Color Characteristic of Hue

Christy Olsen

'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, Newton, at the young age of 24, accidentally discovered the visible spectrum of light from a prism in the window. 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 understand 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, like the ear, responds to wavelengths or forms of energy that travel through space and the atmosphere. Sir Isaac Newton didn't realize it then, but he uncovered what we know today as the Electromagnetic Spectrum. It contains the visible light spectrum, and each 'hue family' has a different wavelength. Most animals see some color, but red and green are color-blind. Some insects see ultraviolet wavelengths, 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 the hues and reflects only the red wavelength.

Newton's First Published Color Wheel.1

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. Newton included indigo 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 a characteristic of color and can be used interchangeably with the color's name. The human eye can distinguish around ~ 7 million different hues or colors, i.e., 7 million different wavelengths can be seen within the visible spectrum.


1. Newton's First Published Color Wheel. WikipediaRetrieved in 2017 from

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