A Blog of a Different Color  

vrec_dawn 39M
854 posts
3/10/2006 2:57 pm

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3/10/2006 3:21 pm

A Blog of a Different Color

It always fascinates me how computer-oriented thinking and human-oriented thinking don't mix. Take, for example, the binary system. Hardly any human even understands how to count in binary, not to mention add, subtract, multiply, or divide. Fortunately those who work with computers were kind enough to design a system of working in decimal for the rest of us.

And yet, I came to realize, that no one has done this for artists. A computer's color system is based on the wavelengths of light. Being that a computer's monitor is based on light, this makes sense, to the computer. It's what the machine best understands and works the fastest because it doesn't have to be translated. It's where we get color definition schemes such as Red-Green-Blue, Cyan-Magenta-Yellow, and Hue-Saturation-Lightness. These are all based on light.

But how many of us mere mortals work with a light-based color wheel in our minds? Art isn't based on combining lightwaves. Art is based on pigments. And while any artist will tell you mixing yellow and blue makes green, try doing that with lightwaves and you get gray. So I would imagine that any artist trying to use a light-based color system is surely disappointed, if not flat out confused. Because in an artist's world yellow and blue make green, blue and red make purple, and red and yellow make orange.

And yet, what computer software gives an artist this option? What computer software uses a red-yellow-blue color system? None that I can find. My version of Adobe Photoshop doesn't. Nor does my version of The GIMP. Nor MS Paint. Nada. Nothing. And, in fact, when I searched and searched for formulas to make this conversion in my own software so that I could do something as simple as calculate complementary colors that people understand instead of those based on light, I couldn't find anything. Anywhere. Everyone was using the light-based system.

So I sat down, figured it out, and wrote my own code in Python to do just that, to convert from a RGB system to a RYB system. And lo and behold, it seems to work. It only took a couple of hours fiddling with the logic to account for additional whiteness once I'd figured out the basics.

But it amazes me that as far as I can tell, I am the only person to ever do this. Surely that can't be. Surely I'm not the only one frustrated by software using a light-based color system instead of a pigment color system? Surely I'm not the only one frustrated that yellow plus blue should be green, not gray. That the opposite of red is green, not cyan. I mean I'm not even an artist and this was driving me nuts. How can companies like Adobe not give artists this option? After all, if I could write software to do it, surely they could too.

Do artists really not have any complaints about being locked into a light-based color wheel?

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