College of Human Science and Services


TMD 113: "COLOR SCIENCE" (3 credits)

INSTRUCTOR:  Dr. Martin Bide

OFFICE: Quinn 311


TEXT: Hazel Rossotti "Colour: Why the World isn't Grey", Princeton (recommended)

Roy Berns “Principles of Color Technology” (3rd Edition) Wiley, 2000 (recommended)



is a general education natural science elective for undergraduate students.  It has no prerequisites.



This course is designed as an introduction to the general subject of color and examines color from as many points of view as possible.  These include:

·         The components that create color (the object, light, and an observer),

·         How color can be specified, described and measured,

·         The control of color (in dyeing, printing, painting, photography, television etc.),

·         The ways in which color occurs in the natural world, animal vegetable and mineral,

·         Human interactions with color, color illusions, cultural implications, color in language, art, psychology etc. 


Color science involves science, especially physics and chemistry.  The basic concepts in those areas will be introduced within the course.  Since there are no prerequisites the course can be viewed as using color as an excuse to look at some science, hence its role as a science elective.  Successful students will understand the way science works to develop “laws”, how those laws explain colorful phenomena, and how the principles can be applied to form the technologies of color measurement and color reproduction

Students of Art, Textiles, Psychology and so on may find it useful within their majors.  Others may merely find it interesting to examine something which is a part of everyday experience, yet often resists simple explanation.



The course consists of three class meetings per week.  Some of the time will be spent in lecture and discussion.  Material is presented in powerpoint, with the key points available as a word document.  At other times colorful phenomena will be demonstrated.  Some class periods will be devoted to hands-on (or eyes-on!) experiment in the lab.



Best 8 of 10 assignments @ 25 pts



2 quizzes (based on assignment questions)



Paper first draft






2 Lab exercises






Semester averages of 90% will earn A grades, 80-90% will earn B's, 70-80% will earn C's and 60-70% will earn D's.  These limits may be reduced, but will not be increased. 



Class attendance is essential.  Any sympathy you need for missing or late work will be based on how often you show up to class.  The assignments (and the quizzes) are based on class material, and it is important to collect the regular assignments and to hand them in on time.  Make-up exams will be given only on presentation of a really good reason given before the exam being missed.  Late assignments will be penalized 50%.  (“Late” means work that is handed in after any graded versions of that assignment have been returned).  All written work presented for grading must represent an individual effort.  Plagiarism will result in an F grade for the assignment, or even for the course as a whole.  If you do not understand what plagiarism is, please ask, or contact URI’s Writing Center.

To be successful in this course, it is best to stay on top of all weekly readings and assignments, and review your notes regularly. A good way to keep pace and improve your understanding is to visit the Academic Enhancement Center (AEC) in Roosevelt Hall. Tutors are available to help you better understand course concepts and assignments and develop more effective ways of studying. The AEC encourages you to bring classmates, so that you can work together after your visits. You can also meet for one-to-one tutoring, if you prefer.

Any student with a documented disability is welcome to contact me as early in the semester as possible so that we may arrange reasonable accommodations. As part of this process, please be in touch with Disability Services for Students office at 330 Memorial Union. 874-2098.



1.       Keith McLaren "The Colour Science of Dyes and Pigments" (2nd Edn.) Adam Hilger, 1986.

2.       Kurt Nassau "The Physics and Chemistry of Color", Wiley-Interscience 1983.

3.       Roderick McDonald "Color Physics for Industry", The Society of Dyers and Colourists 1987.

4.       Judd and Gunter Wyzsecki "Color in Business, Science and Industry" Wiley,

5.       Trevor Lamb and Janine Bourriau (Eds)  Colour Art and Science”, Cambridge University Press 1995.

6.       David Lynch and William Livingstone. “Color and Light in Nature”, Cambridge University Press 1995.

7.       Anni Berger-Schunn “Practical Color Measurement”, Wiley Interscience 1994.

8.       Pat Murphy and Paul Doherty, “The Color of Nature”, Chronicle Books 1996

9.       Hunter and Harold, The measurement of appearance  (In reference section of the library)

10.   John Gage “Color and Meaning: Art, Science, and Symbolism” Univ California Press; 2000

11.   Heinrich Zollinger “Color: A Multidisciplinary Approach”) Vch Verlagsgesellschaft Mbh 1999

12.   John Gage “Color and Culture: Practice and Meaning from Antiquity to Abstraction” Univ California Press; 1999

13.   Kurt Nassau (editor) "Color for Science, Art and Technology" Elsevier, 1998

14.   Rolf Kuehni "Color: an introduction to its practice and principles" Wiley 1997

15.   Donald McIntyre, “Colour Blindness: Causes and Effects”, Dalton (UK) 2002

16.   Roy BernsBillmeyer and Saltzmann’s Principles of Color Technology” (3rd Edition) Wiley, 2000 (URI has)

17.   Philip Ball, “Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color”, New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002 (URI has)

18.   Arne Valberg, “Light Vision and Color”, 2nd Edition, Wiley, 2005


There are many other good sources for colorful information.








Introduction.  Syllabus review.  Science: how do we know what we know?.  Who knows color?  Color as a combination of light, an object, and an observer.  Light. (Video).



Light: part of the “electromagnetic spectrum”.  Historical view of light.  The relation between light and energy.  Sources of light, incandescent and fluorescent.  Description of light and light quality.

