2. Brief history of Color Wheel – from ancient times to software

An example color wheel made in Photoshop
A color wheel example, made in Photoshop
Color Wheel (color circle, esp. rueda de colores, deu. Farbrad, カラーホイール, 日本語で) – is a form of organization of colors around the circle to provide a visual relationship vetween primary colors, analogues colors, complimentary colors in a way that makes it easier to create color combination. Other rarely uses names of the color wheel are: color disc, color chart, color scale, etc. Color wheel is actually a spectrum ("rainbow") which is arranged in a circular way. So the main points on the spectrum represents the primary colors – red, blue and yellow. And the intermediate points represent the mixture of those colors.

Ancient wheels dated XVIII started with 7 and 12 colors around the color wheel – actually a color circle – and later, in XIX the color wheels became what we see now.

There are many types of color wheels, and the main which are used are subtractive and additive color wheel models. In a subtractive color wheel colors from the outer border go all way to the center with the black color. And in the additive model the center is white. Strictly speaking, in software world actually a color circle is used, but the term "color wheel" is more common.



Sir Isaac Newton's color wheel
Isaac Newton's color wheel vision
The history of color wheel originates from Isaac Newton (FRS / 4 January 1643 – 31 March 1727 OS / 25 December 1642 – 20 March 1726), who developed the theory of spectrum. He developed a theory of harmonic s and relationship of colors in the spectrum and color wheel with severn principal colors.

Later, a mysterious C.B. developed it in a simple form and defined new primary colors in his treatise.

Traite de la peinture en mignature (The Hague, 1708), reproduced in The Creation of Color in Eighteenth-Century Europe
Traite de la peinture en mignature (The Hague, 1708), reproduced in The Creation of Color in Eighteenth-Century Europe

Ignaz Schiffermüller's Color Wheel
Ignaz Schiffermüller's Color Wheel
After that, with the help of Louis-Bertrand Castel (painter, who was basing his theoris on chiaroscuro technique, 1688-1757), Ignaz Schiffermüller (Austrian naturalist painter, 1727-1806), Moses Harris (a painter and engravist, 1731-1785), and Johannes Itten (a Swiss expressionist painter, 1888-1967) – the color wheel became for painters the main source of explanation of how the color works.

Painter Color Wheel
Painter Color Wheel and color picker
created by John Derry
John Derry (a pioneer of computer graphics, one of the creators of Corel Painter) was the first, who made it to software color picker and gave us a triangle for choosing monochromatic colors and a proper placement of cool and warm colors. He created an original color wheel for Fractal Design Painter v.1.2 software. Fractal Design later was merged with RayDreams, MetaTools and renamed to MetaCreations. This company was later aquired by Corel Corporating and now the software is called Corel Painter .


The modern color wheels (originated from John Derry's implementation), used in modern software are more precise in reproducing the color spectrum. And they are based on the RGB model. While handmade color wheels and color wheels that are used in painting lessons and theories are using RYB model. The difference is that primary colors used in RYB model are Red, Yellow and Blue. And RGB color wheel model is based on Red, Green and Blue. RYB is a subtractive color mixing model which is used in print and physical painting on a canvas and RGB is additive color mixing mode used in modern monitors. You can read more about it on Wikipedia: subtractive color, additive color.

RYB color wheel
RYB color wheel
RGB color wheel
RGB color wheel

There is a sort of confusion, when various color theories refer to primary colors, color wheels and color theory. The difference is not seen from the first sight and it's not actually so important. But all color theories usually refer to RYB color wheel, while in digital painting and design software we usually use RGB color wheel.

NEXT: Practical Color Wheel Theory

TABLE OF CONTENTS: MagicPicker color wheel and color picker introduction : A brief history of Color Wheel : Practical Color Wheel Theory : Installing and running MagicPicker panel : Features of MagicPicker panel : How to use MagicPicker color wheel and color picker in Photoshop : Troubleshooting and frequently asked questions about MagicPicker / MagicPicker Photoshop Color Wheel


*all images used in this article are used from public domain, taken from free sources or made by the author of the article.
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