Does you taking art subject at school? I’m sure you’ve been thought color wheel. I can’t remember how many times I’ll be asked to make this wheely-color-thing and fortunately because of that knowledge, I can use it a lot in my assignments haha. Ever you keen to know history of it? So, here we goes:

The first color wheel has been attributed to Sir Isaac Newton, who in 1706 arranged red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet into a natural progression on a rotating disk. As the disk spins, the colors blur together so rapidly that the human eye sees white. From there the organization of color has taken many forms, from tables and charts, to triangles and and wheels the history.


A successful color ordering system requires an appropriate shape, the correct number of colors to include, and the proper medium in which to present its information. One way to create order for color was to devise an arrangement based on existing objects. This form of categorization, common before as well as throughout and after the eighteenth century, was a simple and accessible opportunity to apply practices to theories. Graded scales could be created from collections of natural materials—ochers and other colored earths, for example, or rocks, or shells—that were believed to have stable and consistent colors. Yet, however satisfying it was to make such scales, the result was insufficient. Few single natural sources included all recognized colors, and it was often difficult to create a comprehensive order from the available samples.


Color tables expand the color bar, literally and figuratively. They offer a similarly recognizable display of information, but one that suggests interior relationships through size, shape, or placement of the colored areas. As a means to order information, a table of colors, like a modern graph, permits critical information to be read at a glance, enabling the reader to verify the accuracy of the experimental method.


One graph-based system for which the author claimed usefulness for artisans was presented, in 1686, at the Royal Society of London.4 Noting the lack of a standard for colors in natural philosophy, and inspired by a similar table published in Stockholm, Richard Waller indicated that his “Table of Physiological Colors Both Mixt and Simple” would permit unambiguous descriptions of the colors of natural bodies. To describe a plant, for example, one could compare it to the chart and use the names found there to identify the colors of the bark, wood, leaves, etc. Similar applications of the information collected in the chart might also extend to the arts and trades, he suggested.Waller’s color chart is a simple visual system that incorporates both practical and theoretical considerations. This duality is reflected in an organization that suggests a progression from light to dark and classifies color within color groups. Waller offered the Society and, through its publication, readers, a grid containing 119 colors. He arranged his choices in a progression from lighter to darker colors but did not claim to include all variations of all mixtures. From left to right at top, there are seven colors, all pure (i.e., unmixed), ranging from Spanish white through deeper blue colors—smalt and indigo—to atramentum siricum, a dark blue-black. At left, from top to bottom, are first the pure yellows and then the pure reds, moving from lightest (ceruse) through atramentum fuliginosti, a dark red-brown. Mixed colors fill the balance of the grid; lighter shades are clustered in the top left and in the lower right are the darkest blacks. Waller’s text suggests the mixed colors represent equal mixtures of the pure color samples at the top and left edges of the graph. He explains how to create these interior colors, but the names suggest that they may have been purchased, or that it was possible to do so.


Schäffer designed his method to ensure that illustrations in his own books could be colored properly by anyone anywhere. As the author of volumes on the classification of insects, mushrooms, and fish, he knew, through personal experience, of the problems of color and coloring.

Schäffer outlined his order for color in nine rules. The first few state general concepts. There are seven simple and natural principal colors (red, yellow, blue, green, brown, white, and black), and colors may be made from a mixture of two, three, or more of the principal colors. The remaining rules, based on Schäffer’s own research, describe the construction of his classification aid and explain its system.

Schäffer’s system relied on colors that could be found in an artist’s shop, and it called for many mixtures, including combinations within a color group: reds with reds, browns with browns, etc. Rather than attempt to include all colors in a single sheet, he devised an initial page of principal colors, and separate pages for colors made from mixtures.


Mayer also conducted a study to guide the size of the triangle. His tests of visual perception determined that the eye can distinguish only about twelve gradations between any two colors.14 Accordingly, his triangle has thirteen compartments on each side. At each extreme, the angular color is a perfect or pure color. Each is separated from the two other pure colors by eleven proportional mixtures of them.

Mayer’s complete color system included other triangles made up of the pure pigments mixed with progressively larger quantities of white or black. These triangles had progressively fewer compartments as the colors approached white (lightness) or black (darkness).

Mayer described how these triangles determined and defined colors. His graphs were bi-directional, equally useful to describe a color at hand or to determine the formula to make any color the eye could see. One could compare a color found on an object to the colors in the triangle and, because location on the graph was determined by the proportions of the preparation, know its composition. Alternatively, one could choose a color from the schematic and know immediately the combination of red, yellow, blue, black, and white needed to recreate it.


Newton took the bar of colors created by the passage of light through a prism and transformed it into a segmented circle, where the size of each segment differed according to his calculations of its wavelength and of its corresponding width in the spectrum. The placement and size of the colored sections of Newton’s circle suggested other mathematical and harmonic relationships.


Two color circles are included as illustrations in the 1708 edition of Traité de la peinture en mignature, an artist’s manual attributed to “C.B.” (often assumed to be Claude Boutet, or the publisher, Christophe Ballard). Connections between Newtonian theories about color and this pair of circles are apparent in the design and the accompanying text. It is less clear, however, whether those theories were a direct source of inspiration. The first circle contains seven colors, violet, blue, green, yellow, orange, scarlet, and crimson. A second circle adds golden yellow, red, purple, sea green and yellow-green for a total of twelve colors. Overall, their inclusion is somewhat mysterious. The treatise had been issued in at least five editions without this portion; the color circles and the accompanying text appear only intermittently in later editions.

The physical format of “C.B.”’s circle, and of circles more generally, offered consumers information about color and color relationships that was difficult to procure from charts or linear graphs. Waller’s table showed which two colors could be mixed to create a third color. Mayer’s triangle indicated the same information with three colors. The circle could simplify painting practices, because it is a convenient display tool for painters who wish to prepare or to choose colors.


An entomologist, Ignaz Schiffermüller wished to create a more nuanced color wheel, one that would express the logical connections between musical and chromatic harmonies but that would also prove useful in practical endeavors, including natural-history classification and color production.

Goethe’s Theory of Colours provided the first systematic study of the physiological effects of color (1810). His observations on the effect of opposed colors led him to a symmetric arrangement of his color wheel, “for the colours diametrically opposed to each other… are those which reciprocally evoke each other in the eye.” (Goethe, Theory of Colours, 1810)