Thursday, February 20, 2020

The hub of the color wheel

Joshua asks on YouTube: "You said in part 1 of Color Wheel Masking, "... As each of these colors approaches the center, it becomes a neutral gray." Why neutral gray, what is the reasoning or significance for this? I see in some wheels, the use of (outer to inner circles) white, black and saturation centers as well as neutral gray. Same question regarding a center white or black, if you please?"

A color circle created using CMYK Sliders (Source)
Answer: You could use white or black instead of gray at the center of a color wheel, and many people do, especially when they're in the digital realm. Whichever you choose, the center of the wheel should have zero hue saturation. Black, white, and gray all fit that description.

It helps to keep in mind that the color wheel doesn't represent the full color space, which is a three-dimensional volume, where the vertical axis is a gray scale. The Munsell color system charts color three dimensionally, like a tree with a trunk that goes from black at the bottom to white at the top, as the vertical arrays of hues branch out from the central trunk. Note that the colors have peak saturation at different values. Yellow peaks in lighter values and blue peaks at darker values.

So the color wheel is a horizontal cross section of that 3D color volume, sliced through the peak saturations of each hue, with a gray at the center.

Most color wheels don't have a constant value all around the perimeter. I chose to represent the hues at whatever value shows them at peak chroma, and then I put the center point at an average gray value rather than raising it up to white or dropping it to black.


Johnnyburn said...

I had to read this a couple of times before I understood. I made a little illustration of the color wheel as a "section view" of the Munsell tree. It makes sense to my engineering mind anyway. Thank you for this explanation.

"I chose to represent the hues at the value where they appear at peak chroma and then I put the center point at an average gray value rather than raising it up to white or dropping it to black."

Susan Krzywicki said...

Thanks for the Enlightenment! Excuse the pun.

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Zoungy said...

Hi James, I was wondering if you'd heard of color print processes with wider gamuts than CMYK, like 6 color process (CMYKOG that includes orange and green inks) and others? If you ever reissued "Color and Light" or expanded it or did a special edition, such wider gamut printing process might be something to consider, and might be even better for representing your ideas about color.

pearls silk and a velvet smoking jacket said...

So for those of you new to all of this it helps to remember that when you mix 2 hues that are opposite on the color wheel, like red and green you get a neutral value and that puts these neutral "grey" in the middle as you move in from one pure chroma to the neutral color which represents an equal mix of the two and outward toward the other pure chroma on the other side.
As and artist this makes sense to me, but of course so many things affect the colors we see.
What type of light is it or what time of day etc. The original hues you begin with and if they have other hues mixed in and the percentage of those hues, reflections, shadows, the air we are looking through, and finally some people see colors differently. This is not about training but about genetics.
Really loved this and now I want to make a version of your 3D color wheel for my studio.