A Dictionary of Color Combinations is a book derived from the Haishoku Soukan, a collection of books published in the 1930s by the Japanese artist and costume designer Sanzo Wada.
The book is useful for any designer. On 300 pages, it collects 348 colour combinations that will ensure a harmonious chromatic result for your projects. The dictionary has also inspired an open-source project: a web platform that gathers all palettes and colour codes in CMYK, RGB and HEX.
Choosing the right colour combination for an architecture and design project can be very complex. This is because colours convey meanings and moods that influence our perception of spaces and objects. This is especially true when we combine colours to create a chromatic dialogue that reinforces or weakens the values of our message.
A Dictionary of Color Combinations, Seigensha Art
A dictionary of Color Combinations simplifies this problem and gives us a useful hand in choosing the right palette for our project. It’s not a treatise on colour theory, but a collection of colour combinations gathered in an A6 volume of almost 300 pages.
The palettes come from the work of Sanzo Wada, the Japanese painter and costume designer who devoted his life to the study of colour. One of the most important fruits of this research was the Haishoku Soukan, literally a complete collection of colour combinations. A work consisting of 6 volumes that Wada conceived for fashion and especially for kimono design.
In 2010, Seigensha selected 348 colour combinations from the Haishoku Soukan and published them under the title: A Dictionary of Color Combinations. Inside the book, written in Japanese and English, there are only a few texts, the most necessary to identify the colours in their names and CMYK code.
The first 257 pages collect the colour combinations, which are divided into groups of two to four colours. To read the CMYK code, you have to go to the next section, where you’ll also find the combinations that contain each colour.
If we want to find a flaw in this book, it is that we can only use CMYK colours for printing. I would have liked to see at least the RGB codes to use for screens or RAL.
Nevertheless, it is an excellent text that’s very useful for any designer. Because a quick search is enough to find one or more palettes that we can use in our projects and that guarantee an effective colour result. On the last pages of the book, you’ll find cut-out colour swatches that you can use to create new, custom palettes. Something I will probably never do, but maybe it’s suitable for educational purposes.
Sanzo Wada, the author of Haishoku Soukan
Many painters and designers have dealt with colours and developed combinations that have become characteristic of a language or even of a historical epoch. Sanzo Wada, the Japanese artist who wrote the six Haishoku Soukan books, devoted his life to colour. He was born in 1883 in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, and came to Tokyo at the age of 16 to become a professional painter.
Wada studied painting at the Tokyo School of Fine Art and then became a teacher at the same school. During his life, he achieved significant recognition both as a painter and as a costume designer for theatre and cinema.
In 1927, he founded the Japan Standard Colour Association, of which he’d be president. His most important achievements as a designer and artist were winning the competition for the 1940 Tokyo Olympics poster and the Costume Design Award at the 1954 Academy Awards for the costumes of the film Hell’s Gate.
The web version of a Dictionary of Color Combinations
In 2018, a group of designers started a beautiful open-source project that collects all the colours and combinations of the dictionary on one website. I’m glad to talk about it, not only because it’s an open-source project, but also because the list view page shows the corresponding RGB and HEX code for each colour, in addition to CMYK. This makes it a complement to the book and useful for quickly identifying colours that appear in the dictionary’s colour combinations.
Buy the book online
I hope this little dictionary is as useful to you as it was to me. Luckily, the book is relatively easy to find, at least online, as Seigensha Art reprinted it practically every year since it was first published.