Saturated colours: meaning of saturated

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Englishmypassion

Senior Member
India - Hindi
Dear Teachers,
Namaskar.

I thought that "sauturated colours" meant "dark colours" (for example saturated red = dark red, like the colour of blood). Both Oxford and WR define "saturated" as "free from an admixture of white".
But on a website named Sherwin Williams, advising homeowners on what colour paints they should choose for rooms getting low natural ligh, Frasca says: "Of course the saturated hues work best in any dark area. The cleaner the color (meaning the less black it contains) the lighter and brighter the paint color is. One hue that will brighten a dark room is gold, but you have to choose a 'clean' gold such as Jonquil."
Here's the link:
Color Techniques for Dark Rooms – Living Color

The advice seems a little self-contradictory and confusing to me.

Can "saturated" also mean containing less black or not containing black?
I am confused about the whole point of the site's advice on hues/shades of colours for dark rooms.:confused:

Thank you very much in advance.
Emp
 
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  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Are you comfortable with RGB values, as used on computers? Each of R, G, and B goes from 0 to 255. The purest, bright red has R = 255, G = 0, B = 0. The purest, brightest yellow has R = 255 and G = 255 (red and green make yellow), and B = 0. White has all three at 255, black has all three at 0.

    If you want to make a lighter red (pink), you add some white by raising the B and G: perhaps 255, 127, 127. But to make a darker red (crimson) you add black by lowering the R of pure red: perhaps 127, 0, 0. A colour is saturated when it has no mixture of either black or white like this. It is the purest rainbow hue. (At least, I believe so.)

    And yes, I find the ideas of saturation, hue, and luminance confusing too. I'm much more comfortable with RGB values. (Especially as I've recently been writing a program to mainpulate bitmaps, so I've experimented with colour change effects.)
     

    Englishmypassion

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    Thank you very much for such a detailed explanation, entangledbank.
    But I want to understand the advice given here as I am going to choose paint colours for my rooms receiving low light. I would be deeply obliged if somebody else could explain it to me.
    Thanks.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I'd say that the advice doesn't actually make a lot of sense. If I wanted to paint a dark room I'd be looking at the lightness of a colour, not it's saturation. If you follow the link to Jonquil you'll find that it isn't a saturated colour.

    Divers: The biggest mistake is to follow the notion that you must paint the room a light color because light colors reflect more light. Yes, light colors do reflect more light, but if there is limited light in the room in the first place, then there’s not much that’s going to be reflected, and light colors can end up looking sad and gray.
    There'll be even less reflected if you use a dark colour. If you want saturated colours, you'll need artificial light.

    Do you really want to follow the advice on that website?
    Q. What colors would you suggest for a powder room without windows?
    Divers: Powder rooms are great opportunities to do something fun and out-of-the-box. ... Pick a color that pops, that makes you say “wow.”
    So let's sit on the toilet having fun and saying "wow". :D
     

    Englishmypassion

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    I'd say that the advice doesn't actually make a lot of sense....Do you really want to follow the advice on that website?...
    So let's sit on the toilet having fun and saying "wow". :D

    Oh, I see. Thank you very much for your trouble and help, Andy. I won't bother about the site's advice then.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    I don't know much about paint, but I think it translates to this. If you have a tub of pure red paint, you can squirt in some white tint, mix it in, and you've got a lighter red or pink. Or instead, you can squirt and stir some black tint, and you get a darker red. But colours don't exist on a one-dimensional scale of light to dark. You can't take pure red, add white to make it lighter, then add black to get back to your original red. The red now contains grey: it's no longer saturated. It's not saturated if it contains any black or white. And with paints, unlike computers, you really can't reverse what you've done. You can't create a saturated colour by lightening or darkening any other colour.
     

    manfy

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    So a saturated colour may be containing either black or white. Right?
    No, in your case with paint colours it's the exact opposite. The most saturated colour is pure yellow/blue/green. When you add black you will darken it, when you add white it will get paler - in both cases the saturation of this specific colour or colour mix goes down.
    You can look at saturation (in this context) as colourfulness; highest saturation means purest colour, lowest saturation is the slightest hint of color above black or white (usually the latter because nobody really paints his house black).

