Color Characteristic of Hue

Authored by Christy Olsen
3-minute read.

'Hue' is one of the characteristics of color. It is the name of the color or 'hue family,' i.e., red, orange, yellow. For example, if the color of an apple is red, then the apple has a red 'hue.'

Color as Hue

'Hue families' contain all variations of that particular 'hue' or color, but what are hue families, and where do they come from?

In 1666, due to an outbreak of the plague, Cambridge University closed down temporarily, and one of its young and bright students, Sir Isaac Newton, was forced to spend that semester at his home in the country.

Newton's Publication

During this time, by accident, Newton discovered the visible spectrum of light from a prism in the window at the young age of 24. When the sun passed through it, he observed the beam of light separated into multiple colors, like a rainbow. He then studied this phenomenon carefully.

He later published his theories in "Opticks," which details the various phenomena. Newton called it the "inflection" of light and the 'color spectrum.'

Today we have a basic understanding that white light contains all of the colors of the rainbow, which is why we sometimes see a rainbow after it rains and the sun shines through a mist. Sunlight passes through droplets of rain that act as a prism and split the light into the visible spectrum of colors.

The spectrum appears to make smooth transitions from color to color, but Newton divided the resulting beam into seven distinct 'hue families.' He called out red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, or ROYGBIV.

Light Refraction
The eye, just like the ear, responds to wavelengths or forms of energy that travel through space & atmosphere. Sir Isaac Newton didn't realize it at the time, but he uncovered what we now know today as the Electromagnetic Spectrum, it contains the visible spectrum of light, and each 'hue family' has a different wavelength. Most animals see some color, but red and green color blind. Some insects see ultraviolet wavelength, which we can't see.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum

Since light contains all of the 'hue families,' when it hits an object, the object absorbs all of the wavelengths except the unique hue that it reflects back to us. For example, an apple absorbs all of the hues and reflects the only red wavelength.

Newton's First Published Color Wheel. (2023, June 27). In Wikipedia.
Retrieved from

Newton wrapped the color spectrum around a wheel and published the first color wheel in his publication "Opticks." Today physicists agree that there are only 6 distinct hue families based on their decreasing wavelengths. Indigo was something that Newton included to make the number of hue families equal to seven. He chose the number seven, reflecting the Ancient Greek belief that seven is a mystical number. 

The Color Wheel

Hue is the characteristic of color and can be used interchangeably with the name of the color. The human eye can distinguish around ~ 7 million different hues or colors, i.e., there are 7 million different wavelengths that we can see within the visible spectrum.

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