Verner Panton: What is colour?

An excerpt from “Notes on Colour”

Colours are a subjective, physical perception – they really don’t exist at all. Yellow is yellow only in our thoughts. It is only the function of our eyes that creates colours. Everything in our surroundings has a color – only water (distilled) and schnapps are colourless! Colourless is only what light can penetrate completely.

A colour has its origin in the purely physical world. It originates in light rays being reflected from or penetrating a substance. The things we see get their colour and appearance from rays of light.


The perception of colour depends on the source of the light. The sun is our most important source of light.

Daylight is rich in blue tones. In contrast the standard light bulb does not contain much blue or violet but has a great deal of yellow, orange and red.

Sunlight has a more golden tone. When it falls on fresh snow it looks more yellowish while fresh ski tracks cast a blue shadow because of the pure light from the sky.


When an object reflects more than 80-90% of the light falling on it we perceive it as white. When it absorbs more than 95% of the light it appears black.

Publication Date: 12.2.2016
Author: Verner Panton: excerpt from the book „Verner Panton: Notes on Colour”; Dansk/Danish Design Center; Copenhagen, 1991.
Images: Ari Marcopoulos, Isabel Truniger