    PS: Don't look at these phrases in absolute terms! If it says "use a saturated colour for dark rooms", it means that you should use a more saturated colour than you would use in a well-lit room. So if you use a very pale brown for your bright room, you should use a more colourful (= less pale) brown in your dark room in order to achieve the same appearance and feeling.
     
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    Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    You can think of saturation as "purity". A fully saturated red is one which contains no black or white. If you mix paint using only 3 primary colours, then a saturated colour cannot be a mixture of more than two primary colours.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    AE (US English)
    Saturated means very full of its color. As full as it can get.

    Making it less saturated would mean making it less colorful (without changing to a different color) (without making it lighter or darker).

    To make a paint less saturated, you would mix in some grey paint (exactly as dark as the colored paint, so it doesn't get lighter or darker).
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    ... The most saturated colour is pure yellow/blue/green...
    Not quite. The most saturated pigments are pure red, blue and yellow. When you mix red and yellow to give orange, or blue and yellow to make green, or red and blue to make purple, the resulting colours are no longer saturated, though it's not immediately obvious to the naked eye.

    Then, as you say, adding either black or white reduces saturation even more.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    If you have Windows on your computer, you will have a program called "Paint".

    Open this program and...

    Draw a square and fill it with red.
    Now click "edit color" on the right. In the small window that opens are boxes with marked "Hue Sat. and Lum." The maximum value is 240 for Sat[uration]. Play around with that number to see the effect.
     

    manfy

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    Not quite. The most saturated pigments are pure red, blue and yellow.
    Yes, sorry. My sentence was not well phrased.
    But it's not true that only the primary colours RGB (red, green, blue) or CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) can result in highest saturation, but every colour mix has its own level of saturation from 0-100%.
    For instance, if you mix pure red and blue, you will get the purest magenta, which has its own saturation level of 0-100%.

    What's really confusing (because it's often mixed up in descriptions) is that we have 2 different color systems that need to be looked at separately:
    A) emissive colour (= additive colour): light beams of specific color and a mix thereof create the final color/image; this is what you see on computer screens and TVs; for technical reasons this is done with RGB primary colours
    B) reflective colour (= subtractive colour): this is created by physical substances, e.g. paint containing certain colour pigments, and this colour needs external light; the colour we perceive is the light reflected from those colour pigments; in the mathematical model of this color system the primary colors are CMY (cyan, magent, yellow); when mixed, these 3 primary colours can create any other colour (in theory even black and white)

    So, for EIMP only the reflective colour system is important.
    It's important to know that the related CMY colour model is only a theoretical, mathematical model.
    In real life it does not quite work because chemical paints are not perfect; the chemical composition of pure cyan might not mix well with the chemicals of pure yellow and instead of pure green, you might get some off-green colour.
    Because of this imperfect nature of chemicals and pigments, professional painters use also black, white, gray, (and other base colours) for mixing colours, instead of CMY only. It's best to listen to those professionals if you want to avoid lengthy and often unsuccessful do-it-yourself mixing!

    Bottom line: For reflective colour, saturation stands for the purity in relation to black and white in the mixing process. Personally, I'd probably differentiate it as strong vs. pale in common language, i.e. a strong yellow is a highly saturated yellow and it contains a lot of yellow colour pigments, pale yellow has low colour saturation and it contains a small amount of yellow pigments.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    I think I agree with EngtangledBank and Manfy. I've just been looking up M-WII's lengthy dissertation on color. If you add both black and white to a paint, what you've done is add grey, and that by definition lowers the saturation of that hue, which M-WII (which goes into great detail, with full-page charts) says is essentially synonymous with purity.
     

    RedwoodGrove

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    As manfy points out, there are two kinds of color systems: additive and subtractive. The RGB system is additive. It is what is used in TVs and other electronics. The red-blue-yellow color wheel is subtractive. It is what is used in paints, pigments, etc. It is what we learned in grade school when mixing colors. Don't ask me to explain the physics of it. Entire books have been written on the subject.

