Understanding Color

What is color?

Color is a visual perception that occurs when light interacts with objects and is reflected or absorbed by them. It is a fundamental aspect of our visual experience and is the result of the way our eyes and brain interpret the different wavelengths of light.

The human eye perceives color in terms of three characteristics—hue, saturation, and brightness (HSB)—whereas computer monitors display colors by generating varying amounts of red, green, and blue (RGB) light. In Photoshop Elements, you use the HSB and RGB color models to select and manipulate color. The color wheel can help you understand the relationships between colors.

Here are some key points about color:

  1. Light and Color Spectrum: Visible light is a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, and it consists of a range of wavelengths. When white light (such as sunlight) passes through a prism or a similar transparent medium, it is separated into its constituent colors, creating a spectrum. This spectrum includes colors like red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.
  2. Perception of Color: Our eyes contain specialized cells called cones that are sensitive to different wavelengths of light. These cones send signals to the brain when they are stimulated by specific wavelengths. The brain processes these signals and interprets them as different colors.
  3. Primary Colors: In color theory, primary colors are a set of colors that can be combined to create a wide range of other colors. The primary colors are often considered to be red, blue, and yellow. By mixing various combinations of these primary colors, along with black and white, you can create virtually any other color.
  4. Color Models: There are different color models used to represent and describe colors, including the RGB (Red, Green, Blue) model, CMY (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow) model, and the HSL/HSV (Hue, Saturation, Lightness/Value) model. Each model has its own way of defining and representing colors, which is useful for various applications, such as digital imaging, printing, and design.
  5. Cultural and Emotional Associations: Colors often have cultural and emotional associations. For example, red is commonly associated with passion or danger, while blue may be associated with calmness or sadness. These associations can vary across cultures.
  6. Color Vision Deficiency: Some individuals have color vision deficiencies, commonly known as color blindness. This condition can make it difficult to distinguish between certain colors or perceive them accurately.

Color plays a significant role in art, design, psychology, and various fields of science. It can influence our emotions, perceptions, and preferences, and it is an essential element in our daily lives, from the colors of the natural world to the products we use and the environments we inhabit.

What is Color wheel?

The color wheel is a convenient way to understand and remember the relationship between colors. Red, green, and blue are the additive primaries. Cyan, magenta, and yellow are the subtractive primaries. Directly across from each additive primary is its complement: red-cyan, green-magenta, and blue-yellow.

Each subtractive primary is made up of two additive primaries, but not its complement. So, if you increase the amount of a primary color in your image, you reduce the amount of its complement. For example, yellow is composed of green and red light, but there is no blue light in yellow. When adjusting yellow in Photoshop Elements, you change the color values in the blue color channel. By adding blue to your image, you subtract yellow from it.

Color wheel.

A. Magenta B. Red C. Yellow D. Green E. Cyan F. Blue 

What is HSB model?

Based on the human perception of color, the HSB model describes three fundamental characteristics of color:


The color reflected from or transmitted through an object. It is measured as a location on the standard color wheel, expressed as a degree between 0 and 360. In common use, hue is identified by the name of the color, such as red, orange, or green.


The strength or purity of the color. Saturation, which is sometimes called chroma, represents the amount of gray in proportion to the hue, measured as a percentage from 0 (gray) to 100 (fully saturated). On the standard color wheel, saturation increases from the center to the edge.


The relative lightness or darkness of the color, usually measured as a percentage from 0 (black) to 100 (white).

Although you can use the HSB model in Photoshop Elements to define a color in the Color Picker dialog box, you cannot use the HSB mode to create or edit images.

HSB view in the Adobe Color Picker

A. Saturation B. Hue C. Brightness

What is RGB model?

A large percentage of the visible spectrum can be represented by mixing red, green, and blue (RGB) light in various proportions and intensities. These three colors are called the additive primaries. Added together, red, green, and blue light make white light. Where two colors overlap, they create cyan, magenta, or yellow.

The additive primary colors are used for lighting, video, and monitors. Your monitor, for example, creates color by emitting light through red, green, and blue phosphors.

Additive colors (RGB).

A. Red B. Green C. Blue D. Yellow E. Magenta F. Cyan 

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