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 this site, we've developed a hands-on application that will demonstrate the two color systems most important to Web developers: RGB and HSB. Please see the Tutor page or follow the Tutor link at left. An associated exercises page (also "Learn" link at left) can serve as a self-paced learning tool.

We also offer a downloadable video supplement to this tutorial. Twelve minutes in length, it requires the QuickTime video plugin, available for free at Please see the Video page or follow the Video link at left. Included in the presentation are quick reviews of the RGB and HSB pages of this tutorial, along with a demonstration of the exercises that accompany our tutor application.

Also available on Database Design with UML and SQL; for Web accessibility resources and consulting, please see The Enabled Web.

Copyright 1997–2013, Tom Jewett, tom [at] tomjewett [dot] com
Department of Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Emeritus
California State University, Long Beach