    Saturated color has nothing to do with adding black or grey to the color scheme. It has to do with how densely the color is represented. It's the concept of how many pixels of color per X dimension are represented.

    manfy said:

    Bottom line: For reflective colour, saturation stands for the purity in relation to black and white in the mixing process. Personally, I'd probably differentiate it as strong vs. pale in common language, i.e. a strong yellow is a highly saturated yellow and it contains a lot of yellow colour pigments, pale yellow has low colour saturation and it contains a small amount of yellow pigments.

    I think that sums it up.
     
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    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Bottom line: For reflective colour, saturation stands for the purity in relation to black and white in the mixing process. Personally, I'd probably differentiate it as strong vs. pale in common language, i.e. a strong yellow is a highly saturated yellow and it contains a lot of yellow colour pigments, pale yellow has low colour saturation and it contains a small amount of yellow pigments.
    So if you go back to your first post, follow your link back to the text, and there click on the link to Jonquil (SW 6674) you'll understand why I'm dubious about the speaker's understanding of what "saturated" means.
     

    manfy

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    Yes, Andy, the picture linked to has pale colour, somewhat like is this colour.
    Aha! And that's the beginning of the end! ;)
    This color is pale compared to to what?? Compared to bright yellow? If so, then yes, I'd call it dark yellow with an orange tint. Or compared to bright red? If so, then yes, I'd call it a very pale red with brownish-orange tint.
    Ask 5 more people and you will get 10-15 different descriptions! :) That's exactly the reason why they came up with those theoretical, mathematical color models 100+ years ago.

    If I look at the website for this colour named Jonquil, my first thought is "dark yellow with a dirty orange tint", but those colour people from Frasca called it "clean gold". In fact it really might be the purest hue for this specific mix of red and yellow and a bit of blue.
    I know that my description is formally wrong, because I base it on a simplified common sense definition of base colors like yellow, red, green, blue, sometimes maybe also secondary colours like purple, orange, cyan, magenta, etc. -- everything outside those colours I'd call dark/light /bright/pale/etc. <base color name>.

    All those theoretical colour space models (Lab, HSL, CIE XYZ, etc, etc) try to avoid this very problem of describing the same colour in different ways AND describing different colours the same way.
    I better stop here, because it will just get more confusing. You can find excellent free information on the internet -- just don't be fooled into believing you might understand all of it in a few minutes! The basic idea is simple enough as a concept ... but then, they also do offer full university courses where they do nothing else but colour theory, including related physics, optics, and psychological aspects. So, you decide how deep you want to get into it!
     

    manfy

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    A colour described as "dark yellow with a dirty orange tint", can't possibly be saturated. It's surely got to have some addition of black to be "dirty" orange, no?
    From a common sense point of view this is absolutely correct and logical. From a scientific and theoretical color model point of view, this is not guaranteed.
    Think of it this way: the purest yellow will always look 'brighter' (and therefore purer) to you than the purest blue, even when both colours have a scientifically guaranteed saturation of 100.0%. That's a question of the perception of luminosity/brightness and chromaticity/saturation by the human eye.
    Transfer this same idea to mixed colours and it gets even less intuitive and less common sense.

    The colour theory - and all its mathematical models - is trying to take this behaviour of the human eye into consideration and it's trying to standardize all parameters. And I can pretty much guarantee you, those models work and they are correct (within their respective parameters and within their theoretical environment).
    Where they do fail, I'm afraid, is in matching the normal common sense thinking about colour by humans. Even worse, they appear to be simple and logical on the surface, but in fact they are only logical in a mathematical sense, and without adapting to this mathematical concept and thinking, they do create more confusion and misunderstandings than they do good.
    For the record: I'm NOT a colour scientist, but I did research the theory and some practical applications up to the wazoo a couple of years ago for a customer project. Very interesting at the beginning, but very dry, theoretical, mathematical towards the end :) Thankfully I forgot most of it, I just try to keep the basic ideas and concepts in my head.
     
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