Color Wheel: Types, How To Do It, Applications

The chromatic circle, chromatic rose or color wheel is a color representation system, generally in the form of a circle, in which three primary colors and the derivations of their mixtures are arranged.

This type of representation was first introduced by the English physicist Isaac Newton in the year 1666, taking as primary colors red, yellow and blue, and was used mainly in the world of the arts.

Over time, some changes have been made to the choice of primary colors. This is because, depending on the medium in which the color is going to be represented and the model to be used (additive or subtractive), different shades are generated.

On the other hand, due to the way in which it is arranged, the chromatic circle allows a harmonious visualization of the colors, showing the closeness or distance between them. It is for this reason that it is used to select the colors that combine best with each other.

What is the color wheel?

The chromatic circle is formed from three primary colors, and the derivations that arise from the combinations of these.

Depending on the model chosen, the primary colors will be different, as well as their secondary colors. Also, the color wheel can be 6, 12, 24, 48, or more colors, if it is a staggered representation. It can also be represented in other ways, such as gradient or flower-shaped (chromatic rose).

Within the chromatic circle are the following colors:

  • Primary colors : swith colors found in nature, which do not need any combination to obtain. Depending on the system used, the consideration of the primary colors can vary, but there are always three.
  • Secondary colors : lSecondary colors are those obtained by mixing two of the primary colors.
  • Tertiary colors : eThese colors are obtained by mixing a primary color with a secondary one. On the other hand, there are two types of systems that are used for the representation of the chromatic circle, which differ fundamentally by their tangibility, in other words, by the possibility of touching them.

Types of color circles

Each color model has its own color wheel:

Natural color wheel

It is what results when the colors of a segment of light are distributed around a circle.

Traditional Color  Wheel (RYB)

It is the color wheel based on the primary colors red, yellow and blue. Since the Middle Ages it was proposed that these were the basic colors, from which the other colors derive.

  • Primary colors : red, yellow and blue (Red, Yellow, Blue or RYB).
  • Secondary colors : orange, green, purple.

Additive Color Wheel (RGB)

  • Primary colors : red, green, blue (Red, Green, Blue or RGB).
  • Secondary colors : magenta, cyan, yellow.

In the additive system, the colors are formed by the addition of colored lights, therefore they are not tangible. This system is used in computer monitors, televisions and cell phones, among others.

Subtractive color wheel (CMYK)

  • Primary colors : cyan, magenta, yellow.
  • Secondary colors : red, green, blue.

In the subtractive system, the colors lose pigmentation as they are mixed, forming new tones. The acronym CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key. The latter is black, which results from mixing the first three.

This system is used for printing or painting, among other tangible media.

How to make a chromatic circle?

The following example explains how a 12-color RGB color wheel is constructed.

  • Draw a perfect circle

The first step consists of drawing a perfect circle, for this you can use a compass or also any object that has a circular perimeter and draw it, preferably, on a white sheet.

  • Mark the divisions

Then, straight lines should be drawn starting from the center of the circle to the edge. The number of lines to be drawn is equal to the number of colors to be represented. Also, the spacing between each line must be the same.

In the case of 12 colors, the separation is the same as that of the hours on a clock.

  • Arrange the primary colors

Once the circle and its divisions have been made, the three primary colors are located equidistant, that is, each primary color must be separated from the other by the same number of boxes.

An easy way to calculate the number of boxes in which the primary colors are located is by dividing the number of colors that the color wheel will have by three, which is the number of primary colors.

Since in this example the color wheel is 12 colors, each primary color is 4 squares apart. So, taking as an example the arrangement of the hours of a clock, if one color is located at the 12 hour, the next one goes at the 4 hour, and the other at the 8 hour.

  • Arrange secondary colors

With the primary colors in place, the secondary colors are added, which are located between the two colors with which it was formed.

In the case of the 12-color color wheel, the remaining separation between each primary color is 3 boxes, therefore, the secondary colors are placed in the middle box, leaving a free box on each side.

  • Arrange tertiary colors

Finally, the tertiary colors are placed in the boxes that were left empty. These colors are formed by mixing the two colors of the squares next to them.

Applications and uses of the color wheel

There are several studies referring to the reaction caused by colors in humans, as well as their combination.

The chromatic circle is generally used as a guide to choose the composition of colors that a painting, a company logo or a publication in a magazine will have, among others.

In this sense, depending on the reaction to be achieved, different techniques can be used, using a shade of similar colors, which are close to each other, or also, using complementary colors, which are in opposite places of the chromatic circle. .

However, the representation system must also be chosen depending on the medium in which the work is to be exhibited. If the representation is to be done on cell phones or television, the RGB system must be chosen. On the other hand, if it is to be printed, the CMYK system is used.


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