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List of contents :
Types of color wheel
Procedures on using Color Wheel
Java applet for Color Wheel
Applet does not run
Sir Isaac Newton first describe the color wheel. He proposed three primary colors,
red, yellow, and blue. When these are mixed, they produced three secondary colors of
orange (red and yellow), green (yellow and blue), and purple (blue and red). Between these
six colors are the six tertiary colors. Sir Issac proposed that these colors are in harmony,
and when presented together, they are pleasing to the eye. If these colors are placed in a
circle (wheel), then the 12 colors are 30 degrees apart. This is named the color wheel.
With the availability of computers, and infinitely fine mixing of the adjascent color is possible.
Providing a set of 12 colors which are 30 degrees apart on the wheel, the
mixture tends to be pleasant, and they can form a palette.
As 12 colors, 30 degrees apart, are presented, the patterns will repeat themselves every 30 degrees.
The colors change with every half a degree or so, so there is about 60 palettes. However, the naked eye
cannot tell distinguish the change in colors that are less than 5 degrees, so, effectively,
there are only about 6 palettes of 12 colours.
The colors can however be further manipulated by tinting (adding white) or shading (adding black),
so that each palette can be expanded to many variants.
Artists do this my mixing paints of the primary and secondary colors. This program
allows the user to choose a principle color, which then automatically determine its 11 palette companions.
The program then allows the users to change the tint and shade of wach color to
for the final palette.
The result colors are then presented as hex codes suitable for use on web pages, and as the
triad of red green blue that can be used in a computer program.
Although a full palette of 12 colors at 30 degrees apart is available,
this is too many, especially for web pages and computer graphics, and a number
of palettes with only few colors have been developed
and used frequently. I have not made a detailed study of this, but found the
informations in the following web pages both informative and easy to understand.
They are the tigercolor.com color-theory page and the
page on color wheel . I shall add to these references as I find additional information.
In the meantime, the following seems to be fairly frequently discussed, so probably works.
- Complementary colors are the two colors at opposite sides of the color wheel.
From the applet, they are the two bars with 5 bars between them. Complementary colors
have the greatest contrast, so they produced a vibrant mix when used sparingly,
and jarring to the senses when misused. A common way to use this is in a dichromatic
palette, when the two colors and blended in various shades. A classical case
is between blue and yellow, and when blended producing varying shades of brown.
- Analogue colors are the two colors 30 degrees on either side of the principle color.
From the applet, they are the two bars before and after the principle color bar.
Analogue colors can be used as variants of the principle color, especially if a different
tint/shade has been applied. However, the 3 colors are seldom used together, unless
a more or less monochromatic palette is desired. More frequently analogue colors are used
in combination with complementary colors, as in the next palette.
- Split complementary uses three colors, the principle color, and the two
analogues of its complementary color. From the applet, they are the two bars
with 4 bars in between on either sides of the principle color. Split complementary
attempts to retain the vibrancy of the mix, but tone down the jarring characteristics.
The level of contrast can be further modulated by choosing the contrasts between
the tinting of the 3 colors.
- Triadic uses three colors evenly distributed over the wheel 120 degrees apart. From the applet,
they are 3 bars between the colors. Triadic provides multiple contrasting colors,
yet not too many to cause visual confusion. The vibrancy of the combination
can also be enhanced with tinting and shading the colors to provide further contrasts.
- Rectangular or Tetradic uses four. Essentially, instead of the two (principle and its complementary),
the analoques of these two are used instead. From the applet, each color are
separated by 1 bar on one side and 4 bars on the other side. This is a rich
mix, and when all 4 are used extensively, the picture becomes too busy and crowded.
The recommendation is that one of the four should be used as principle and therefore the
dominant color, while the other three are used more sparingly as decorations.
- Square also uses four, but at equal distance apart. From the applet, each color are
separated by 2 bars on each side. This is again a very rich mix, and must be used with care.
As with the rectangular, the recommendation is that one of the four should be used as principle and therefore the
dominant color, while the other three are used more sparingly as decorations.
The advantage of the square is that it is more able to contrast the cool and warm colors.
Once the principle color is chosen, all these palettes are assembled in the
output results by the applet.
The problem with the color wheel, as described by Newton and will be called the Newtonian wheel,
is that the secondary and tertiery colors are averages of the primary color. When colors are added together,
particularly on the computer screen, they provide a brilliant hue which cannot be
produced by the Newtonian process.
An example is the combination of blue (rgb=0,0,255) and red (rgb=255,0,0). The newtonian
process averaged this to be a sort of flat purple (128,0,128), while if the computer
adds them together, they produce the brilliant cyan (255,0,255). The cyan is unavailable in the
Newtonian wheel. Adding white to the Newtonian purple makes it look washed out, not
To enable a larger range of brilliant colors therefore, a different whell is constructed,
and I call this the Rainbow wheel (for convenience, this is not an acknowledged official name),
where all the colors are averaged between 6 colors of strong contrast. These are
red(255,0,0), yellow(255,255,0), green(0,255,0), cyan(0,255,255), blue(0,0,255),
It is very important to note however, that the "pleasing palettes" of
slpit complementary, triadic, rectangular, and square apply to the Newtonian wheels only,
as a different mix of colors are produced in their relative positions on the Rainbow wheel.
Although the palettes obtained from the Rainbow wheel can still be pleasing, the
recognised names should not be used as this may cause confusion.
There are three sets of procedures to enable the most effective way to use this applet.
- The selection of the principle color : This is done via the color wheel
at the top left corner of the applet. The colors are selected by rotating the wheel,
from 0.01 to 100 degrees at a time. The 12 colors, at 30 degrees from each other,
are then shaded (made darker) and tinted (made lighter) to 510 levels, then placed
on the vertical bars for the second procedure.
- Selecting the desired tint or shade for each color : This is carried out by
moving the slider at the bottom of each color bar, and by the buttons near the
bottom left of the applet. The immediate results are presented in 3 ways.
To avoid having too many colors causing confusion, the user can selectively switch off
some of the squares, so that only those related to a desired palette are visible.
The different combinations can then be controlled using the drop down box at the right
bottom of the applet, which determines which color is designated the principle one.
- A circle on the bar will show where the level of tinting is in relationship to the whole range.
- A small square below the bar shows the current result color
- A text box with the color code in Hex, which can be copied and use on a web page.
- Result output : The user can make a final choice which of the 12 colors are to be used as the
principle color, then the list of colors, as well as the standard palettes, are presented
in the text area. This can be copied and pasted for use in a web page.
The choice box at the top left corner allows the type of wheel to be used. The default is the
Newtonian wheel, as this is the one everybody refers to.
Microsoft discussion on color luminosity
If the applet does not appear, then the two most likely reasons are
- If your computer is own by a company or institution, it is possible that
there is a policy to block JAVA applets or scripts for security reasons. You
should make enquiry whether this is so. If this is so, then there is nothing
you can do except to use the applet at home on your own computer.
- It is possible that the JAVA run time machine (JRM) is not installed on your computer.
In some computers, there is an automatic offer to download this when you try to
run a JAVA program, but in others the applet just appears blank, and you will
need to go to Sun Microsystem's
JAVA page, download
the installation file (15MB) to your computer, and install the JRM onto your
computer, after which the applets should run automatically on your browser.
If the message "time expired" appears when you run the applet, then you need
to reload the page and the applet from the server. The applet has a time stamp on it when downloaded, and
will only run for 24 hrs. Some computers save the applet and re-run it to save downloading time
so may run a time expired applet. Click the refresh button will sometimes fix this problem.
If not, then you will have to clear the browser cache, or to exit and then restart the browser.