Color wheel: Wikis


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Boutet's 7-color and 12-color color circles from 1708.
Wilhelm von Bezold's 1874 Farbentafel.

A color wheel or color circle is either:

Some sources use the terms color wheel and color circle interchangeably;[1][2] however, one term or the other may be more prevalent in certain fields or certain versions as mentioned above. For instance, some reserve the term color wheel for mechanical rotating devices, such as color tops or filter wheels. Others classify various color wheels as color disc, color chart, and color scale varieties.[3]

As an illustrative model, artists typically use red, yellow, and blue primaries (RYB color model) arranged at three equally-spaced points around their color wheel.[4] Printers and others who use modern subtractive color methods and terminology use magenta, yellow, and cyan as subtractive primaries. Intermediate and interior points of color wheels and circles represent color mixtures. In a paint or subtractive color wheel, the "center of gravity" is usually (but not always[5]) black, representing all colors of light being absorbed; in a color circle, on the other hand, the center is white or gray, indicating a mixture of different wavelengths of light (all wavelengths, or two complementary colors, for example).

The arrangement of colors around the color circle is often considered to be in correspondence with the wavelengths of light, as opposed to hues, in accord with the original color circle of Isaac Newton. Modern color circles include the purples, however, between red and violet.[6] Color scientists and psychologists often use the additive primaries, red, green and blue; and often refer to their arrangement around a circle as a color circle as opposed to a color wheel.[7]



An in-depth history of the color circles, wheels, spirals, triangles, charts, and other order systems has been published, as a chapter of an e-book, by Sarah Lowengard, focusing on the eighteenth century.[8]

Colors of the color wheel

A 1904 color wheel based on red/yellow/blue primaries, and orange/green/violet secondaries.
Goethe's color wheel from his 1810 Theory of Colours.

A typical artists' paint or pigment color wheel includes the blue, red, and yellow primary colors. The corresponding secondary colors are green, orange, and violet. The tertiary colors are red–orange, red–violet, yellow–orange, yellow–green, blue–violet and blue–green.

A color wheel based on RGB (red, green, blue) or RGV (red, green, violet) additive primaries has cyan, magenta, and yellow secondaries (cyan was previously known as cyan blue). Alternatively, the same arrangement of colors around a circle can be described as based on cyan, magenta, and yellow subtractive primaries, with red, green, and blue (or violet) being secondaries.

Most color wheels are based on three primary colors, three secondary colors, and the six intermediates formed by mixing a primary with a secondary, known as tertiary colors, for a total of 12 main divisions; some add more intermediates, for 24 named colors. Other color wheels, however, are based on the four opponent colors, and may have four or eight main colors.

Goethe's Theory of Colours provided the first systematic study of the physiological effects of color (1810). His observations on the effect of opposed colors led him to a symmetric arrangement of his color wheel, "for the colours diametrically opposed to each other… are those which reciprocally evoke each other in the eye." (Goethe, Theory of Colours, 1810 [9]). In this, he anticipated Ewald Hering's opponent color theory (1872) [10].

The color circle and color vision

A color circle based on spectral wavelengths will appear with red at one end of the spectrum and violet at the other, and with a wedge-shaped gap representing colors which have no unique spectral frequency; these extra-spectral colors, the purples, are rather formed by the additive mixture of colors from the two ends of the spectrum.

In normal human vision, wavelengths of between about 400 nm and 700 nm are represented by this incomplete circle, with the longer wavelengths equating to the red end of the spectrum. Complements are located directly opposite each other on this wheel. These complements are not identical to those in pigment mixing (such as are used in paint), but when lights are additively mixed in the correct proportions will appear as a neutral grey or white.[11]

A 1908 color wheel with red, green, and violet "plus colors" and magenta, yellow, and cyan blue "minus colors".
A 1917 four-way color circle related to the color opponent process.

The color circle is used for, among other purposes, illustrating additive color mixture. Combining two colored lights from different parts of the spectrum may produce a third color that appears like a light from another part of the spectrum, even though dissimilar wavelengths are involved. This type of color matching is known as metameric matching.[12] Thus a combination of green and red light might produce a color close to yellow in apparent hue. The newly-formed color lies between the two original colors on the color circle, but they are usually represented as being joined by a straight line on the circle, the location of the new color closer to the (white) centre of the circle indicating that the resulting hue is less saturated (i.e., paler) than either of the two source colors. The combination of any two colors in this way will always be less saturated than the two pure spectral colors individually.

Objects may be viewed under a variety of different lighting conditions. The human visual system is able to adapt to these differences by chromatic adaptation. This aspect of the visual system is relatively easy to mislead, and optical illusions relating to color are therefore a common phenomenon. The color circle is a useful tool for examining these illusions.

