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a visual study of the Young-Helmholtz color theory


fig. 1

fig. 2


Hermann von Helmholtz was a German physician who contributed greatly to different areas of science. in 1851 he created a color system. (fig. 1). the color system illustrates how color is perceived by the human eye. the system is based on a previous study made by Thomas Young in 1802, the color system has therefore been named the Young-Helmholtz theory. Young’s study states that there exist 3 different types of photoreceptor cells in the eyes’ retina, who are each sensitive to a certain range of light. Helmholtz took the study a step further by assigning different colors to the wave lengths of light that the photoreceptor cells (also called cone cells) are capable of detecting. short wave length, red. middle wave length, green. long wave length, violet. if a color between the primary wave lengths is seen, the different cells will react to create a mixture that will create this color. fx. if yellow is seen, the two photoreceptor cells that receive red and green will mix to create a signal which is then sent to the the brain and the color is percieved. (fig. 2). colored light is additive, which means the more color is mixed, the closer one will come to white. this is why white is centered in the Young-Helmholz color system. all in all this color system concluded that us humans are trichromatics, which means that we have, as mentioned before, 3 different cells in our eyes that can catch different wave lengths of colored light. so if you are missing one type of these cells, you are colorblind. this information eventually led to the development of a color blindness test which is still used today, called PIPIC.


Lauritz, 2012

a visual study of the Young-Helmhotlz color theory  
a visual study of the Young-Helmhotlz color theory  

rietveld basic year 2012

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