RGB stands for Red-Green-Blue, which are the primary colors of light – additive colors that are the main stimuli of human color perception. This graphic depiction represents the primary colors of light that are commonly seen and used on computer monitors and mobile devices. They are the foundation upon which more complex multi-color and gradient wheels are derived. Most artists learn this as a fundamental step of design early in art school, although you have probably seen this basic RGB color wheel many times over the Internet.

In this tutorial, we will show you how to create a basic wheel in RGB colors.

Creating the RGB Color Wheel

Begin with a clean document and a new layer. Ideally, the document should be at least 900x900 pixels. Use any background color you are comfortable with, but be sure to keep this layer separate. (We're using a separate white layer for easier viewing.) We will create a new layer for the color wheel so that the background can be changed easily without affecting the graphic.

Now, we will create guides. Guides help to position items accurately within a layer. The simple guide we create will help us to align the circle in the center of the document. To make this, go to View>New Guide, select “vertical” and enter a value of 50%. Repeat this step, but this time select “horizontal” and enter the same value. The result should be a perfect cross-hair in the middle of the document to indicate the center.

Tip: You can change the color of the guides by double-clicking on the layer to open the preferences panel.

Make the Wheel

Next, create a circle using the elliptical marquee tool [M]. To do this, place the cross-hair in the center of the guide lines, then hold [SHIFT+ALT/OPT] and drag outward until you reach the desired size. Then, select the paint bucket tool [G] (hold SHIFT to cycle through each tool) and fill the selection with black.


Now, we will create the segments. Deselect the selection by pressing [CTRL/CMD+D] and create a new layer. Choose the line tool [U], change pixel settings to 1px and choose white. Go to the center of the guide, then while holding [SHIFT] draw a line from the center to the outer top edge of the circle.

Tip: Press [CTRL/CMD+H] to toggle the view of the guide.

Duplicate the layer [CTRL/CMD+J]. Choose the transform tool [CTRL/CMD+T].

Now, here is where we set the interval angle of the next lines we’re going to create. We want 3 segments, so we’ll need to change the “reference point” to the bottom (as shown below). This indicates that we want the pivot point remain static at the bottom of the line – which in this case is the center. Then, depress (click) the triangle to turn on “relative positioning” and set the “rotate” angle to 120˚ (degrees).

Tip: To calculate the angle needed for a specific number of segments, take 360 (the circumference of a circle) and divide it by the number of segments you want. For example, if we want 5 segments, the calculation would be 360/5 = 72. Therefore, to get 5 segments, we would need to set the angle at 72˚.

Press [Enter] to accept. After you’ve done this, use the “step and repeat” command to easily create the remaining lines. Click [CTRL +ALT+SHIFT+T] or [CMD+OPT+SHIFT+T] to accomplish this. You should have all the segments now.

Next, we want to take all of the lines and circle and merge them into a single layer. You can do this by either pressing [CTRL/CMD+SHIFT/ALT+E] or by highlighting all four layers (be sure not to include the background) and selecting "merge layers" from the context menu. Duplicating the layers as shown below is not a necessary step, but useful if you want to preserve them to work on at a later point.


Fill RGB Colors

Next, we want to fill each segment with the three primary RGB colors – red, green, and blue. The value for a color’s brightest end of a spectrum is “255”, where the other two values will be “0”. The RGB value for Red is “255, 0, 0”; Green “0, 255, 0”; and Blue “0, 0, 255”. So, to finish the wheel, we’re going to use the paint tool and fill each segment with its respective color.

Select the paint bucket tool [G], then choose the foreground color. Choose the radial dial for red (“R”) and enter the value “255”. For "G" and "B" values, enter “0”. Select “Ok”, then click over the segment you want to fill with the paint tool to change the color.


Repeat these steps to fill another segment with green, then blue. (Note: To get rid of any remaining lines, simply zoom in and fill line with either bordering color.)

The final result should look like this:


What We Learned

RGB color is used most often when dealing with colors on a computer monitor, graphics, programming, and the web. In photography, the images you see on the web are mostly likely created using RGB color. The color wheel is useful when developing color schemes, finding complementary and contrasting colors.

Here, we showed you how to create a basic RGB colorwheel with primary colors - red, green, and blue. We learned how to create a guide for easier alignment, make perfect circles, lines, and how to use a shortcut to easily create angled segments. Follwing the steps presented in this tutorial, you could similarly create a graphic in CMY color or add more segments with only a few tweaks. In the next tutorial, we will teach you how to create an advanced stepped gradient wheel using this particular model. Click the download link below to get the completed RGB color wheel with transparency in PNG format. •••

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