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The Code of Color

Updated: May 19

Pieces of paper fanned out to display various colors.
The beauty of color.

Image from Shutterstock

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Technology has introduced a world of options for communication. This applies to all realms of life including color. Previously identified by their names alone, color is also referred to by a series of numbers corresponding to their various attributes. Below is an explanation of the different codes given to each color depending on its context.


When getting design work completed for your company, it is important to ensure you are given the CMYK color codes for your brand’s color palette. CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, and it is a subtractive color mode. This code is used for printing purposes. The numbers represented indicate a percentage of these for value channels. It is essential you get this code because printing designs based on an RGB color value is unlikely to provide consistent results. Therefore, to ensure you are maintaining brand consistency, make sure you receive all brand assets in both RGB and CMYK color values.


Computers use an additive method of color mixing in that red, green, and blue are mixed to produce the desired result. Notice that there is no black in this code. That is because black is considered the absence of color within this context, so to achieve the value of black you would remove all value from the red, green, and blue channels. The numbers in this code may be represented by an integer or a percentage. The two do not mean the same thing, so make sure you check out MDN documents to understand the difference. RGB is the second color code which you should require from any designer as it is fundamental to representing your branding on digital platforms.


Hex stands for the hexadecimal value of a color. Its history is rooted in web design and is often used when creating the styling for a web page. In addition to web design, this code can be used for graphic design as the numbers themselves represent the RGB value of a color. A hexadecimal number is usually composed of a series of six numbers. The first two represent the red value, the second two represent the green value, and the third set of two represents the blue value. There are times when you may see a shorter number for the HEX code. This is done when values are repeated.


There is a new code in the world of design which is still not talked about regularly. HSL stands for hue, saturation, and luminance. HSL is another digital color space used to represent RGB values, but the numbers do not mean the same thing. Hue is the number of the color as it is represented on the color wheel, saturation describes how muted that color may or may or not be, and luminance refers to how bright it is. Regarding luminance, the base color resides at 50%. Many designers may prefer to use this code, but make sure you also get the RGB and HEX values for your brand. If you choose to collaborate with other companies, some prefer one code over another.

What is alpha in the world of color?

RGB and HSL may also include a fourth channel called “alpha.” This is represented by appending the RGB or HSL with the alpha channel and representing the code as RGBA or HSLA. Alpha is also often referred to the opacity of a color. This number is represented as a number between 0 and 1. If you have been given your color code as RGBA or HSLA and need to know what the color code is at full opacity, simply remove the number from the end. This will give you your color’s code in its RGB or HSL value, respectively.


When establishing your brand, it is important to maintain consistency. Although there are designers who tend to have their preferences when it comes to using certain color codes, make sure to request all values of your brand’s color palette. This will ensure you are prepared to provide the information needed when hiring a printer, other designers, or even in the case of joint marketing endeavors. All branding packages at Viafique includes this information. Book a call to discuss your next project and be prepared for the growth of your brand.



Rebecca A. Crecelius, MFA

CEO | Founder | Managing Member | Designer

Rebecca A. Crecelius, MFA is an artist, designer, and business owner. Her creative background is in fine art, and she has a Specialization in Graphic Design from CalArts. In addition, she has post-secondary education in business and certificates in HTML and CSS coding languages. After discovering a passion for logo design and brand development, she founded Viafique LLC. She looks forward to sharing her knowledge with aspiring business owners and enthusiastic entrepreneurs.


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