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Scientifically Proven Color Systems That Led The Way For Robert Dorr

Updated: Aug 17, 2020

Color is powerful. Have you ever noticed how your mood changes depending on the color of the sky that morning? This is why I keep my yellow glasses handy for those cloudy days.

The power of color has fascinated psychologists, chemists, artists, and philosophers for centuries.

In the past 400 years there have only been four scientifically proven color systems. These color systems are scientifically backed theories, taught in schools, and used around the world.

So let’s get into it! We are starting with the OG of color himself, Sir Isaac Newton.


The first color system was Isaac Newton’s in 1660. You are probably familiar with the story of the prism. After passing light through a prism, Newton observed the rainbow that came through on the other end. the light bent but continued its journey. Color waves passed through and bent at slightly different angles, becoming separated and the full colors of the spectrum are revealed. He identified 7 colors, coining the phrase ROYGBIV.








What you may NOT know is that he identified the 7 colors we think of as the rainbow today, because he saw the color spectrum corresponding with a musical scale.

After his studies at Cambridge, he returned home to Woolsthorpe for 2 years, and that is when he made some of his most well known discoveries on Calculus, Optics, and the Laws of Gravitation. He was attempting to increase the quality of glass lenses used in telescopes when he began experimenting with glass prisms.

The theory at the time was that white light was just that, white, and it was the glass that colorized the light. What he found out was quite the opposite.

Newton and a colleague projected light passing through a prism onto the wall in his chambers. His friend traced the colors on the wall and split the projection into 7. It made the most sense to them at the time that it would be separated into 7 like a musical scale, especially since violet was a recurrence of red, such as when musical notes reappear an octave apart.

Newton stuck to his music analogy, even when evidence disproved his theory years later. In Newton’s diagrams he depicted orange and indigo as half steps on the octatonic scale. Although these two colors aren’t vibrantly obvious in the spectrum, Newton’s inclusion of them in his diagrams and color wheel had lasting consequences and they are recognized as being in the spectra still to this day.

Isaac Newton concluded that all colors are physically contained within white light and become dispersed when passed through glass.

His experiments led to the knowledge of the primary colors, red, blue and yellow, as well as secondary and tertiary colors that make up the color wheel.

A color wheel is an arrangement of colors in a circle in the same order they are found in the spectrum. It places all related colors close to each other and complementary colors directly opposite.


200 years later, Albert H. Munsell took Newton’s color theory to a whole new level. Munsell was an artist, & won some awards for his work in anatomy, perspective and composition. Albert Munsell later became an art teacher in Boston, teaching his students drawing and painting from antique figure, model, composition and anatomy.

The reason he developed the Munsell Color System was to make the colors easy and convenient to teach children.

It wasn’t until Munsell had anyone combined the art and science of color into a single color theory. Munsell developed his color theory to bring clarity to color communication by establishing an orderly system for accurately identifying every color that exists. Munsell based his system on what he defined as “perceived equidistance” — the human visual system’s perception of color.

He translated all he knew about how we perceive color into a three dimensional model, The Munsell color tree.

Each color has three qualities:

  1. Hue – color such as red, orange, yellow, etc.

  2. Value – the lightness or darkness of a color

  3. Chroma – the saturation or brilliance of a color

Each branch of the color tree represents a HUE, the color itself:


The trunk of the tree represents value, the lightness or darkness of any color. Values in the Munsell color system range from 0: for pure black – at the root of the tree, to 10: pure white – at the top of the tree. As your eyes move vertically from the top to the bottom of the tree, the value goes from light to dark.


Chroma is the brightness or saturation of a color. On the color tree, the branches extend from the center out horizontally to represent the chroma scale, moving from low to high chroma. Branches on a tree are not always uniform in length, just like the colors, which have varying levels of chroma.

His groundbreaking work laid the foundation for today’s computerized color matching systems and enabled a greater understanding of color principles for generations to come.


Friedrich Wilhelm Ostwald was a Baltic German chemist and philosopher. He was a man of many interests, studying chemistry, then on to politics, philosophy, and art. He received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1909 for his scientific contributions.

Ostwald final passion was in the systematization of colors, which could be useful both scientifically and in the arts. He published "The Color Primer" and also "The Color Atlas" during the period of 1916-8. These publications established relationships between the various visual colors.

He noticed that certain color combinations looked unpleasant, while others worked well together and came to the conclusion that color harmony was all about color order.

Ostwald used a double cone with one white and one black tip between a grey scale. The double cone extends from a 24 hue color wheel. Ostwald’s color circle has primaries in Yellow, red, ultramarine blue and sea-green.

Ostwald also set up a color triangle, illustrating the changes of a hue with the addition of black, gray, or white.


The year was 1928, An artist named Robert Dorr was working in Chicago making theatrical posters.

Back then, they hand-painted posters every day for the nightly performance. He and the other painters had to mix his colors by hand each day he went to work and he discovered that all colors (red, yellow, blue, black, and white) and every shade of these colors contained undertones of either BLUE or YELLOW.

He realized that colors with blue undertones worked in harmony with each other and colors having yellow pigmentation worked in harmony, but when the two undertones mixed it didn’t look so good.

He became more fascinated with color harmony and began studying how people responded to it. Dorr observed that most people either like blue-based colors (KEY 1) or yellow-based colors (KEY 2).

When he moved to California he continued his research testing hundreds of thousands of men and women of all races and ages, finding the similarities shared among blue-based individuals and yellow-based individuals. He studied skin tone, eye color, hair color, purchasing preferences, and more.

Now we have a wealth of scientific knowledge on the blue-based yellow-based color system.

The blue base/ yellow base color system is a system takes Newton’s Wheel and divides it in half, so you have equal division of Yellow and Blue based colors. As you can see there is not a blue based orange, and not a blue based magenta.

My grandmother, Renae Knapp, studied with Bob Dorr and went on to write books on this color system and travel the world teaching color harmony.

The blue based/ yellow based color system is the simplest way to create color harmony in your life. You were born blue or yellow based, and are naturally drawn to the colors that look best on you.

Using this system not only helps you to look healthier and more vibrant, it is a huge tool in marketing and sales. Mixed key situations are not pleasing on the eye, in fact a lot of sale sections in retail stores are often full of mixed key clothing.

Go to my youtube channel for videos on being yellow or blue based and how to use this color system to your advantage.

Peace & Love

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1 Comment

Hi Sophia,

Is it possible to have colors that are a combination of blue-based and yellow-based? Such as blue-based red combined with a yellow-based blue? Wouldn't that produce a neutral purple? I'm not sure if that would be a naturally occurring color though. I have mixed those colors when painting and have seen other artists do the same, but just because you can mix those pigments using paint doesn't mean it's right. Hopefully, I am making sense. 😅

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