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Is there a degree in color theory?


Color theory is the science and art of using color. It explains how colors interact with each other and how we perceive color. Understanding color theory allows artists, designers, and others to use color more effectively. While there are no specific college majors in color theory itself, there are degree programs that heavily incorporate color studies.

What is color theory?

Color theory encompasses a body of principles which provide guidance on the relationship between colors and how they are perceived. It is a framework for understanding how colors mix together and interact with each other. Some of the key concepts studied in color theory include:

  • The color wheel – how colors relate to each other and which are considered complementary, analogous, etc.
  • Color harmony – how to create visually pleasing color combinations
  • Color context – how color is influenced by its surroundings
  • Color psychology – how different colors impact moods, feelings, and behaviors

Color theory provides a guide for choosing colors that look good together. It helps us understand why certain color palettes are pleasing to the eye while others are not. A deep knowledge of color theory is important for careers that involve combining colors such as graphic design, interior design, fashion, and photography.

Is there a degree specifically in color theory?

There are no colleges currently offering undergraduate or graduate degrees specifically in color theory itself. However, color theory is an essential part of the curriculum in certain majors.

Degrees most closely associated with intensive color studies include:

  • Graphic design
  • Digital art and design
  • Visual arts like painting or photography
  • Interior design
  • Apparel and fashion design
  • Industrial design
  • Architecture

While color theory may not be in the name, these majors all incorporate intensive color principles and training. Students will take courses dedicated to topics like color harmony, color symbolism, color trends, digital color, and color mixing. The application of color theory is woven throughout the curriculum.

Color theory coursework

Here are some examples of the types of dedicated color theory courses students may take in the majors above:

  • Principles of Color – Theory and application of color perception, color psychology, color harmony, and symbolic color use.
  • Color and Composition – Using color intentionally to create emphasis, space, balance, and other desired visual effects.
  • Color in Design – Color forecasting, trends, and strategies used in marketing and branding.
  • Digital Color – Technical training in digital color models, calibration, and editing.
  • Light and Color – Interaction between color and light sources like in stage lighting or photography.
  • Painting and Color Mixing – Hands-on color mixing for painting with various color mediums and supports.
  • Color and Textiles – Working with dyes, prints, and fabrics for apparel and interiors.

Students may also take more specialized upper level electives, independent studies, or even a master’s thesis that dives deep into a color-based topic.

Example of a color theory course syllabus

Here is an example overview of what topics a dedicated undergraduate color theory class might cover:

Week Topics
1 Introduction to color theory and terminology
2 The color wheel and hue, value, and saturation
3 Complementary, analogous, and triadic color combinations
4 Contextual interactions between color
5 Color symbolism and psychology
6 Achromatic colors like black, white, and grey
7 Using neutrals and tints/shades
8 Color trends and cultural meanings
9 Digital color models and calibration
10 Color reproduction across media
11 Color physics and light interactions
12 Advanced color effects and illusions
13 Viewing student color projects
14 Review for final exam

This provides an idea of the diverse range of concepts covered in a college-level color theory course. Students gain both theoretical knowledge and hands-on skills.

Color theory specializations

Within the majors already mentioned, students can emphasize color theory through course electives or even special programs. Here are some examples of color-focused specializations:

  • Color and Materials Technology – Available within industrial design degrees looking at color and materials like textiles, plastics, metals, etc.
  • Architectural Color Design – Specialization in exterior and interior architectural color selection and coordination.
  • Textile Development and Marketing – Focuses on color trend research, forecasting seasonal palettes, and textile coloration.
  • Stage Lighting Design – Theatrical lighting with a strong emphasis on using color artistically and dramatically.
  • Digital Photography Color Management – Advanced coursework in photographic color calibration, editing, and printing.

These demonstrate pathways for specializing in color within a related degree program. They allow tailoring studies based on career interests that rely on excellent color skills.

Grad school opportunities related to color

At the graduate level, students can also pursue masters or doctoral work connected to color theory and research.

Advanced degree programs most relevant to color studies include:

  • MFA degrees like Graphic Design, Photography, Painting, and Fashion
  • MS in Textile and Apparel Management
  • MA in Industrial Design
  • MArch and MS in Architecture and Design
  • PhD programs in Design, Visual Arts, Architecture, and Color Science/Engineering

Graduate work allows high-level exploration of color that builds on an undergraduate background. Those with a passion for color can dig deeper through color-based thesis and dissertation research.

Examples of potential graduate research topics on color:

  • The psychological impact of color in advertising
  • Cultural associations with colors
  • Innovations in digital color printing
  • Color palettes across art history
  • Color semiotics in fashion
  • Biomimicry and color adapted from nature

This original research contributes to the growing body of knowledge on color.

Careers utilizing color theory

While there are no majors distinctly called “Color Theory,” the following careers intensively rely on a mastery of color principles:

  • Graphic design – Selecting color palettes for logos, branding, marketing, data visualization, etc.
  • Interior design – Decorating rooms through coordinated use of colors, textures, lighting, etc.
  • Photography – Composing images with color, capturing accurate color, editing and retouching photos.
  • Industrial design – Designing products with appropriate colors and finishes.
  • Fashion design – Creating clothing, accessories, and cosmetics with coordinated colors.
  • Textile design – Developing colorful prints and dye techniques for fabrics.
  • Makeup artistry – Using color cosmetically to complement skin tones and features.

Essentially any field involved in the visual arts requires solid foundational knowledge of color theory. This spans both traditional fine arts and commercial creative industries.


While no colleges offer specific majors or degrees in color theory itself, many undergraduate programs in the visual arts, design, and architecture fields incorporate intensive color instruction and training. Students take dedicated color theory courses as part of curriculums that use color principles. It is also possible to specialize further by emphasizing color electives. Graduate studies provide an avenue to advance color research. Careers as graphic designers, photographers, fashion designers, textile developers, make-up artists, and more all rely heavily on expertise in color theory. So for those seeking higher education grounded in color, there are many overlapping degree paths that provide this knowledge to prepare students for vibrant creative careers working with color.