White is the lightest color.
Like black, but unlike the colors of the spectrum and most mixtures of them, white lacks hue, so it is considered an achromatic color.
White doesn’t feature on a traditional color wheel, as it is considered to be a non-color.
In physics, white light is seen by the human eye when all wavelengths of the visible spectrum combine.
Being the opposite of black, which absorbs all other colors, white reflects and scatters all the visible wavelengths of light.
Because it is without hue, white can be treated as a neutral and paired with a wide range of colors.
White is an exceptionally powerful color both psychologically and culturally.
White has wide-ranging symbolism across different cultures. In the West, white is often associated with virginity and innocence. Traditionally worn by brides on their wedding day (a trend started by Queen Victoria, see below), white is also worn by brides in the Shinto religion of Japan. However, in many Asian countries, white is largely symbolic of mourning (as opposed to black in the West).
White was one of the first colors used in art, with prehistoric cave drawings, such as those at Lascaux in France, featuring marks and images made using calcite and chalk.
In ancient Egypt, white was connected with the goddess Isis. The priests and priestesses of Isis dressed only in white linen, and it was used to wrap mummies.
In Greece and other ancient civilizations, white was often associated with mother’s milk. In Greek mythology, the chief god Zeus was nourished at the breast of the nymph Amalthea. In the Talmud, milk was one of four sacred substances, along with wine, honey, and the rose.
For the ancient Greeks white was a fundamental color. According to Pliny the Elder in his Natural History, Apelles and the other famous painters of ancient Greece used only four colors in their paintings – white, red, yellow and black. For painting, the Greeks used the highly toxic pigment lead
white, made by a long and laborious process – of all the pigments that have been banned over the centuries, the color most missed by painters is likely lead white.
The early Christian church adopted the Roman symbolism of white as the color of purity, sacrifice and virtue. It became the color worn by priests during Mass.
In postclassical history art, the white lamb became the symbol of the sacrifice of Christ on behalf of mankind.
White was also the symbolic color of the transfiguration. The Gospel of Saint Mark describes Jesus’ clothing in this event as “shining, exceeding white as snow.”
Until the 16th century, white was commonly worn by widows as a color of mourning. A white tunic was also worn by many knights, along with a red cloak, which showed the knights were willing to give their blood for the king or Church.
In 1666, Isaac Newton demonstrated that white light could be broken up into its composite colors by passing it through a prism, then using a second prism to reassemble them. Before Newton, most scientists believed that white was the fundamental color of light.
White was the dominant color of architectural interiors in the Baroque period and especially the Rococo style that followed it in the 18th century. Church interiors were designed to show the power, glory and
wealth of the church. They seemed to be alive, filled with curves, asymmetry, mirrors, gilding, statuary and reliefs, unified by white.
After the French Revolution, a more austere white became the most fashionable color in women’s costumes which were modeled after the outfits of Ancient Greece and Republican Rome. The Empire style under
Emperor Napoléon I was modeled after the more conservative outfits of Ancient Imperial Rome. The dresses were high in fashion but low in warmth considering the more severe weather conditions of northern France.
White was the universal color of both men and women’s underwear and of sheets in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was unthinkable to have sheets or underwear of any other color.
The absoluteness of white appealed to modernist painters.
In Christianity, white is a symbol of purity, innocence and holiness.
White is also the liturgical color of Christmas and Easter.
In Tibetan Buddhism, white robes were reserved for the lama of a monastery.
Snow is a mixture of air and tiny ice crystals. When white sunlight enters snow, very little of the spectrum is absorbed – almost all of the light is reflected or scattered by the air and water molecules, so the snow appears to be the color of sunlight, white. Sometimes the light bounces around
inside the ice crystals before being scattered, making the snow seem to sparkle.
Clouds are composed of water droplets or ice crystals mixed with air, very little light that strikes them is absorbed, and most of the light is scattered, appearing to the eye as white.
White objects fully reflect and scatter all the visible wavelengths of light.
In interior design white is purifying and chic, but when used too liberally it can feel harsh and clinical.
In marketing and branding, white is used to convey a feeling of safety, purity, freshness, and cleanliness, as well as to create contrast. Some famous brands that use a great deal of white in their logos and marketing are Michelin, Gap, Hewlett-Packard (HP), Lego, Volkswagen, Starbucks, Fisher-Price, Levi’s, and Ford.
White on television and computer screens is created by a mixture of red, blue and green light. In everyday life, whiteness is often conferred with white pigments, especially titanium dioxide, of which is produced more than 3,000,000 tons per year.
For web design, a true white can be achieved using the hex code #FFFFFF and maximum values of red, blue, and green in an RGB model (255, 255, 255). This is based on Newton’s theory of white light refraction.
White and black are the most basic colour terms of languages.
The word “white” derives from Proto-Germanic hwitaz and Old English hwit. One of the first written records of the term is from an Old English version of the phoenix legend, the so-called Prose Phoenix (11th century): “His fet syndon blodreade begen twegen and se bile hwit” (“His feet are both blood red and the beak white”).
In history the white unicorn was a common subject of manuscripts, paintings and tapestries. It was a symbol of purity, chastity and grace.
White is a common color in national flags, though its symbolism varies widely.