maximum intensity green light. If both these intensities are reduced, the corresponding shade becomes darker. And if just one component is reduced relative to the other, then a new tone of yellow will be created which is closer to red or to green. But if some blue light is introduced, then this will make the tone lighter. Examples of all these combinations of red, green and blue light in the production of yellow shades and tones, will be illustrated in the text. Production of the very distinctive colour known as orange, will be discussed later.
In this page the format X% (R) : X% (G) : X% B is used to express all the various combinations of red, green and blue light.
SHADES OF PURE YELLOW
In the RGB colour system, pure yellow can be described as yellow in which red light and green light are combined in equal proportions. There is no blue light contribution in the final mix. Of course, if the intensity of both red and green light is varied, then the shade of yellow produced will also vary. Any reduction in intensity will make the shade darker. A few examples of this are illustrated on the right.
In the first example maximum input of red and green light (100%) produces the brightest, richest yellow. This is similar in tone to the hue associated with Lemon Yellow.
As the intensity of red and green light is reduced, so the shade darkens, as one can see in the second and third examples.
In the fourth example, the intensity of red and green light is only 50%, and this produces a shade which is very considerably darker. By the terms of this coding system, this shade could be described as pure yellow (equal contributions of red and green light). However, we think of yellow as being a pale colour, and this hue actually appears to our sensory perception of colour as being green, rather than yellow. Indeed, because this is very similar to the colour of the fruit of the olive tree, most would describe this shade as being 'olive', or 'olive green'.
All the examples in this section vary only in intensity of light. The remaining sections feature colour combinations which vary in the proportions of red, green and blue light.
In the analysis of the 'pure yellows' above, it can be seen that although the intensity of red and green light can be reduced, and the shade made darker, the intensity of red and green light input cannot be increased above 100%, and therefore pure yellow as described, cannot possibly be made any paler than in the first example illustrated above.
And yet clearly there are paler, (or lighter), tones of yellow than those so far illustrated. How then can these be produced. The answer is through the introduction of blue light. The reason is that - as we have already seen - combination of high intensities of all three primary colours creates white light. So by adding blue to the red and green mix, we are moving the tone away from yellow and towards white. In other words, it is becoming paler.
In these three illustrations we can see the effect of increasing the intensity of blue light emissions in the predominant red and green mix. In turn 25%, 50% and 75% intensities of blue light are added, and so the tone or shade of yellow becomes correspondingly paler.
Green lies next to yellow in the visible spectrum and the two colours have much in common. With red light, green light combines to create yellow. But as we have seen, it really takes very little reduction in intensity of red and green light for the blend of the two to appear distinctly olive green.
If red light alone is reduced in intensity, then the effect is even more marked. Only a small drop in the proportion of red light in the mix is sufficient to give us a greenish yellow tone; a slightly greater drop, and the colour is distinctly green.
In the third example here, red light intensity is reduced to 70% and the resultant tone is no longer yellow. An even greater drop in red intensity creates a hue commonly described as 'lawn green' or as 'chartreuse'.
CREATION OF ORANGE USING THE RGB COLOUR MODEL
So far we have looked at pure yellow shades combining red and green light in equal intensities, and we have seen how pale yellow tones are created by the addition of blue light. We have also looked at hues in which green light is dominant over red light, and seen how this can make the final tone distinctly greenish in colour. But one final combination of primary light colours needs to be considered, and this is the combination in which red light is dominant over green light, and the resultant yellow hue takes on a distinctly more reddish tone. We all know that yellow with a reddish tone gives us the colour which forms the basis of the second half of this study - the colour orange.
Orange is in all colour systems a blend of yellow and red. In paint, it is created by mixing yellow paint and red paint. And in the electromagnetic spectrum, it is a wavelength between yellow and red. There is, however, a gradation from yellow through orange to red, and in the RGB system, this effect is achieved by gradually reducing the intensity of green light and therefore increasing the proportion of red light. Orange is generally high intensity red light and lower intensity green light.
SHADES OF ORANGE
These five illustrations show how the colour orange is produced with RGB. In the tones shown on the right, there is no blue light in the mix. And the intensity of green light will be reduced systematically from 90% to 10%, and by so doing, we see the tone created gradually moving between yellow and red. In the first example, green light is only slightly reduced from maximum intensity and so this tone is almost pure yellow.
In the second example presented here, red light remains at maximum intensity. But green has been reduced by a further 20% to only 70% intensity, so a distinct orangey tint exists. The fruit of the orange itself falls between this tone and the next.
In the third example, green light is further reduced to 50% and we have a clear orange, effectively mid-way in tone between yellow and red. Amber is considered to be of this tone.
And in the fourth example, green light is still further reduced allowing the colour red to become more dominant. There is still an orangey tone here, but this is very definitely a reddish orange, similar to Persimmon.
In the fifth example, very little green remains in the mix. This is almost pure red.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF ORANGE (AND ORANGES)
In ancient Rome the citizens enjoyed a great variety of fruits in their cuisine - apples, pears, grapes and melons, olives, pomegranates, cherries and many more. But one fruit much associated with the Mediterranean region today was conspicuous by its rarity. This was the fruit which has given its name to a distinctive spectral colour - the orange. Oranges were native to S.E Asia, and although some were received through the eastern trade routes, they were not grown around the Mediterranean at that time. It may have been Arab settlers in 8th century Spain who first established orange groves in Europe, but it was not until several hundred years later that oranges arrived in England. Then in the 16th century the Spanish took the fruit to the Americas.
