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The Color Wheel

Description and usage

The color wheel or color circle is the basic tool for combining colors. A color wheel or color circle is an abstract organization of color hues around a circle that shows relationships between primary colors, secondary colors and tertiary colors.

Colors of the color wheel

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. The most common versions of the color wheel are based on the RYB (Red, Yellow, Blue) color model.


On the color wheel, hue ranges from 0° to 359°. On the twelve color color wheel, every color has a range of 30°.

Hues are basic colors. Hues are a representation of the pure colors (Red, Yellow, Blue) and mixture of two pure colors. The different hues have different wavelenghts in the spectrum.

Twelve colors RYB color wheel

A twelve element color wheel divides a circle in 12 equal cells. Each cell element represents a hue.

  • The primary colors are red, yellow and blue
  • The three secondary colors (green, orange and purple) are created by mixing two primary colors
  • Six tertiary colors are created by mixing primary and secondary colors
12 color color-wheel

Twenty four colors color wheel

24 color color-wheel

Warm and cool colors

Colors can be classified in warm and cool colors. The color wheel makes those colors appear together. The circle can be divided with a straight line to shwo the two families of colors.

  • Warm colors are often said to be hues from red through yellow, browns and tans included
  • Cool colors are often said to be the hues from blue green through blue violet, most grays included
cold and warm colors on the color-wheels

Lightness and Saturation

As shown below, the standard color wheel enables to sort main color hues. There are still two other properties to play with: Lightness and Saturation. These two properties will introduce new terms : Tints, Shades, and Tones.