Color tutorial: describing color

About this site

Most of the things that you will design with computers—user interfaces, Web pages, and even printed documents—will use color in some way. This tutorial is designed to help you understand and specify colors. It does not address the effective use of color, which is a much more complex topic.

Many of the graphics programs that we use present us with a bewildering array of choices for color selection. The most frequently used of these are covered here, in addition to some basic information that will help you understand why there are so many different color systems. The tutorial is designed to be followed in order, at least the first time through. But you may want to refer again to specific pages from the index at left. Systems covered include:

Paint colors

Visible light

HSB: hue, saturation, and brightness


RGB: red, green, and blue

CMYK: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black

Spot color

Site extras

To accompany these discussions, I've developed a hands-on demonstration of the two color systems most important to Web developers: RGB and HSL. Please see the Tutor page or follow the Tutor link at left. This page replaces our earlier stand-alone Java application. An associated exercises page (also "Learn" link at left) can serve as a self-paced learning tool.

Also available on Database Design with UML and SQL, a platform-independent primer used for introductory classes or independent study.

Copyright 1997–2017, Tom Jewett, tom [at] tomjewett [dot] com
Department of Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Emeritus
California State University, Long Beach