Scenarios distributed


How do objects interact with light?  Chemically (absorption) and physically (diffraction, refraction, scattering, reflection, interference)....What happens to absorbed light?



The eye, and the vision of color.  Structure and mechanism of vision, day and night vision (rods and cones), eye/brain connections.  Color vision deficiency and color blindness tests.

Paper: first reactions





Lab work: color vision tests, the effect of light on color of objects, color memory...



Color mixing.  Primaries: additive, subtractive and psychological. Description of color.  How many colors are there anyway?  Words: trivial, object related, specific.  Samples, individual and sets, both logical and random

Test 1

Draft paper due


Use of numbers to measure color, development of the CIE XYZ system. Color difference assessment.  Words, samples, and numbers.  Development of L a b systems, relation to Munsell, color spaces, and color difference equations.



(Spring Break)



Lab work.  Color specification/measurement using a range of sample sets and reflectance spectrophotometers.  Color difference assessment



Color illusions and other weirdness.  Afterimages, background color, Land's experiments, metamerism and color constancy Color technology.  Paints, pigments, dyes.  Application and properties. 



Color technology.  Color reproduction: color television, color photography and printing



Color in nature; lobsters and rainbows.  Plants, animals, food, sea, sky, rocks......

Final Paper due


Color and culture, Color and art, Color and healing, Synaesthesia



Wrap up, review for final



“Interpret a scenario” Paper


Overview: You will be given a scenario that represents a real-life aspect of color science.  Many of these are based on newspaper articles or commonly encountered experiences.  Your task is to write about it, and in doing so, demonstrate that you understand it.  You may be involved in explaining something simple in more depth.  Alternatively, you may have a more complex scenario that you will need to find simpler sources to understand.  In either case you will need to read other sources, books or articles, about your topic to help your explanation. You will be expected to go beyond sources that are very “general” such as wikipedia, howstuffworks, etc. and use sources that are aimed at the  knowledgeably interested


The purposes of the exercise are

To let you become expert in one area of color science

To give you practice at writing

To help you become familiar with information resources


Some of the words that might be used to describe what you are doing include:

Interpret, Explain, Describe, Comment, Summarize, Critique, Abstract, Analyze,


Steps in the Process

1. Scenarios will be distributed to the class via email early in the semester.  There will be about ten different ones, so others in the class will have the same one as you


2. Find some background information on your topic.  The web, and books on reserve might be a good place to start.  Hand in one page with the title of your paper, a one-paragraph initial assessment of it, and at least 3 references that you will use to explain it.  You will be given feedback on this.


3. Based on the comments, and your further exploration, write a draft of your response to the scenario.  This should be around 750 words.  (before spring break!)


4. Based on the feedback from part 3, and your continued reading/research, revise and improve your draft and hand in a final copy (as well as emailing an electronic version to me as a .doc file) and include the grading sheet (below) with one of them.  Your final submission should consist of

  1. Your interpretation of the scenario.  Around 750 words.  (Typically around 2-3 pages).  Break into subtitled sections as appropriate (Background, Authors, Significance etc. Your call!)  Illustrations welcome
  2. Citations of the references you used to do your interpretation.
  3. The graded first draft

Do not plagiarize.  Plagiarism guidelines will be distributed with the scenarios.  If you are not sure what plagiarism is, ask. 


Note on writing

Communicating effectively is important.  You are not writing a great work of literature, or a stuffy scientific paper, and you are not  trying to sell something. Write clearly, and economize on the use of words. Imagine that your audience is your boss who has asked you to do this, and wants an explicit and concise report. Revise often and eliminate unnecessary verbiage.  Consult URI’s writing center for help if writing is not a comfortable process for you.


Note on the use of the web

Stuff that’s published in “regular” hard copy, especially text books and journals, has gone through some kind of quality control process.  Often this is extensive, with reviewers and editors all contributing to the final product.  This material is therefore fairly trustworthy (although still open to criticism).

Private Eye, Issue 1023, Nov 14 2001

While much web-based material is also reviewed, and is trustworthy, the quality control is far more lax. ANYONE can get a web site and say what they like, however inaccurate, misleading, or wrong it is.


So: if you use web sites as information sources, you owe it to your readers to offer an explanation.  DON’T just provide a long url (for example, how meaningful is ?

Explain what the site is for: who put it up, and why?  What does the rest of the site deal with?  When did you access it?

For example, that long url comes from the web site of “New Scientist” a British weekly magazine covering a wide range of scientific developments.  The particular page relates to the magazine’s archive, and an article from New Scientist vol. 157 issue 2118 – 24th January 98, page 11 that deals with the effect of light on the back of the knee on the body’s internal clock, and it was accessed on January 7th 2003


Paper: Grading




Quality sought:


first reaction

On time?  Realistic reaction?


First draft

On time?  Good sources?  Organization? Understanding?


Final submission




Are they relevant? Appropriate? Balanced?




How well does it set up the topic and outline to follow? 



Main paper:

How well does it combine ideas from articles, rather than list them separately?  Does it flow well?  Does it clearly deal with the different aspects of the scenario and answer any questions, or does it wander excessively?  Does it develop an idea logically?





How well does it wind up the paper?




Writing quality:

Complete sentences?  Excessively wordy? Concise? Avoids clichés? Vagueness?   and so on......