Not long before descending into the grey misery of the Great War, the Europeans decided to standardise the way we talk about light and colour and so in 1913 the CIE or International Commission on Illumination was born. The CIE acronym, by the way, is from its French name, la Commission Internationale de l´Eclairage (which, let’s face it, sounds much better than the English) and their first major work was the creation of the standard observer (which I’ll explain in minute), and then on to produce one of the most quoted and least understood ‘infographics’ in history. The oddly-beautiful but impenetrable 1931 chromaticity diagram…

If you take even a passing interest in colour – as a designer or photographer or artist or anyone really – you’ll come across this little gem in your reading but I’m guessing you won’t understand a bar of it unless you’re some distance down the road to colour or vision science. If that’s the case you might find this article a little pedestrian for your taste. For the rest of you, read on…

The diagram is supposed to represent the range or gamut of human colour vision. The horseshoe shape, which somehow seems wrong (surely it should be a circle or something?) is to allow for a perceptually eq

 

Sometimes it’s presented along with device gamuts like Adobe 1998 or sRGB, particularly with regard to colour management in the graphic arts but we’ll get to that a little later.