In 1666, Sir Isaac Newton invented the color wheel and established what is known today as color theory. As now taught in most school systems, what we perceive as color is based on the human perception of light wavelengths. Artist categorizes all colors into three groups:

  1. Primary

  2. Secondary

  3. Tertiary (or Intermediate)


Primary colors are the colors red, blue, and yellow. These three colors are the sources of every other color and cannot be mixed (or made) using other colors.

Secondary colors are categorized as the colors green, orange, and purple. These three colors are created by mixing two primary colors together.

Tertiary colors (also known as Intermediate colors) are every other color in the color wheel. These colors are created by mixing any number of primary and secondary colors in various ratios.

In the advance study of color, the artist will look at and learn about color properties such as:

  1. Hue - pureness

  2. Chroma - intensity

  3. Value - brightness

  4. Lighting - how pale or saturated it appears

Hue is the pureness of a color or how it appears to look. When looking at a multilevel color wheel, the outermost layer will be your color hues. When looking at these colors it's obvious to see they are the purest form of their color. It is like looking at a red fire truck, you know it's red and it is very obvious it is a pure hue of red.

The lighting of a color is how pale or saturated it appears. Saturation is a color's intensity. The higher the saturation of the color, the brighter it is; think of neon colors as high saturated colors. Colors with low saturation look pale in comparison; think grayer.  However, unlike chroma where you are adding white, gray, or black to a color, saturation is when you add a complementary color to tone down a hue. 


Chroma is the intensity of the color or how our it is. Many colors have blacks and whites mixed into it to make it seem brighter or darker. Value, on the other hand. is the brightness of a color or how close it is to the grayscale.

The value and chroma of color can be adjusted by adding tints, tones, and shades.

Tint - when white is added to a color to get a lighter version

Tone - when gray is added to a color to get a darker version

Shade - when black is added to a color to get a darker version

  • The higher the chroma of color, the closer it is to a Hue. The lower the chroma of color the closer it is to the grayscale.

  • The higher a colors value, the closer the color is to white. The lower the value, the closer it is to black.

Color Theory