The display of colors using spectral colors around a circle in order to predict the admixture of light can be traced to work by Sir Isaac Newton. The psychophysical theory behind the color circle dates to the early color triangle of Thomas Young, whose work was later extended by James Clerk Maxwell and Hermann von Helmholtz. Young postulated that the eye contains receptors that respond to three different primary sensations, or spectra of light. As Maxwell showed, all hues, but not all colors, can be created from three primary colors such as red, green, and blue, if they are mixed in the right proportions. The Young–Helmholtz theory is still seen as the most effective in modeling human color vision,[citation needed] though the color vision system is far more complex than differences in the retina alone, with different cells in the lateral geniculate nucleus also responding in opponent fashion to complementary colors, and further color coding occurs in the visual cortex.[13]

Color wheels and paint color mixing

There is no straight-line relationship between the colors mixed in pigment, which will vary from medium to medium. Whereas with a psychophysical color circle, the resulting hue of any mixture of two colored light sources can be determined simply by the relative brightness and wavelength of the two lights[12], a similar calculation cannot be performed with two paints. As such, a painter's color wheel is indicative rather than predictive, being used to compare existing colors rather than calculate exact colors of mixtures. Because of differences relating to the medium, different color wheels may be created according to the type of paint or other medium used, and many artists make their own individual color wheels. These will often contain only blocks of color rather than the gradation between tones which is characteristic of the color circle.[14]

Color wheel software

A number of interactive color wheel applications are available both on the internet and as desktop applications. These programs are used by artists and designers to simplify the task of picking matching colors for a design.

The twelve major RGB/HSV color-wheel colors

An RGB-based HSV color wheel (left) and the 3D conical HSV space that it represents (right).
Primary, secondary, and tertiary colors on the RGB color wheel.

The HSL and HSV color spaces are based on the RGB color space, in which the twelve primary, secondary, and tertiary colors are spaced at 30 degree hue angles, corresponding to where one or two RGB coordinates is at the maximum (255), one or two is at the minimum (0), and in the case of the tertiary colors, one may be at half-scale (127). The saturation of these these colors is at the maximum (1) in both HSL and HSV, and in HSV space the value is at maximum (1).

The six primary and secondary colors of this color wheel are named in the web colors and X11 colors, with minor variations. The additive primaries, red, green (web color lime), and blue, are the primary colors of this color wheel. The subtractive primaries, yellow, cyan (aqua), and magenta (fuchsia), are its secondary colors.

The tertiary colors have no consistent set of web color names: orange (not the same as web color orange), the web color chartreuse (chartreuse green), spring green, azure (not the same as the web color), violet (not the same as the web color), and rose (no named X11 or web color) are the tertiary colors of the HSV color wheel.[citation needed]

Color schemes

Color schemes are logical combinations of colors on the color wheel.

In color theory, a color scheme is the choice of colors used in design for a range of media. For example, the use of a white background with black text is an example of a common default color scheme in web design.

Color schemes are used to create style and appeal. Colors that create an aesthetic feeling when used together will commonly accompany each other in color schemes. A basic color scheme will use two colors that look appealing together. More advanced color schemes involve several colors in combination, usually based around a single color; for example, text with such colors as red, yellow, orange and light blue arranged together on a black background in a magazine article.

Color schemes can also contain different shades of a single color; for example, a color scheme that mixes different shades of green, ranging from very light (almost white) to very dark.


An 1895 mechanical color wheel, used for experiments with color vision.  
Newton's color circle, showing the colors correlated with musical notes and symbols for the planets.  
A color circle based on additive combinations of the light spectrum, after Schiffman (1990).  
A mechanical four-petal RGBW color wheel inside a 1998 DLP video projector.  

See also


  1. ^ Simon Jennings (2003). Artist's Color Manual: The Complete Guide to Working With Color. Chronicle Books. ISBN 081184143X.,M1. 
  2. ^ Faber Birren (1934). Color Dimensions: Creating New Principles of Color Harmony and a Practical Equation in Color Definition. Chicago: The Crimson Press. ISBN 1428651799.,M1. 
  3. ^ Joseph Anthony Gillet and William James Rolfe (1881). Elements of Natural Philosophy: For the Use of Schools and Academies. New York: Potter, Ainsworth.,M1. 
  4. ^ Kathleen Lochen Staiger (2006). The Oil Painting Course You've Always Wanted: Guided Lessons for Beginners. Watson–Guptill. ISBN 0823032590. 
  5. ^ Martha Gill (2000). Color Harmony Pastels: A Guidebook for Creating Great Color Combinations. Rockport Publishers. ISBN 1564967204.,M1. 
  6. ^ Steven K. Shevell (2003). The Science of Color. Elsevier. ISBN 0444512519.,M1. 
  7. ^ Linda Leal (1994). The Essentials of Psychology. Research & Education Assoc. ISBN 0878919309.,M1. 
  8. ^ Sarah Lowengard (2008). The Creation of Color in Eighteenth-Century Europe. Columbia University Press. 
  9. ^ Goethe, Johann (1810). Theory of Colours, paragraph #50. 
  10. ^ Goethe's Color Theory
  11. ^ Krech, D., Crutchfield, R.S., Livson, N., Wilson, W.A. jr., Parducci, A. (1982) Elements of psychology (4th ed.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 108-109.
  12. ^ a b Schiffman, H.R. (1990) Sensation and perception: An integrated approach (3rd ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons, pp. 252-253.
  13. ^ Carlson, N.R. (1981) Physiology of behavior (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon. pp. 247–250.
  14. ^ Rodwell, J. (1987) The complete watercolour artist. London: Paul Press, pp. 94-95.

