What are the first basic colors every web-designer/web-programmer should know?

This was a question on Quora a while back.  I believe that it’s fundamental – and important.  Don’t need to go into a lot of explanation about the importance of color – I believe we can take it pretty much for granted.  Here are some thoughts on how to do it when designing in the interactive digital environment.

Once you get it that

hexadecimal is a convenient way to express binary numbers in modern computers in which a byte is almost always defined as containing six binary digits

the 16 hexadecimal value levels are represented  by 0–9 + A-F

the color slots are Red, Green, Blue (in that order)

… it’s pretty easy to build a nice, usable range of colors – numerically – by hand.

Most of the color combos are fairly obvious (Yes, you can use just 3 slots to define a substantial palette of 256 colors):


  • Full Red + No Green + Full Blue = a fully saturated Magenta (hexadecimal #F0F)
  • Reduce the Red and Blue to produce a darker Purple (#606)
  • Add extra light (the Green) to make a lighter Pink (#F6F)

Sometimes you’ll be a little surprised by what you produce.


This is the standard windows color ui widget. It doesn’t use “hex” to express the color, but the Red, Green, Blue numbers at the lower right of the panel actually reflect values of just about #CCF (a very Light Blue).

But look at the resulting color panel. Sure looks like a light Purple to me.


Now look a little to the left on the color spectrum box. Most people call the color between the Blue and Green vertical stripes a “light blue” – even though it’s obviously an equal mixture of Blue and Green (#CFF):  Light Teal.

Human perception. Go figure.


When you create web colors, You’re mixing with light (additive)- not pigment (subtractive) – so some of the effects aren’t entirely intuitive.

For example:  


You create Yellow by mixing full Red and full Green, with no Blue (#FF0).  This also becomes obvious when you look at the color ui widget.

But that’s another rant

Seeing the Light

That “visible spectrum” of colors defined by light (not pigment) actually stretches from ultraViolet (short wavelengths) to infraRed (long wavelengths). 




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