The point about this short fruit discourse, is that remarkably, until the introduction of the orange into English speaking nations, the colour 'orange' did not exist by name. The word is first recorded in the English language as late as 1512, deriving from the Old French name for the fruit, 'pomme d'orenge' and before that the Arabic 'naranj' and the Sanskrit 'narangah' (possibly a word originally meaning 'fragrant').
Prior to oranges becoming widely available the colour was merely described as a 'yellow-red' (in Old English 'geoluhread'). But perhaps that is not really so surprising as the original pigments tended to be the same as the pigments of yellow, merely different in the precise proportions of the constituent parts. For example, Yellow Ochre varies considerably in tone and sometimes has an orangey hue, and Orpiment also often has an orangey tint to it. Realgar, a toxic arsenic sulphide mineral related to orpiment, provided the purest orange of all from ancient Egypt until Victorian times.
Crocoite is a mineral of the element chromium, and in the early 19th century this gave rise to the pigment 'Chrome Yellow' mentioned earlier, but also 'Chrome Orange'. Cadmium Yellow - a compound of cadmium sulphide - also became an important pigment of yellow in the 19th century, but it was found that by replacing some of the sulphur in the compound with selenium to create cadmium selenide, the hue could be made increasingly orange. 'Cadmium Orange' was thus created.
Orange was no longer just a tone of yellow or red - it was a significant colour in its own right.
MISCELLANEOUS YELLOWS AND ORANGES BY NAME
Finally, I should like to briefly mention eight selected shades and tones of yellow and orange which bear the names of everyday objects and plants. The colour coding of these particular tones is a composite figure taken from various Internet sources.
Daffodils are perhaps the flower which is most identified with yellow. Daffodil Yellow is a pale yellow created using some blue light in the RGB mix.
The colour of shiny Gold metal is not possible to recreate accurately on screen or on paper without manipulation of the image using tools in a programme such as Photoshop, as so much of the appearance relies upon the great reflectivity of metallic gold. the code here is the one used for the base colour, but clearly cannot show a metallic sheen.
- The next three hues show how a decrease in intensity either of blue light, or of red and green light, can affect the final tone:
Corn or Maize is a very light yellow because both red and green light are at high intensity, and blue light also contributes significantly to the overall paleness.
If we then reduce blue light to zero and we reduce the intensity of green somewhat, we may get School Bus Yellow - a tone named for those distinctive yellow buses used as the means of transport for millions of children across America.
And reducing red light contribution slightly from the above tone makes the hue slightly less orangey and slightly more greenish - the colour of the semi precious gem stone Citrine.
- The next three hues show a decrease in intensity of all three primary colours of light, and so each shade becomes darker than the previous shade:
Saffron is the world's most expensive spice, and is known not merely for its flavour but also for its rich orangey yellow colour.
Carrots are traditionally orange in colour, but in fact this has not always been the case. Carrots of various colours have been grown historically including yellow, white and purple.This illustration however presents the code for a typical red-orange Carrot tone.
One of the deepest of oranges may be called Burnt Orange which is dark in shade and with reduced green input, very reddish or even brown in tone.
Yellow is the most conspicuous of all colours, and one of the most clearly defined as it is a spectral colour - a hue which represents a very specific wavelength of light. Light with a wavelength of 570–590 nm is perceived by the human eye as yellow. And orange is the colour adjacent to and merging with yellow in the spectrum, associated with a wavelength of 590 nm to 620 nm.
These are among the colours considered brightest of all in the perception of human beings and indeed many other animals. In nature, they often tend to be colours of advertisement - fruits and flowers made yellow or orange by natural pigments such as carotenoids and xanthophylls, use these highly visible colours to attract insects and birds for reasons of pollination and seed dispersal. And birds, insects, coral fishes also use such bright colours for display to attract a mate or to threaten a rival. In human usage, yellow and orange are standout colours whether it is for a feeling of warmth in a living room, or as warning signs on roads. Yellow taxi cabs in New York are that colour for a reason - the aim is to be bright and visible.
If the whole world was yellow and orange, perhaps it would seriously hurt our eyes! But in their role as spot colours to attract attention, these are the warmest, most gay (the traditional usage of that little word) and the cheeriest of all colours. They have a place in everybody's world.
JUST FOR FUN - WHICH IS YOUR FAVOURITE YELLOW ?
Please put a tick in the appropriate box
LINKS TO MY OTHER 'SHADES OF' PAGES
- Shades and Tones of RED
In the English language we have many words for different shades of red - scarlet, crimson, cerise, burgundy, and many more. But what are all these shades? And where do these evocative names come from?
- Shades and Tones of PURPLE and MAUVE
A look at the various shades and tones of the colour purple, at mauve and amethyst, lavender and lilac, orchid and plum, and indigo and violet. How are these colours created in a visual display unit, and what is their history?
- Shades and Tones of GREEN
Green is perhaps the most tranquil, most passive, and the easiest on the eye of the three primary colours of light. In this page I look at shades of green in the RGB colour production system
JUST FOR FUN - WHICH IS YOUR FAVOURITE ORANGE ?
Please put a tick in the appropriate box
Please feel free to quote limited text from this article, on condition that a viable link back to this page is included