External links



Up to date as of January 15, 2010
(Redirected to colour wheel article)

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


Wikipedia has an article on:



colour wheel

colour wheels

colour wheel (plural colour wheels)

  1. a planar circular chart in which related colours are adjacent, and complementary colors are opposite

See also

Simple English

The English Wiktionary has a dictionary definition (meanings of a word) for:

A color wheel is a circular chart that shows primary and secondary colors.

The color wheel most commonly used today is called the HSV color wheel which means hue, saturation, value. The HSV color wheel is described below. There are two versions: one in which red, green and blue are regarded as the primary colors (called the electronic or computer color wheel); and one in which magenta, yellow, and cyan are regarded as the primary colors (called the printer's color wheel).


The primary colors

(* Primary means first) The primary colors always appear on the color wheel. There are three primary colors on the printer's color wheel (the color wheel described here is the color wheel used for color printing). They are magenta (a bright pink), yellow and cyan (a light greenish blue).

The primary colors can be mixed together to make secondary colors. A long time ago, people used to think that the primary colors were red, yellow and blue. Now we know they were wrong.

The secondary colors

(* Secondary means second) The secondary colors are on most color wheels. There are three secondary colors. They are green (made by mixing cyan and yellow), red (made by mixing yellow and magenta) and blue (made by mixing magenta and cyan). Secondary colors are made by mixing primary colors together. The secondary colors can be mixed with the primary colors to make tertiary colors.

The tertiary colors

(* Tertiary means third) The tertiary colors are made by mixing a secondary and primary color together. The tertiary colors are orange, made by mixing red and yellow; chartreuse green (yellow-green), made by mixing green and yellow; spring green, made by mixing green and cyan; azure, made by mixing blue and cyan; violet, made by mixing blue and magenta; and rose, made by mixing red and magenta.

In the electronic color wheel used for electronic devices such as televisions and computers, red, green, and blue are regarded as the primary colors and magenta, yellow, and cyan are regarded as the secondary colors. The tertiary colors are the same for both the printer's color wheel and the electronic color wheel.

The 12 major colors of the color wheel

The 12 major colors of the color wheel, at 30 degree intervals on the HSV color wheel (shown above), are the following: red (0 degrees or 360 degrees), orange (30 degrees), yellow (60 degrees), chartreuse green (90 degrees), green (120 degrees), spring green (150 degrees), cyan (180 degrees), azure (210 degrees), blue (240 degrees), violet (270 degrees), magenta (300 degrees), and rose (330 degrees). This constitutes the complete set of primary, secondary, and tertiary color names.

The 12 major color wheel colors color comparison chart

Note: Red is shown twice so it can be compared to both orange and rose.

  • RED (web color) (Hex: #FF0000) (RGB: 255, 0, 0) (0 Degrees)
  • ORANGE (color wheel Orange) (Hex: #FF7F00) (RGB: 255, 127, 0) (30 Degrees)
  • YELLOW (web color) (Hex: #FFFF00) (RGB: 255, 255, 0) (60 Degrees)
  • CHARTREUSE GREEN (web color Chartreuse) (Hex: #7FFF00) (RGB: 127, 255, 0) (90 Degrees)
  • GREEN (X11) (color wheel Green) (HTML/CSS “Lime”) (Electric green) (Hex: #00FF00) (RGB: 0, 255, 0) (120 Degrees)
  • SPRING GREEN (web color) (Hex: #00FF7F) (RGB: 0, 255, 127) (150 Degrees)
  • CYAN (web color Aqua) (Hex: #00FFFF) (RGB: 0, 255, 255) (180 Degrees)
  • AZURE (color wheel Azure) (Hex: #007FFF) (RGB: 0, 127, 255) (210 Degrees)
  • BLUE (web color) (Hex: #0000FF) (RGB: 0, 0, 255) (240 Degrees)
  • VIOLET (color wheel Violet) (Near Violet) (Hex: #7F00FF) (RGB: 127, 0, 255) (270 Degrees)
  • MAGENTA (web color Fuchsia) (Hex: #FF00FF) (RGB: 255, 0, 255) (300 Degrees)
  • ROSE (Hex: #FF007F) (RGB: 255, 0, 127) (330 Degrees)
  • RED (web color) (Hex: #FF0000) (RGB: 255, 0, 0) (360 Degrees)

RYB color wheel

On the old fashioned, now obsolete red-yellow-blue pigment color wheel (in which red, yellow, and blue were regarded as the primary colors and orange, green, and violet were regarded as the secondary colors), the tertiary colors on a red-yellow-blue (RYB) color wheel were called red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green, yellow-green, yellow-orange, and red-orange.

The RYB color wheel is still often used to teach color to children.


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