The 4-primary color wheel is not a color mixing wheel. It's not about mixing 3 primary colors as paints.
Instead, it shows how we see color, how our eyes and brains work.
Ewald Hering (1834-1918), a German physiologist and no relation of mine, published his 4-primary color wheel in 1878.
To this day, his model is ...
♦ very influential in the color/paint industries;
♦ great for understanding warm & cool colors, and
♦ full of gorgeous, 'eye candy' color combinations.
Hering added green to the other primary colors (yellow, blue and red), and called all four of them "psychological primaries".
Ewald Hering wasn't the first ...
... to identify four primary colors instead of three.
Before him, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) had already classified yellow, blue, red & green as a basic set of 'simple' colors.
However, Leonardo didn't arrange these colors in a circular model. The 4-primary color wheel is Hering's invention.
The outer ring of Hering's color wheel is its most interesting feature: It shows how every primary color group (red, yellow, green, blue) has a warm and a cool side.
The crescents indicate how much warm or cool color has gone into the corresponding color patch on the color wheel chart:
(You'll find more warm/cool diagrams on the warm & cool colors page.)
The 4-primary color wheel (here's a 'stripped' version) does not have complementary colors; Hering called his antagonists 'opposing' colors.
He argued (and was proven right, half a century after his death) that we physically see these primary colors as opposing pairs:
♦ red and green
♦ blue and yellow
♦ black and white
So what are the differences between opposing colors and complementary colors?
'Opposing' are colors that cannot be part of one another.
Complementary colors, on the other hand, 'complement' (=complete) each other only when they're mixed 1:1 - a completely different approach to Hering's color system.
Opposing and complementary colors are paired differently on their respective color wheels.
Here's a simplified version of the 3-primary and 4-primary color wheel chart. Compare the alignment of colors around the wheels: The only colors that face each other on both primary color wheel charts are red & green.
On the 4-primary color wheel, the color swatches squeeze together to allow for the newly expanded green section. This gives us a new set of lovely 'eye candy' opposites, like
Here's a range of opposing colors from the 4-primary color wheel:
No. Neither of them is inherently more valid/important/useful than the other. They were just designed to answer completely different questions!
For interior design projects or crafts, I'd probably prefer Hering's 4-primary color wheel because of the way it 'explains' warm and cool colors. And also because of the lovely opposing pairs - they're just such a nice alternative to the color mixing wheel.
Download an image of Hering's 4-primary color wheel here!
... welcome to my online Color Wheel Shop (in partnership with Amazon). I'm afraid, though, that these are all 3-primary color mixing wheels - they're still the best known and therefore more widely commercially available.
Return from Primary Color Wheel to Color Wheel Chart, or
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