Johannes Itten

The 12-hue color circle

Seven Kinds of Color Contrast    
  1. Contrast of hue    
  2. Light-dark contrast    
  3. Cold-warm contrast    
  4. Complementary contrast    
  5. Simultaneous contrast    
  6. Contrast of saturation    
  7. Contrast of extension    


Contrast of hue is illustrated by undiluted colors in their most intense luminosity.
Some combinations are:
yellow/red/blue; red/blue/green; blue/yellow/violet; yellow/green/violet/red; violet/green/blue/orange/black

Just as black-white represents the extreme of light-dark contrast, so yellow/red/blue is the extreme instance of contrast of hue.
At least three clearly differentiated hues are required. The intensity of contrast of hue diminishes as the hues employed are removed from the three primaries.

Orange, green and violet are weaker in character than yellow, red and blue, and the effect of tertiary colors is still less distinct.


The painter's strongest expressions of light and dark are white and black.
The effects are opposite with the realm of grays and chromatic colors between them.

Chromatic light-dark contrast are illustrated in twelve equidistant steps from white to black and have been repeated ford each of the twelve
hues of the color circle, in brilliances equal to the corresponding grays. Pure yellow becomes the fourth step. Orange is the sixth step, red
the eighth, blue the ninth, and violet aht the tenth step in the scale of grays. The chart shows saturated yellow to be the lightest of the pure
colors, and violet the darkest.

  Light-Dark Contrast
11 Light-dark composition in black, white, and grays
12 Same composition as Fig. 11, in blue
13 Colors of equal brilliance
14 Colors of equal darkness


  cold-warm properties: verbalized in a number of other contrary terms
These diverse impressions illustrate the versatile expresive powers of cold-warm contrast. It can be used to produce
highly pictorial effects. In landscape, more distant objects always seem colder in color because of the intervening depth
of air. Cold-warm contrast contains elements suggesting nearness and distance.

  Cold-Warm Contrast  
  16 The strongest cold-warm contrast: red-orange / blue-green  
  17 Inversion of proportions of Fig. 16  
  18 Red-violet seems warm relative to blue  
  19 Red-violet seems cold relative to orange  
  20 Checkered composition contrasting cold and warm colors  
  21 Cold-warm modulation in red  
  22 Cold-warm modulation in green  


Two colors are complementary if their pigments, mixed together produce a neutral gray-black.
Physically, light of two complementary colors, mixed together, will yield white.
Two such colors are a strange pair. They are opposite, they reequire each other. They incite each other to maximum
vividness when adjacent; and they annihilate each other, to gray-black, when mixed - like fire and water.
There is always but one color complementary to a given color. In the color circle, complementary colors are diametrically
opposite each other.
Examples of complementary pairs are:    
In analyzing these pairs of complementaries, all three primaries - yellow, red, blue - are always present:  
yellow, violet
= yellow, red + blue  
blue, orange
= blue, yellow + red  
red, green
= red, yellow + blue  

  Complementary Contrast  
  23 - 28 Mixture bands of six coplementary pairs  
  29 Composition in the complementary pair red/green and mixtures  
  30 Mixture square of two complementary pairs, orange/blue and red-orange/blue-green  

Simultaneous contrast results from the fact that for any given color the eye simultaneously requires the complementary
color, and generates it spontaneously if it is not already present.
Simultaneous Contrast    
31-36 Each of six pure color squares contains a small neutral gray square, matching the background color in brilliance
Each gray square seems to be tinged with the complementary of the blackground. The simultaneous effect becomes
more intense, the longer the principal color of a square is viewed.
37 Three small gray squares, surrounded by orange. Three grays barely distinct from each other have been used.
The first gray is bluish, and intensifies the simultaneous effect; the second gray is neutral, and suffers simultaneous
modification; the third gray contains an admixture of orange, and therefore fails to be modified.


Saturation, or quality, relates to the degree of purity of a color. Contrast of saturation is the contrast between pure,
intense colors and dull, diluted colors.
Contrast of Saturation    
38-41 On a checkered pattern of 25 squares, luminous yellow, orange, red, or blue is placed in the center.
The four corners are neutral gray in the same brilliance as the pure color.    
Graded admixture of gray with the pure color produces intermediate shades of low saturation.    


Contrast of extension involves the relative areas of two or more color patches.
It is the contrast between much and little, or great and small.
Contrast of Extension    
42-44 Harmonious proportions of area for complementary colors:    
Yellow : Violet = 1/4 : 3/4    
Orange : Blue = 1/3 : 2/3    
Red : Green = 1/2 : 1/2    
45 Circle of primary and seondary colors in harmonious proportion    
46 Equal proportions of red and green    
47 A little red with a great deal of green makes the red highly active    

The Art of Color: The subjective experience and objective reationale of color
Johannes Itten
various pages 18-47
The Elements of Color
A treatice on the color system of Johannes Itten based on his book The Art of Color
Edited and with a forward and evaluation by Faber Birren
Translated by Ernst Van Hagen
various pages 30-61