Color Relationships: Primary, Secondary, Tertiary Hues

Learning about color relationships begins with understanding the placement of colors around the color wheel. The placement of colors around the wheel is not random. The arrangement of hues around the color wheel corresponds to the wavelengths of light as was first shown in the original color circle of Isaac Newton.

The twelve hues of the color wheel are divided into primary colors, secondary colors and tertiary colors.

Color Relationships: Primary, Secondary, Tertiary Hues

Primary colors: There are three primary colors. They are the hues yellow, blue and red. These three colors are the hues that in theory can be mixed to make all other colors. If you mix the three primary colors, in theory it would produce black.

Color Relationships: Primary, Secondary, Tertiary Hues

Secondary colors: By mixing two primary hues together you create a secondary color. There are three secondary colors. They are the hues green, violet (purple) and orange. Orange from mixing red and yellow, violet (purple) from blue and red, and green from yellow and blue.

Color Relationships: Primary, Secondary, Tertiary Hues - Tertiary

Tertiary colors: The third set of hues are known as tertiary or intermediate colors. These hues are made by mixing adjacent primary and secondary hues. The six tertiary or intermediate colors are yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, red-violet, red-orange, and yellow-orange.

Note that the names for the tertiary colors always begin with the primary color then the secondary color; yellow-orange not orange-yellow, for example.

Color Relationships: Primary, Secondary, Tertiary Hues

The twelve (12) primary, secondary and tertiary hues along with their tints, tones and shades make up the color wheel.

Note: If you have ever tried to mix paints or dyes you may have learned first hand that due to the impurities of manufactured pigments it is almost impossible to satisfactorily make all other color from just the primary hues and that mixing the three primaries together produces a dark, murky gray rather than pure black.

Next, we will look at how the placement of the hues on the color wheel can help us to create color harmony.

If you enjoyed this article, I think you will like my monthly newsletter. Subscribe instantly!

About Kate Smith, Chief Color Maven, Sensational Color
An internationally recognized color expert, Kate Smith is sought out for her unmatched ability to use color to gain recognition and generate revenue for her clients. Smith also teaches other design professionals how to be industry leaders and a go-to resource for their expertise. Let Kate show you how to become a Color Pro

Connect with Kate Blog - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn - Pinterest

Image credits: Clicking on any image will take you to its source unless otherwise noted.


  1. Modather Abo.zaid says:

    thanks kate for this useful post .. :)
    waiting for your next post about creating color harmony ..

  2. thanks for this only nice pics I could find

Add Your Own Color Commentary