How to mix any color from the primaries?

In this article I explain the concept of Color Attributes such as Hue, Saturation, and Brightness. Plus you can learn how you to mix a specific color that you see with your eyes. We will blend simply the primary colors to achieve that.

What color is this?

In order to mix a color that you just observed in the real world – let’s call it as target color -, you need to identify three key properties of that color in this order:

  • hue (tint)
  • value (brightness, tone)
  • saturation (intensity, chroma)

You can see synonyms in parenthesis for each attributes.

This is a 3-step process, and each color in the world can be identified by using this method. So the question is: What color is this?

Step 1: Hue

The first step is to identify the hue (in other words the tint) of the color. In this step you ignore the brightness or darkness of the color as well as its intensity.

The main question is this: which element can be the starting point for mixing our color on the color wheel? So we pick a hue (red, blue, green, orange, green-yellow, etc.) on the color wheel that is the closest to our target color.

Munsell Color Wheel
The Munsell Color Wheel

Step 2: Brightness

The second step is to identify the value or brightness of the target color. Try to answer this question: how dark or bright our target color is on the scale of black to white? This scale is also called gradients. In real life there are infinite number of steps that you can take to get from black to white. However researches show that an average human visual memory can store roughly seven different values.

7-step grayscale gradient
7-step grayscale gradient

So try to answer this question:
Which value describes the best our target color?

  • black
  • very dark
  • dark
  • middle value (or middle tone)
  • bright
  • very bright
  • white

Step 3: Saturation

As a third step identify the saturation (chroma or intensity) answering the following question: how vivid is the target color on the intensity scale?

Just like in case of value you can choose from seven different grades:

  • clean hue (100% saturation)
  • very vivid
  • vivid
  • middle intensity
  • dull or under-tint
  • very dull
  • color-free (0% saturation)

Note that the color-free (0% saturated) color is a gray tone. A 0% saturated image is a grayscale or black-and-white image.

Mixing a color in practice

Now how do you implement the theory above in practice? Once you have your color from the color wheel (Step 1), you can add white to get proper brightness (Step 2). Then use your color’s complement color to decrease its intensity or saturation (Step 3).

The Munsell 3D Color Model

The best way to visualize the three main attributes of color is the look at this 3D Munsell color wheel.

Munsell 3D Color Wheel
Munsell 3D Color Wheel

The first attribute that we identified was the hue such as blue, red, orange, green, yellow-green, etc.

The second attribute was the brightness or value which corresponds to the vertical axis on our wheel. The top of the wheel contains the brightest colors and as we’re going deeper, we’re getting darker colors.

Finally the third attribute is saturation which is represented as the radius of the wheel. The farthest colors from the center have the highest saturation, they are the most vivid colors. While in the center you’ll find gray tones, white on the top, and black at the bottom.