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What Is Light? An Introduction to Human Color Vision

How We See Light

Light is a form of energy. It embodies a fundamental aspect of our physical world, traveling across the universe in the form of electromagnetic waves. This radiant energy is a crucial component for visual perception, and while it is just one segment within the extensive electromagnetic spectrum, it is the sole segment visible to the human eye.

The electromagnetic spectrum itself is vast, ranging from gamma rays, with their minuscule wavelengths, to the elongated waves of radio frequencies. Visible light occupies a unique position within this range: it is at precisely the right wavelength to be captured by the photoreceptors in our eyes, distinguishing it from its invisible (to us) counterparts and underscoring its singular importance in the natural world. Human vision can detect light that falls between approximately 400 nanometers (nm) and 700nm.


Tri-Chromatic Color Vision

Perception of light in humans is a refined process, fine-tuned by our evolutionary needs. The human eye does not register every wavelength of light; instead, it is equipped with specialized cells within the retina known as cones, that are attuned to red, green, and blue wavelengths. The intricate process by which our brain synthesizes signals from these cells allows us to perceive a full spectrum of colors from these three primary inputs. Our tri-chromatic vision enables us to navigate and appreciate a world rich with color.

But not every human perceives color the same way to due to a multitude of factors, including our unique physiologies, personal experience that shapes color language, phenomena like metamerism, and the effects of things like contrasting colors or various light sources with differing spectral energies.

Color Vision

The Importance of Color in Business

The nuanced understanding of human color perception holds profound implications for manufacturing industries such as paint, powder coatings, textiles, plastics, cosmetics, printing and more. In these sectors, accurate colors, (despite our subjective color vision) is imperative, making digital color management essential to ensuring that hues are consistent and accurate during every stage of production.

The science of color measurement and formulation relies heavily on our comprehension of light’s interaction with materials and the human eye’s response to different wavelengths. By pairing this knowledge with a device called a spectrophotometer, companies and manufacturers can achieve precise color consistency, guaranteeing that the colors envisioned during design are the ones delivered to customers, regardless of the medium or the people producing the color.

Want to learn more about color science? Get a copy of our Fundamentals of Colorimetry eBook!

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