Color is a complex concept,  can have a lot of properties; hue, saturation and value are some of the most important characteristics of color. We usually refer to colors by simple names such as red or blue. Are there more precise and descriptive ways to talk about colors? There are many terms which are used to describe colors, and often there is some confusion as to what each of the terms mean. Here I will try to explain some of the most common terms use in color theory.


Hue is somewhat synonymous to what we usually refer to as “colors”. Red, green, blue, yellow, and orange are a few examples of different hues. The different hues have different wave lengths in the spectrum. Hue is expressed as a number from 0 to 360 degrees representing hues of red (starts at 0), yellow (starts at 60), green (starts at 120), cyan (starts at 180), blue (starts at 240), and magenta (starts at 300).


The color is completely pure. Saturation can also be called a color’s intensity. It is a measurement of how different from pure grey the color is. Saturation is not really a matter of light and dark, but rather how pale or strong the color is. The saturation of a color is not constant, but it varies depending on the surroundings and what light the color is seen in. Saturation is the amount of gray (0% to 100%) in the color.


Value (lightness) describes overall intensity to how light or dark a color is. It is the only dimension of color that may exist by itself. The value is a measurement of the brightness of a color. The brighter a color is, the higher is its value and the more light it emits. For instance, a vivid yellow is brighter than dark blue, therefore its value is higher than that of the blue. A good way to see the difference in the values of colors is to look at the corresponding greyscale version. Value works in conjunction with saturation and describes the brightness or intensity of the color from 0% to 100%.

The HSV scale clearly stands for “Hue, Saturation, Value.” It does a better job at visually explaining the concept of light, and it is a very useful one to comprehend, as it is what most sophisticated digital color pickers are based on (including all Adobe software). Not only do graphic designers need to understand this color construct, but fine artists do as well since digital art and rendering has become such an integral part of art processes.


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