Modern Colour Theory for Traditional and Digital Painting Media


by Dr David. J.C. Briggs,
Julian Ashton Art School and National Art School, Sydney, Australia.
Vice President and NSW Divisional Chair, Colour Society of Australia.

Latest addition : Section 11.7 . The Art, Science and History of Colour Quiz (added 23/02/2019)

Colours of twenty two common artists pigments at various thicknesses over a white ground. Photographed colours displayed in YCbCr space using the program ColorSpace by Philippe Colantoni.

This website presents an account of the dimensions of colour and light perception, written for painters using either traditional or digital media. The conceptual framework presented here was developed as a component of Colour, Light and Vision, a course in colour theory and practice for artists that I have been presenting since 1998 at the Julian Ashton Art School, Sydney, of Theories of Colour, a lecture course on the history of colour theory and practice that I presented at the National Art School, Sydney, in 2009-2011, and of ongoing practical painting classes at both schools.

Site Contents

All pages published in 2007 unless otherwise stated; latest revisions indicated in red:


1 The Dimensions Introduced (revised 2017)

2 Basics of Light and Shade

3 Basics of Colour Vision

4 Additive Colour Mixing

5 Subtractive Colour Mixing

6 Colour Mixing in Paints

7 Hue

8 Lightness and Chroma

9 Brightness and Saturation

10 Principles of Colour

11 Afterthoughts

12 Glossary






Warm thanks go to the "Dimensions of Colour team", Xavier Peria, Ray Kristanto, Noopur Patel, Atania Trinata, and Debolina Bandyopadhyay from the 2007 second year Multimedia course at the Billy Blue School of Graphic Arts, Sydney, and their teacher Dave Agius, for creating the site, including the interactive animations. Thanks also to Ben Green for generously hosting the site during its first year online, and to ibiblio, "the public's library and digital archive" at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, for accepting the site into their collection and hosting it since then. Finally, thanks to all of those who have added links to this site on their websites, blogs and forum posts, and especially to the following for their published comments:

Mark Fairchild (USA), Professor of Color Science & Imaging Science, Rochester Institute of Technology, New York, and author of the textbook Color Appearance Models (Wiley): Essentially an online textbook/tutorial on appearance, or "the dimensions of colour and light" written from the perspective of artists. The site is very nicely done and blends technical and artistic information well.

James Gurney (USA), illustrator, fine artist, author of numerous books including the Dinotopia series and Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter: David Briggs is none other than the mastermind behind the website "Dimensions of Color." It's one of the best resources on light and color on the Internet. I owe much of what I've learned on the topic to [Dr] Briggs. ...His website "HueValueChroma" has that rare combination of depth and clarity.

David Gray (USA), fine artist and painting teacher: ... an absolutely indispensable source of color knowledge for the realist painter: All of you who have asked me about color really need to visit this site and get this information into your artistic thought processes. It's going to be a little rough going for some who shy away from technical language. It's also going to challenge some of the conventional color "wisdom" that has been taught in art schools for years. I personally find the information fascinating and VERY USEFUL ... I hope HueValueChroma will give you more control over your color choices as it has me.

Douglas Flynt (USA), fine artist and painting teacher at the Grand Central Academy of Art, New York: "" is a great resource to better understand color and how light affects color.

Slade Wheeler (USA), fine artist. His site hosts a large amount of well organized/concise information coupled with informative illustrations, including 3D modeling and animations, all of which make this one of the best online color theory resources that I've been able to find.

Colour Research Society of Canada/Societe canadienne de recherche sur la couleur (Canada). Excellent overview of the dimensions of colour and light perception for painters & digital media artists;

Danny Pascale (USA), CEO of BabelColorR colour measurement and analysis: A well illustrated site on light, color, and its perception. The content is a course in applied color science optimized for artists but useful for all. The language is clear, with just a few simple equations and lots of descriptions.

Mary-Angela Papalaskari (USA), lecturer, Department of Computing Sciences, Villanova University, Pennsylvania. ... a set of webpages that give a great overview of color as it is perceived, from the artist's perspective.

William Cromar (USA), artist, lecturer and Art Program Coordinator, Abington College, Penn State University. "Color is a fascinating topic which we've only been able to scratch the surface of in this title" [ART 314 - Material Culture: Light and Color]. "If you wish to go in greater depth, visit David Briggs' comprehensive website The Dimensions of Colour."

Thomas Scholes (USA), digital artist and painting instructor, moderator of Futurepoly forum: I think the best advice I can give is to study light in terms of physics, this website is a great resource in those regards.

Josh Yavelberg, Professor, Art Institute of Washington (USA). The Dimensions of Color: an in-depth guide on the concepts of the various color systems and how to move within each color space by David Briggs. I urge you to go to the second, and onward, pages of each area as there are interactive flash demonstrations of the various color spaces.

Chris Raadjes (UK), game artist at Auroch Digital Ltd. Probably the most intensely scientific approach to light for painters [that's] available on the web. ... I'm struggling myself, but it's worth it.

Daz Watford (UK), video game developer, concept artist: Now this website is big and intimidating; but it's a great explanation of how colour created by light works. It's quite sciencey and took me three goes to start to "get it", but it's worth the struggle. It will change your understanding of colour with a "mind = blown" Inception ...

Paul Foxton (UK), fine artist, author of website Learning to See: ... this site has more information than any site should really be allowed to have in one place. David's site is nothing short of incredible. There's so much information there, and it bears such careful and close reading, that I can only take it in bite sized chunks. I read half a page and have to think about it for a week. This the best site about colour I know of. The relevance of all of it to painting may not be apparent to you straight away, and it may appear too scientific for 'feeling' types. But I find myself mulling over things I've read there as I work, and it always results in deeper insights into the way we perceive light and colour. Very highly recommended.

ALISON online training (UK): This course is ideal for any learner who practices the visual arts, either professionally or as a hobby, and who wants to greatly enhance their knowledge and understanding of colour theory.

Atelier Art Classes, Brisbane (AUS): An incredible resource for the painter [and] a fascinating and informative resource for anybody who has an interest in the perception of colour.

Bjoern Gschwendtner, Classical Atelier @HOME (Germany): Read more about color on This is THE RESOURCE for color in the internet for artists.

Michael Hosticka (USA), recent Game Art & Design graduate, Ringling College of Art and Design: I learned more about practical application of color within 10 minutes of reading that than I have in all of my art classes combined.... I would highly recommend the website to anyone who wants to improve their understanding of light and color and doesn't mind technical reading.
Unless otherwise indicated, all material on this website is copyright Dr David Briggs, 2007-2015, and is licensed for personal and commercial use under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.5 Australia license.
Creative Commons License

Interactive demonstration of additive colour mixing. Drag the top, middle and bottom triangular yellow sliders to the left to control the brightnesses of the red, green and blue spotlights respectively. Copyright David Briggs and Ray Kristanto, 2007.

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