Color Space for Painters

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

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 it's color 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.

When mixing colors on a palette, changes in hue on the color wheel happen clockwise & counterclockwise.

Temperature describes the warmness or coolness of a hue 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 its 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 value (from light to dark, from dark to light) occur vertically within color space, with lighter colors toward the top of color space and darker colors towards 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 being the naturally lightest color at full intensity and blue being the darkest at full intensity.

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

“The student in color mixing is advised to put himself through a regular course of experiment or study in order 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.

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