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Top 10 Color Theory Books

Posted onApril 8th 2023Top 10 Books on Color Theory

Color matching is one of the more challenging aspects of prepress, design and printing from a branding perspective. The truth is that no designer or printer can really make a name for themselves without some sense, whether learned or innate, of color. We’ve studied this topic at length for years and while we are still learning, a lot of what we do would not be possible without a deeper understanding of what we are working with.

We’ve covered this topic extensively on our sister blog at Fine Print NYC, including “Color Matching Vintage Wallpaper” and “The Art & History of Color Matching”, where you can find great tips on creating consistent palettes and the effects of both lighting and materials on the finished product.

For those of you interested in exploring this fascinating topic, we highly encourage you to check out some of these books, which have helped us on our journey to elevating our craft. Far beyond its technical implications, color carries many physchological and cultural aspects which are explored in depth throughout these books, which make them interesting reads on their own. Here they are, in chronological order:

The Art of Color: The Subjective Experience and Objective Rationale of Color (1961)

By: Johannes Itten (208 pages)

This book explores the complex relationship between colors and their effect on human perception. Itten’s comprehensive theories on color provide readers with a thorough understanding of the various dimensions of color, including hue, saturation, and value, and the psychological impact that colors have on individuals. Itten’s holistic approach to color theory emphasizes the subjective experience of color in addition to the objective science of color, making it a valuable resource for artists, designers, and anyone interested in the science and aesthetics of color.

Johannes Itten was a Swiss artist and teacher who played a crucial role in the development of the Bauhaus art school in Germany. He was a master of color theory and his teachings greatly influenced the curriculum of the Bauhaus, which emphasized the importance of the intersection between art and technology.

Fun fact: Itten was known for his eccentric teaching methods, which included meditation, breathing exercises, and other spiritual practices. He believed that these practices could help artists achieve a deeper understanding of color and connect with their inner creativity. Itten’s unconventional approach to color theory inspired many of his students, including famous Bauhaus artists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee.

“Interaction of Color” (1963)

by Josef Albers (80 pages)

This iconic book is a comprehensive guide to color theory, offering a series of exercises and examples to help readers understand the principles of color relationships and their applications in art and design. Albers’ unique approach to color theory challenges readers to think beyond simple color combinations, exploring the perceptual and psychological effects of color on the viewer. The book also includes over 150 color plates and an extensive glossary of color terms, making it an essential resource for anyone interested in color theory or design.

Fun fact: Josef Albers was a highly influential artist and educator, known for his work in the Bauhaus school and his role in bringing modernist design to the United States. His approach to color theory was heavily influenced by his studies of the art and architecture of ancient Mexico and Peru, as well as his experiments with glass and light. “Interaction of Color” was based on his lectures and exercises from his time teaching at Yale University, and it remains a highly respected and widely studied book on the subject of color theory. The book has been used as a textbook in art and design programs around the world and has made an undeniable impression on the way designers and artists approach color.

“The Elements of Color” (1970)

by Johannes Itten (208 pages)

This classic work on color theory explores the principles of color harmony and contrast, with a particular focus on the use of color in art and design. Itten’s unique approach to color theory emphasizes the importance of understanding the psychological and symbolic meanings of color, as well as its aesthetic properties. The book includes numerous illustrations and color plates, as well as exercises and examples to help readers apply the principles of color theory in their own work. It is an essential resource for anyone interested in color theory or the use of color in art and design.

Fun fact: Itten’s theories on color were heavily influenced by his interest in spiritualism and the occult, and he believed that color had a profound impact on the human psyche. “The Elements of Color” was based on his lectures and exercises at the Bauhaus, and it was one of the first books to explore the psychological and emotional aspects of color in depth. Itten’s theories have been highly influential in the fields of art and design, and his approach to color theory continues to be studied and applied by artists and designers around the world.

