What is a Color Wheel?

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A color wheel is a visual organizational tool of color hues around a circle to help make the basic categories of color easier to understand. It shows the relationships between primary colors, secondary colors, and tertiary colors.

Who created the first Color Wheel?

Newton's colour circle
Newton’s colour circle
While there are other color wheels or color circles recorded starting the 1700s, we can thank Sir Isaac Newton (yes, him again!) for formalizing the idea of it as a tool in 1704 in his book Optiks. In his color wheel, only light was responsible for perception of color which makes the divisions of his color circle of unequal size. Since then, there have been many variations of the color wheel.



How does the Color Wheel help?

As a tool or graph, the Color Wheel provides clarity on the different types of color and their relationships. It can be a point of reference when deciding on a palette or color scheme. Color schemes are combinations of colors on the color wheel used to create aesthetic appeal in designs.

Color Wheel – Red, Yellow, Blue (Traditional RYB color model)

The color wheel shows the three basic categories of colors: primary, secondary and tertiary.

There are 3 primary colors, 3 secondary colors, and 6 tertiary colors, for a total of 12 main colors on this wheel.

  • Primary colors are: Red, Yellow, and Blue.
  • Secondary colors are: Orange, Purple and Yellow.
  • Tertiary colors are:
    • Red-Orange = Vermilion
    • Yellow-Orange = Amber
    • Yellow-Green = Chartreuse
    • Blue-Green = Teal
    • Blue-Purple = Violet
    • Red-Purple = Magenta

How to Build a Color Wheel


As an exercise to understand how the color wheel is helpful, try putting together a color scheme for your room or Powerpoint presentation using a combination of these colors.

The color wheel is a useful framework for understanding color and categories to help you use color more effectively.

Links to learn more:

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