Color wheels are a very important tool for artists, but there’s a huge range of them all with different uses. So which one do you buy and why?
The best color wheel for artists to buy to help with color mixing is the twelve step color wheel. The larger size of over 9 inches (22cm) in diameter. for studio use and the smaller pocket size for portable art.
I’ve used a color wheel for years. There’s a surprising amount of information on a coIor wheel. I explain below which one I use and why and what the drawbacks of using them are.
The Color Wheel That Artists Use
Artists usually use the color wheel below. It is like the one I have. This is the one most artists use. This is the most accurate color wheel for artists. I ended up with this wheel more by luck than judgement because when I got mine I didn’t know any different and just got the best one available in the art shop. So this style wheel has been going for at least 30 years! And with very little change. This color wheel is the style and content rather than a brand.
Artists use a color wheel like this one: (affiliate link) This looks in fact exactly like my large one.
Most color wheels are made of a card lightly coated in plastic so wipeable but not washable.
A Best Artist Color Wheel Should Have Everything You Need as An Artist
Most decent artist Color Wheels have the following:
The 12 main Colors of Your Color Wheel
Your wheel should have the 3 main primaries of red, yellow and blue, the secondaries of green, orange and violet (purple) and also the tertiary colors of yellow green, blue green, red violet, blue violet and red orange.
The Gray scale
Artists use the gray scale all the time in art to determine what tones you need. While not all artists use it it is an important tool for many. You should have one on your color wheel. If not or if you want to use it a lot of the time or use it easily against your picture for reference you can also get a gray scale value card. You would get something like this:
You can get the gray scale on Amazon (Affiliate link) here
Shade Tone And Tint
Your color wheel should also have the shade tone and tine of the main color shown on the outer edge.
Color Types And Schemes
The center of the wheel should have 2 triangles and 2 rectangles to show you the complimentary colors and the tetrad color schemed.
What Size Color Wheel To Get
If you are buying online double check your wheel size. People have ordered ones and found they are half the size of the others. Its easy just to look at them and think they are all the same size.
Your standard color wheel is about 9 to 10″ (23 to 25cm) in diameter. The exact size doesn’t matter. Its just easier to use a larger wheel.
Smaller pocket ones are around 5.5″ (14cm). They may say pocket on them
This is usually reflected in the price.
Deciding which one to get is a personal choice. I’d get the smaller ones for portability to lessons or if you want to paint outside and the larger ones if I didn’t need to carry them around or if it fits your budget. The smaller ones have the same information and colors on them but the writing is quite small.
It’s what’s on the wheel itself that is important.
What Is the Color Wheel Made From?
Mine is old. It is made of thin satin card. The new ones you can get are wipeable card (not all) which is a good idea if you think you might get paint on it.
Easy To Use
You want a color wheel that is easy to use. It should cover all the basics like shade, tint and tone. Primary, secondary and tertiary colors.
Types Of Color Wheel
As an artist we need the RYB or red, yellow, blue color wheel as this one is designed for color mixing. The the RGB, or red, green and blue color wheel, is designed for mixing light which is for use when on a computer.
The Advantages Of A Color Wheel
The advantages of using a color wheel is it helps you to mix colors more easily with less mistakes. You have a guide with you at all times that is a quick reference.
Also, you can easily see which is the complementary colors or how to crate a color scheme in your artwork by using either complimentary or contrasting colors.
Issues With Using The Color Wheel
Its only a guide. No matter how good the printing is its never going to match up exactly to your own paints. At the end of the day its printed. Print isn’t always the same, it fades over time (my old one is quite yellow now) and paint colors differ.
I bought some photos the other day one colored and one black and white of the same image. I’d put on the colors I wanted to use for my art on both in small circles and got them printed at the same time at a local printers. The colored circles on the black and white print were darker than the same ones on the colored print. No doubt to get the image itself right.
For me I always found that color wheels were great to get a general idea on what colors to use. I still needed a full color mixing book for the more complex mixes.
A good idea is to get a color mixing guide with it so you have the actual colors you need to make a color rather than just a representation. As artists we define color more finely than we would normally. And of course we also need to know how to mix them. I also have lots of color mixing books along with the color wheel. this one on Amazon (affiliate link) looks great and goes with this wheel.
Harmonious Color Schemes: a no-nonsense approach using the Color Wheel
If this book is a tad on the expansive guide then you can get one of the smaller pocket mixing guides. Although they are not specifically designed to go with the color wheel they are fantastic and have the theory explained in them. I have some of these. (affiliate link)
Also, I have gone through many of the main colors myself and worked out many different mixes for you to try. These are some of those pages:
Although these are usually either acrylic or watercolor specific articles you can use them for other mediums like oil and the acrylic ones can be used for watercolor where white is not included. Where it is you have to adapt and use the paper as your white.
Also any printed material is going to look different from the actual paints. Even when the printed color is on the paint it is different.
I can’t believe I am going to say this. I absolutely hated doing this when I was younger, but its also a good idea to make your own color wheel. That way you have your own colors what they actually look like. Its also good practice on how to use the colors.
Which is the correct color wheel?
The correct color wheel for you depends on why you want to use it. the one discussed here is the best one for artists. If you are looking to get one for interior design these are slightly different.
The Usual Cost of A Color Wheel
The usual cost of a full sized 9inch (23cm) color wheel is $8-£10 (about $11-$£13 US).
Smaller ones range from around £3 ($4 US).
The good thing about colors wheels is if you get a good quality one and look after it you don’t have to replace it for many years.
The Cox Color Wheel
The Cox color wheel has the full spectrum of colors on it. It is like the other ones mentioned here. I had a bit of difficulty with finding out about this one but the supplies say that the Cox is a brand rather than a type of wheel. Although available in the UK it is very popular in the USA. (affiliate link) You can get it here. or here in the USA (not and affiliate link)