“Color and Culture: Practice and Meaning from Antiquity to Abstraction” (1993)

by John Gage (312 pages)

In “Color and Culture,” John Gage explores the cultural and historical contexts of color, tracing the evolution of color theory from ancient times to the present day. He examines how color has been used in art, fashion, and design throughout history, and how its meaning and symbolism have changed over time. The book also includes a discussion of the scientific aspects of color, such as the physics of light and the biology of color perception.

One of the most interesting aspects of “Color and Culture” is its exploration of the ways in which different cultures have interpreted and used color throughout history. Gage’s analysis of the cultural significance of color is both informative and thought-provoking, and it offers valuable insights for anyone interested in the role of color in human society. The book is illustrated with numerous color plates and photographs, making it a visually stunning addition to any library.

Fun fact: John Gage was an art historian and scholar who was known for his work on color theory and the history of art. He was a professor at the University of Cambridge, and he was also a member of the Royal Society of Arts. “Color and Culture” was widely acclaimed for its comprehensive analysis of the cultural and historical contexts of color, and it has become a classic in the field of color theory.

“Colour: Making and Using Dyes and Pigments” (2002)

by Francois Delamare and Bernard Guineau (240 pages)

“Colour: Making and Using Dyes and Pigments” is a comprehensive guide to the world of color, exploring the history, science, and art of creating and using dyes and pigments. The book is packed with information on the properties of different colors and how they are made, including detailed instructions for creating your own pigments and dyes from natural materials.

The authors, Francois Delamare and Bernard Guineau, are experts in the field of color and have combined their knowledge and experience to create a book that is both informative and engaging. The book is beautifully illustrated with photographs and drawings that help to bring the science of color to life.

One of the highlights of the book is its focus on natural materials and traditional techniques for creating color. The authors explore the use of natural dyes and pigments throughout history, from ancient civilizations to modern times, and provide step-by-step instructions for creating your own natural colors using materials such as plants, insects, and minerals.

Whether you’re an artist, a crafter, or simply someone who is curious about the world of color, “Colour: Making and Using Dyes and Pigments” is a fascinating and informative read that is sure to inspire and inform.

Fun fact: In ancient Rome, the color purple was reserved for the use of emperors and high-ranking officials. The dye used to create the color was made from the secretions of a sea snail called the Murex, and it was so expensive to produce that it became a symbol of wealth and power.

Color: A Natural History of the Palette (2002)

By: Victoria Finlay (464 pages)

This fascinating book by Victoria Finlay explores the history and cultural significance of colors used in art and everyday life. The author takes the reader on a journey around the world, visiting mines, markets, and museums in search of the stories behind different pigments. From the white kaolin clay used by ancient Chinese porcelain makers to the red ochre of Australian aboriginal rock paintings, this book offers a unique perspective on the role color has played in human history. Finlay’s engaging writing style and her in-depth research make this book an excellent choice for anyone interested in the cultural and historical significance of color.

Fun fact: Victoria Finlay is a journalist and former arts editor of The South China Morning Post. She traveled to over 30 countries to research the materials for this book, including the diamond mines of India, the lapis lazuli mines in Afghanistan, and the Tyrian purple production facilities in Lebanon.

“Color Design Workbook: A Real World Guide to Using Color in Graphic Design” (2008)

By Sean Adams (240 pages)

This book offers a concise, yet comprehensive overview of color design principles and their application in graphic design. It includes real-world examples and exercises that help designers to develop their color design skills. One unique aspect of this book is that it includes a section on color blindness and how it affects design. This is an important topic in the design world as color blindness affects around 8% of the male population and 0.5% of the female population. The book provides tips and strategies for designing with color blindness in mind, ensuring that designs are accessible to everyone.

In addition to his work as a designer, Adams has also been an educator for over 30 years. He has taught at several prestigious design schools, including Art Center College of Design and California Institute of the Arts. Adams is also a prolific writer, having written several books on design, including “The Designer’s Dictionary of Color” and “How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul.”

