Sunday, February 23, 2014

Basic Color Theory for the Copic Enthusiast

If you participate in any of the visual arts, be it paper crafting, photography, mixed media art, painting, or even the yarn arts of Knitting/crocheting, a basic knowledge of color theory goes a long way to making your work more pleasing to the eye as well as making your time spent in the hobby less frustrating.  Our earliest experiences with a box of crayons taught us the bones of color theory, even if we didn’t know the names of the levels of colors. Most of us spent hours blending colors together to make many other colors, limited only by our imagination.  This very concept is the basis of color theory.

There are three primary colors (red, blue and yellow) which are the basis of all other colors.  A blending of these primary colors results in the three secondary colors of green, orange and purple.  Tertiary colors are colors formed by mixing a primary color and a secondary color.  These colors are usually denoted by a two word name, such as yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, and yellow-green.  This is important because these 12 Hues or Colors make up the color families of a color wheel.  Each hue represents the purest and brightest forms of these colors. 

Every individual color on the color wheel, can be altered in three ways by either tinting, shading or toning the individual color.  Tinting refers to mixing white into the color to lighten it.  A very easy illustration of this alteration is the color pink. When white is mixed into red, the tint that results is the color pink. Tints usually convey a softer feel (as in baby pink or baby blue), and is often associated with being feminine (as in pastels).    

Shades refers to any of the twelve basic colors with the color black added to it.  Shaded colors are deep and powerful and are often associated with a being masculine in nature. Because black can easily overtake a basic color, it is often added sparingly to colors. A visual example of a shaded color might be something such as a midnight blue from our trusty 64 pack of colors.  Midnight blue often looks almost black when coloring with it.

 Lastly, a basic color can be toned.  Toning is the addition of both white and black, thus adding grey to the color.  The addition of grey tones down the true hue, making it more pleasing to the eye. Colors which have been toned down with the addition of grey are often viewed as more complex and sophisticated, which is why they are often used in  interior design for home decorating. For more information on basic color theory here are a couple of quick links that help explain it in more detail.

A really good way to visualize all of this is with a color wheel.  Here is the color wheel that I purchased when I first started  scrapbooking. This particular one illustrates the tonal values of color, but you can purchase color wheels that depict color in whichever way  that is most appealing to you.

Okay, now that we have all this information, how does that apply to paper crafting (or other visual arts) in general and more specifically to my copic coloring?  Generally speaking, once you understand basic color theory along with hues, tints and tones, you can take apart your scrapbook paper collections and confidently mix them up in a pleasing fashion, thereby extending the useful life of your scrapbook supplies.  You can also pull embellishments across paper lines and reduce the need to by every single embellishment line out there. As long as you select color values with similar tints, hues and tones, you can mix and match across product lines with ease.

For our purposes with copic markers, understanding the basics will help you make marker selections that work well together.  When you make selections that play well together, you will find that you really don’t need every marker made by copic to color nice images.  Every marker has markings giving you basic information about the color contained and where it sits on the color wheel. Color family refers to the color grouping (think the twelve colors on the color wheel).  The color families correspond to those basic colors.  The saturation number is the first number next to the color family.  This indicates how saturated the color is, the higher this number, the more dull (toned) the color appears.  The second number is the brightness number.  This refers to how dark the color appears.  The higher this number the darker the color is (i.e. the more shaded it is).

The copic marker site recommends choosing 3 marker colors from each color family with the same saturation number when coloring your images.  The illustration they give is using the saturation number of 1.  They select a color family of BG 11/13/15 and pair this with markers from other color families with the same saturation numbers such as V12 and YR 18.  They further illustrate this point by blending V12, YR18 and BG 13.  The results show an amazing blending of colors that all play really nicely together. For more information on the copic number system, go here:

 To illustrate this point here, take a look at the blendings below.  In one, I have use colors from various saturation numbers. The RV color with a saturation number of 0 looks much brighter than the other colors which have a larger saturation number. In the other example, I have chosen colors with similar saturation numbers. See how much nicer the second grouping looks with all colors having a similar tone.

Lastly, here is a card made with an image where I purposely chose markers with similar saturation numbers.  While not all of my markers have the same saturation number, they all have some measure of black or grey added to them to tone the colors down.  By carefully selecting color families considering their saturation numbers, I can stretch the usefulness of my markers without a need for extensive purchases. 

Markers Used: Skin E13/15/18; Eyes E37; Hair C3/5/7/10; Lips/Face R22/ 29; Jeans B93/97/99; Shirt YG11/25/99; Belt W7; and Charm BG 75.  Other Supplies: Patterned paper- Crate Paper Pier collection; Cardstock-Prism; Ribbon-Paper Studios.

I hope this information helps you the next time you sit down to select colors for an image.  Happy coloring everyone!


  1. Thank you for addressing this Renee. I received. A color wheel from my secret sister during a recent swap . I often struggle with color choices. I will continue to work on trying to apply color theory. beautiful card.

  2. I use my color wheel all the the article.

  3. Thanks for reminding me that sometimes I really should revisit my color wheel, both when scrapping and coloring!



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