Color Space for Painters

Christy Olsen

Color Space is defined as a specific organization of colors, and many different models depend on whether you are working with digital images, photography, or paint.

Color Space for Painters

For painters, when it comes to color mixing, we use the color wheel, but we think of it as a three-dimensional version of the wheel. Let's walk through the color model that we call color space.


"Hue" is the name of a color or family, i.e., red, orange, yellow, green, blue, or violet. Colors families have a relationship as they go around the color wheel clockwise, always in the same order.

Temperature describes the warmness or coolness, or color relative to another hue. It also goes clockwise or counterclockwise or can happen within a single hue family.


Or "Chroma" is used to describe the brightness or dullness of a color. Don't confuse brightness with lightness. Brightness is the intensity or purity of a color.

High-intensity or high chroma colors make up the very outer perimeter of the color wheel. Mixing color opposites or complements will neutralize any color until it becomes grey. If we turn the color wheel horizontally like a pancake. It would look something like this.

The last dimension in color space is color property or characteristic of 'value.'


Value describes the "lightness" or "darkness" of a color. Changes in weight (from light to dark, from dark to light) occur vertically within the color space, with lighter colors toward the top of the color space and darker colors toward the bottom.

And if we took a slice of the three-dimensional color space model. It would look something like this. Yellow at the top is the naturally lightest color at full intensity, and blue is the darkest at full intensity.

The Natural Values of the Color Wheel are Lighter or Darker, Depending on the Hue

The student in color mixing is advised to put himself through a regular course of experiment or study so that he may ascertain the peculiar hue or tone of each of the principal stainers in constant use and also become acquainted with the effect produced by mixing white or other colors.

Author-Jennings, 1906.

The best way to learn color space is to practice & experiment on your own. However, visit Navigating Color Space by Rober Gamblin if you would like to watch a video that walks you through this three-dimensional model with a computer-aided design (CAD) model.

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