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What Is Color? : Page 4

Color is the byproduct of the spectrum of light, as it is reflected or absorbed, as received by the human eye and processed by the human brain.


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Color Wheels
Color wheels are a way to arrange colors, making it easier to select a palette that works.

A color wheel arranges colors around the edges of a circle. Primary colors are in the middle. Three common color wheels are the artist's wheel, the subtractive wheel, and the additive wheel.

Color wheels are helpful in the discussion and selection of colors using any color model. A standard color wheel has 12 distinct hues, but does not have any visual information about saturation or value. These 12 hues can be classified in three categories, primary, secondary, and tertiary.

  • Primary colors are the defining colors of the wheel. In the color wheels below, they appear in the center as well as equally spaced around the circle. On the traditional artist's color wheel red, blue, and yellow are primary colors.
  • Secondary colors are the three colors that are equal distant from the primary colors. On the traditional artist's color wheel violet, green, and orange are secondary colors.
  • Tertiary colors are the colors between each primary and secondary color. On the traditional artist's color wheel red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green, yellow-green, yellow-orange, and red-orange are tertiary colors.


  • The artist's color wheel. This color wheel uses red, yellow, and blue as primary colors. This is used for mixing paints.
  • The subtractive color wheel. This color wheel uses the printing inks cyan, magenta, and yellow as primary colors. Note: Because cyan, magenta, and yellow inks do not combine to make black, the printing process adds black as a fourth ink.
  • Additive Color. This color wheel displays the additive colors used for projected light. When mixed together the additive primaries form white. The primaries are red, green and blue. These colors are extremely bright because light that is projected can be far more intense than printed color.


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