Color Lesson: White

From COLOR: Message and Meaning

Where black is thought of as the absence of light, white is the complete presence of light. In ancient legends white was symbolic of big fluffy clouds and snow-capped mountains where the gods dwelt. In the Christian church, white is the color of a heavenly, pure presence and God himself is thought of as wearing a white robe and having a long white beard. Similarly, an ethereal, ghostly illusion is white, perhaps a bit scary but not generally as threatening as a darker, more sinister presence.

As in the utter quiet of falling snow, white expresses silence and almost total lack of sound. A quiet “shushing” frequency called white noise. A little white lie is considered no big thing as it might spare someone’s feelings and the white flag signals the need for a truce, suspension of hostility. The dove of peace is white. It is a conciliatory color.

Pure white is crisp, succinct and viewed by the human eye as having the same vibrancy as a brilliant color. So it truly should not be thought of as a neutral color that works when all else fails. It does have an ample presence, especially on the printed page, at point of purchase or in packaging. The eye is very sensitive to even minute differences in whiteness when two or more substrates, like paper, plastics, paints or textiles are placed next to each other. So it’s important to get the whites right so that they don’t appear to be a poor match.

Cleanliness is always best represented by white as there is no other color that gets the concept of hygiene over as clearly. Because of the connection to cleansing water, light blue or green may run a close second, but white is immediately understood as pristine, untainted and unflawed.

• Positive: Pure, clean, pristine, spotless, innocent, silent, lightweight, airy, bright, ethereal, clarity, simplicity
• Negative: Sterile, cold, clinical


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