Fun fact: Sean Adams is the co-founder of AdamsMorioka, a graphic design and brand strategy firm based in Beverly Hills, California. He has worked with several high-profile clients, including Walt Disney, Google, and Nike.

A Dictionary of Color Combinations (2011)

By Sanzo Wada (348 pages)

“A Dictionary of Color Combinations” is a stunning collection of color palettes by Japanese artist Sanzo Wada. The book features over 300 unique color combinations, each of which is meticulously arranged in a grid format, making it easy for designers to use as a reference. The palettes are organized by hue, with each color combination accompanied by a brief description of its emotional and psychological impact.

Wada was a 20th-century artist and teacher who developed a color system called “Sanzo Wada Color” in the 1930s. The system was used to train artists and designers in color theory and was based on the idea that color combinations should be selected based on their emotional impact, rather than simply their visual appeal. Although Sanzo Wada’s color system was developed almost a century ago, it’s impact on modern design is still felt today. In fact, the book was recently re-discovered by a group of designers in Japan and has since become a popular reference tool for designers all over the world.

Fun fact: Sanzo Wada was not a color theorist or designer by profession, but rather an artist and teacher who was passionate about color. He created the color combinations featured in the book as part of a personal project, and they were later discovered and published posthumously by his daughter, who recognized their value as a resource for designers and artists.

Pantone: The 20th Century in Color (2011)

by Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker (208 pages)

“Pantone: The 20th Century in Color” is an engaging and visually stunning book that explores the use of color in design and popular culture throughout the 20th century. The book is filled with beautiful illustrations and photographs that showcase the impact of color on fashion, art, architecture, and more.

The authors of the book, Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker, are both experts in the field of color and design. They use their expertise to provide readers with a comprehensive understanding of how color trends have evolved over the years and how they have influenced various aspects of our lives. The book is organized chronologically, with each chapter focusing on a specific decade of the 20th century.

In addition to its informative content, this is also a beautiful book to behold. It features a hardcover with a sleek and modern design, and the pages are printed on high-quality paper that brings the colors to life. Whether you’re a designer, an artist, or simply someone who loves color, this book is sure to inspire and inform.

Fun fact: The Pantone Matching System (PMS) was created in the 1960s by Lawrence Herbert, an employee of the Pantone printing company. The system was originally used to standardize colors for the printing industry, but it has since become a widely recognized tool for designers and artists around the world.

Color Theory: An Essential Guide to Color-from Basic Principles to Practical Applications (2012)

By Patti Mollica (192 pages)

Color Theory: An Essential Guide to Color-from Basic Principles to Practical Applications is a comprehensive guide to color theory, aimed at artists, designers, and anyone who wants to learn about color. The book covers basic principles of color theory, such as the color wheel, color schemes, and color harmonies, as well as practical applications of color theory in various fields, including painting, graphic design, and interior design.

The author, Patti Mollica, is an accomplished artist and teacher with over 35 years of experience. She has written several books on painting and color theory, and her work has been featured in numerous exhibitions and galleries. In Color Theory: An Essential Guide to Color-from Basic Principles to Practical Applications, Mollica shares her extensive knowledge and experience in a clear and accessible manner, making it easy for readers to understand and apply color theory in their own work.

Fun fact: Patti Mollica is also a certified aerobics instructor and often uses her knowledge of movement and dance to inform her painting and teaching practice.


We hope you’ve found this reading list useful. It has taken us years to master a lot of these concepts, but we would not have been able to attain the same level of insight without the hard work and dedication of these authors. Their work continues to inspire new generations of designers, decorators and DIY hobbyists trying to level up their color game. Even if you’re not the artsy type, these books are a great read on their own, covering everything from culture, to history and even politics. You may be surprised to discover the depths of this topic and how relevant color is to life, our experiences and how we communicate ideas.

Curated by Fine Print NYC