The HSV Color Model in Graphic Design

Check your software's color picker for the HSV color model

Color wheel symbolized by colored pencils of several hues
 Getty Images

Anyone with a monitor has probably heard of the RGB (red, green, blue) color model. If you deal with commercial printers, you know about CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, key). You might have noticed HSV (hue, saturation, value) in the color picker of your graphics software. These are all schemes used to describe the way various basic colors combine to create the rainbow of colors we see in various media.

Unlike RGB and CMYK, which are defined in relation to primary colors, HSV is defined in a way that is similar to how humans perceive color. It's based on three values: hue, saturation, and value. This color space describes colors (hue or tint) in terms of their shade (saturation or amount of gray) and their brightness value. Some color pickers (like the one in Adobe Photoshop) use the acronym HSB, which substitutes the term brightness for value, but HSV and HSB refer to the same color model. 

How to Use the HSV Color Model

The HSV color wheel is sometimes depicted as a cone or cylinder, but always with these three components:

Hue

Hue is the color portion of the color model, expressed as a number from 0 to 360 degrees:

ColorAngle
Red0–60
Yellow60-–20
Green120–180
Cyan180–240
Blue240–300
Magenta300–360

Saturation

Saturation is the amount of gray in the color, from 0 to 100 percent. Reducing the saturation toward zero to introduce more gray produces a faded effect.

Sometimes, saturation is expressed in a range from just 0–1, where 0 is gray and 1 is a primary color.

Value (or Brightness)

Value works in conjunction with saturation and describes the brightness or intensity of the color, from 0–100 percent, where 0 is completely black, and 100 is the brightest and reveals the most color.

How HSV Is Used

The HSV color model is used when selecting colors for paint or ink because HSV better represents how people relate to colors than does the RGB color model.

The HSV color wheel is also used to generate high-quality graphics. Although less well known than its RGB and CMYK cousins, the HSV approach is available in many high-end image editing software programs.

Selecting an HSV color begins with picking one of the available hues, which is how most humans relate to color, and then adjusting the shade and brightness values.