when is white “white”?…


16/11/2010 by Sarah Ritchie

I observed a woman’s outfit recently. I am sure she must have thought she had co-ordinated her wardrobe well by teaming a white top with white pants and white shoes. Unless I have missed a new trend (or she was trying out for a corporate cricket team), that must be a major fashion faux pas in any language…especially as she had combined a bluish-white top, with yellowish-white pants, and cool-white shoes. I am no fashion expert, but I believe the official term is called “ick”.

In graphic design-speak “white” is the absence of all colour…0% of every colour…so it becomes easy to define (in theory). In practical terms white must be one of the most difficult “colours” (if you can call it a colour) to standardise in paper, fabrics/dyes and paints.

Recently I had to select a client’s new letterhead paper stock to match their existing “brilliant white” business card. Do you think I could match it? Nope. Though my stock samples said “white” they were actually various shades of very, very light cream.

Similarly the same issue exists with blacks. Anyone who has tried to pair a black top with black pants can appreciate the subtle tonal variations where there can be redish-blacks, greenish-blacks and bluish-blacks.

Fortunately, graphic designers can follow the Pantone Colour Matching System (or “PMS” for short…yes, I know, a man must have named that one!). This means the “PMS 295 blue” printing ink (for example) will be exactly the same blue in New Zealand as it is in England as it is in Australia. There are a few different black inks in the Pantone system, but – curiously – only one white ink.

How I wish the Pantone Colour Matching System could have helped the unfortunate woman with the eclectic love of white clothes!


2 thoughts on “when is white “white”?…

  1. Jon Meek says:

    Great post. This reminds me of the scene in the movie “Girl With A Perl Earring”. Vermeer’s servant girl is confused by his use of color, so he tries to teach her. He asks her what color the clouds are, and her first answer is white. As he makes her look closer, she starts to see colors in the clouds. Yellow, green, etc. It is such an amazing realization. You can see the world opening up for this girl.

    It just goes to show you how rich ‘white’ can really be.

    BTW, I love your paintings, and I love the facebook project. Very cool.

  2. Sarah Ritchie says:

    Thanks Jon. In the recesses of my mind I recall someone suggesting that purple is a good colour to use in clouds…!

    Your comment – about the movie – remind me of when I was in my high school art class. We were told to use colour pencils and to draw the moon. It wasn’t until that time when I realised that 1) the moon wasn’t white; and 2) if you really look at the moon you will see an amazing band of colours radiating out from the orb (before it hits the blackness of the night). It’s quite incredible.

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Finalist, Estuary Art Awards 2011
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