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Understanding Book Elements: Color Theory

Created on: Jan 20, 2011 9:44 AM by CreateSpaceResources - Last Modified:  Feb 21, 2011 2:55 PM by CreateSpaceResources

Understanding Book Elements: Color Theory

By Shawn, CreateSpace Graphic Arts Specialist


Few things get your book noticed like the cover. It's the first thing people see when searching for your book on the Internet. It's one of the main things that can get a reader's attention in retail outlets. Perhaps the most important element of cover design is the book's overall color tone, because from a distance or as a thumbnail on an online detail page, color tone is what the reader sees first.



It's a subject where authors are torn. On one side, authors are very eager to make decisions about their covers, including colors, and they come with very creative ideas. On the other side, some authors come into the publishing process with absolutely no idea what they want to see on the cover. They're willing to take artistic direction from anyone and everyone.



One element to keep in mind that serves both groups well is a basic knowledge of color theory. Armed with the right color theory basics, you can have an amazing cover that conveys the tone of your book and leads to the right customers looking at your work.



For instance, look at a color wheel. (Go ahead, open up another browser window and search for "color wheel" using your favorite search engine.) Most of the modern and popular color wheels are broken down into seven or 12 colors, although much more complex color wheels are out there. These are taken from the primary colors in nature: red, blue and yellow. Color scientists use the additive primaries, red, green and blue, but we'll focus on the art- and emotionally based colors of red, blue and yellow in this article.



Color evokes emotion. Often, color is considered in its relative temperature. As your eye travels around the wheel, it can feel like a temperature gauge that you can hang outdoors with red being the hottest of them all. This subconscious thought is why you see weather maps in this similar scale - it's the human emotion each color represents that allows us to use the colors the way we do. Along with an implied temperature, each color has positive and negative emotions that it can elicit in readers.



For example, blues and darker shades are referred to as "cool colors," meaning they evoke a calming effect. People relate the color to what they see in nature: water or the sky. But it can also mean sadness, as in "I'm feeling blue." Darker colors tend to carry a more mellow and serious tone when matched with the correct font or imagery. These colors often are thought of as denser than many other colors. Secondary to blue, purples and other darker shades also can add richness to a design.



Opposite to blues are the lighter or "hot colors" like red or orange. More than any other color, red carries many meanings: violence, war, tension, anxiety, love, passion, and playfulness. The color carries these different meanings because of its wide use throughout human history. When using red as a primary color, take a step back and ensure one of the many meanings is being used correctly. You do not want a cover that promotes tension or anxiety when your goal is to show passion.



The final primary color, yellow, evokes happiness. Most people can relate it to sunshine or fall leaves. The different shades of yellow can provide a sense of relief; it promotes self-awareness and an overall healthy feeling. Some of the secondary colors next to yellow give a more earthy feeling. This works well if you're talking about food, nature or any subject focusing on people who love the outdoors.



These three primary colors form the basis for every other color we see in nature, and it's why their subconscious meaning is so important. You wouldn't want to put a crime drama on a bookshelf that has a muted or pastel yellow on the cover, just as you wouldn't put a bright pink cover on a historical fiction novel set in the Civil War. You have to match your base color with the style of book you're writing.



Do some research on colors before you go into the cover design process. Check out similar books in your genre online or at bookstores. Travel to your local paint store and look at paint samples. While printing presses operate differently than mixed paint, it can start to give you some ideas about the direction you want to go with your cover.



But remember, all that I've mentioned here takes place at a subconscious level. Unless your book is about how to start a fire when you're stranded in the woods, it is unlikely that you're actually going to put a bright red fire on the cover. These emotions that you're trying to get the reader to feel are just that. It helps set the tone of the book and get the reader hooked into looking into the next few pages.



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