The 12 part colour wheel below is based on the three primary colours ( Red, Yellow and Blue ) placed evenly around a circle.

Between the three primaries are the secondary colours (Green, Orange and Violet) which are mixtures of the two primaries they sit between.

The tertiary colours fall between each primary and secondary. Between yellow and orange, for example, is yellow orange, between blue and violet is blue violet and so on.

All these colours around the outside of the colour wheel are called saturated colours. They contain no black, no white and none of their complimentary or opposite colour.

NB. Some books will refer to tertiary colours as a mixture of the three primaries and only break the colour wheel into six colours (primaries and secondaries). I prefer the theory based on Johannes Itten's 12 part colour wheel, as it offers a much better understanding of the interaction of colours

Compound colours are colours containing a mixture of the three primaries. All the browns, khakis and earth colours are compound colours



12 part colour wheel

In order to mix pigments into clean saturated colours it is necessary to include a warm and cool of each of the primaries in your palette. There is no such thing as a pure primary pigment, so when mixing green for example, choosing a cool blue such as phthalo and a cool yellow such as lemon ensures there is no trace of red in the green. Using a warm yellow like cadmium or a warm blue such as ultramarine would introduce a slight trace of red into the green resulting in a compound colour.  

tints shades and compound colours

In this illustration the compound mixtures between red and green are shown, as are tints and shades of the colour wheel. Tints are made by adding white to a colour, shades are made by adding black  

Imagine a colour wheel filled in with all the compound mixtures between all the complementary colours. If this colour wheel is placed in the middle of a cylinder with progressively darker shades of all those colours below and progressively lighter tints above, the cylinder would contain every possible colour!


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