chromatic circle



We explain what the chromatic circle is and how its colors are represented. In addition, the natural color circle and its models.

Color circles are represented in a color gradient.

What is the color wheel?

The chromatic circle or color wheel is known as the graphic representation, ordered and circular, of the colors visible by the human eye according to their hue or tone, often distinguishing between what colors primaries and their derivatives. It is used both in subtractive representations of color (artistic or pictorial), and in additive (light).

Commonly, color circles are represented in a gradient of colors that make the transition from one hue to another visible. Other shapes include the staggered pattern, which includes 6, 12, 24, 48 or more different colors, and the hexagram, star-shaped, whose peaks represent each color, making it easy to view opposites and complements.

These chromatic tools have a long history in human history. As early as 1436, the Renaissance artist and thinker Leonardo Battista Alberti, in his treatiseBy pictura, created various geometric representations for the range of colors, including the circle, the rectangle, and the triangle, from the four primary colors considered at the time: yellow, green, blue and red.

On the other hand, the model that inspires the current one, composed of the three primary colors (yellow, blue and red) and their respective derivations, was invented in the seventeenth century and is known as RYB (for the acronym in English of its primary colors:NetYellowBlue). It was popularized in a book by the German poet Goethe calledColor theory , in which it reached six colors in total and is still taught in the academies of painting.

This traditional chromatic wheel model states that:

  • The warm colors of the spectrum are located to the right of the circle, and the cold, therefore, to the left.
  • Colors have an opposite on the wheel: blue opposes orange, red opposes green, yellow opposes purple, and so on.

The natural color wheel

When all the colors of the visible spectrum of the light, we have a natural color wheel. This arises as a result of Newton's studies of the nature of light and the subsequent emergence of the Photography colors, thus being a fundamental tool in the industry of colors.

In this way, new models of color organization emerged, such as RGB (red, green, blue; in Spanish: red, green, blue), which operates based on the intensity of these three primary colors of light; or the CMYK (cyan, magenta, Yellowblack; in Spanish: cyan, magenta, yellow and black), a modern version of the one proposed by Goethe and widely used in industrial publishing and printing.

These contemporary models can be classified into two:

  • Additive color patterns. They propose the composition of a color from the incorporation of light, that is, from the sum of colors, moving towards white. According to this model, the opposite colors are: yellow - blue, magenta - green, cyan - red.
  • Subtractive color models. They propose the composition of color from the subtraction of light, that is, to move towards black in the superposition of colors. According to this model, the opposite colors are: red - cyan, green - magenta, blue - yellow.

White and black are opposite colors, although they are not really colors but tones, just like gray: they do not present color. White is considered the meeting of all the colors of the spectrum (with a large dose of light and energy) while black, on the other hand, is considered the absence of all colors (and therefore with very little light and energy).

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