LEAP!Tracy HolmesComment

There's not much more than colour colour colour on the Colour Side of every BTC Colour Card. But you'd be surprised how much a simple 3-digit Colour Code or iconic Colour Square can tell you about what that colour colour colour actually is . . .



As both a theoretical model for understanding colour and as a hands-on collection of tools for applying this theory to the real world, BreakThroughColour has always been a two-sided system: colour for both sides of the brain. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the two sides of every BTC Colour Card.

Traditional playing cards typically have one side that's consistent throughout the deck, a way to to conceal what's hiding on the other side (an important factor in most card games). On the other side, every card is different, with a series of numbers, letters, and symbols giving each card its own unique identity and value. 

BTC Colour Cards also have numbers, letters, and symbols and every card is different, but that's reflected on both sides of the card. First, there's the 'Colour Side.' Every card is a full plate of colour in a diverse spectrum of Hues, Tints, Shades, Tones, and Greys. Turn the card over and you reveal its 'Code Side,' a full analysis of that colour that provides insight into each colour's primary hue ingredients, how those ingredients add up according to the rules of Colour Math, and how the formula mixes together to impact the colour's quality and value. As enigmatic as they may first appear, BreakThroughColour codes are easy to crack. And once you know a few code secrets, playing with Colour Cards is as easy as 'Go Fish.'

In this 'Leap' lesson, we're going to take a look at the Colour Side. For anyone who loves colour, this is where the fun starts, and with so many big bold swatches to choose from (64 in the Colour Basics deck and 216 in the BTC deck), the Colour Side alone can keep you busy for hours (been there, done that). Mostly, it's all about the colour from edge to edge, but there are a few clues to help you keep track, sort the cards into smaller sets, or even sequence them if you like.

Here's what to look for on the Colour Side...


Here is a collection of cards from the BreakThroughColour deck, one card from each of the Corner Colour families...


In the top right corner of every BTC Colour Card is a 3-digit Colour Code. This number identifies the colour distinctly from all the others. Two hundred and sixteen cards, 216 Colour Codes. Using a scale of 0 to 5 (o being none and 5 being the maximum), the digits indicate the amount of Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow there is in the colour, in that order.  

For example, in this assortment of cards, the first card is the pure Cyan Corner Colour Card. The Colour Code, 500, shows full Cyan (at 5), no Magenta (0), and no Yellow (also 0). All the Corner Colour Cards are named (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Red, Green, Blue, White, Black). These are the only 'named' cards in the BTC deck.

The other 208 cards are identified with only their 3-digit Colour Code, including the other 7 cards here: 251, 015, 043, 314, 442, 122, and 453.

These colours (and their codes) are more complex than the named Corner Colours, but naming them becomes more subjective. That doesn't mean BTC's code system thinks of these colours as 'just a number.' They are all unique, and as you will discover, the codes are more than just 3 digits. Once you know how to decipher them, you can learn a lot about a colour's family identity and individual qualities. Once you get to know more about BTC Colour Codes, you can even train your brain to 'picture' a colour without even looking at it. It's pretty cool.


In the bottom right corner of every card, there's a Corner Cube that tells you where the colour belongs, in one of the 8 BTC Colour Corner families.

Like sorting a regular deck of playing cards into Diamonds, Hearts, Spades, and Clubs with 13 cards in every suit, you can use this little icon in the bottom corner to easily sort all 216 BTC cards into eight smaller sets of 27 cards each. On each of the Corner Colour Cards, the Corner Cube is bigger, as you can see with the Cyan card above.


It's important to note that the 3 digits in BTC Colour Codes always reference the 3 element primary hues in a certain order: Cyan first, Magenta second, Yellow third


As 3-digit numbers, you may be inclined to see these codes as numbers in the 'hundreds.' But because each digit represents a different element primary Hue that can increase or decrease on its own, each digit is an independent value. So as not to confuse this ‘0 to 5’ system with a ‘base 10’ system, BTC Colour Codes should always be read as a series of 3 digits. In Reading the Codes in the sample cards above, Cyan's Colour Code is ‘five zero zero,' not ‘five hundred,’ 251 is 'two five one,' rather than 'two hundred and fifty-one,' 015 is 'zero one five,' not 'fifteen,' and so on.


At first glance, these codes might not seem to indicate much about the colours, but there are actually many clues and patterns to be gleaned from them.

For example, if a digit is 34, or full at 5, it means that primary Hue is present at more than half, putting it in that Hue's 'corner.' If the digit is less than half, at 2 or 1, or not present at all at 0, that Hue does not play a dominant role in defining that colour's place in the colour space. For example, Cyan's code of 500 tells us that there is as much Cyan as possible, and none at all of the other two element primaries. In fact, all of the Corner Colour Colour Codes contain only 5s and 0s, because they all have all and/or none of C, M, and/or Y. 

Near the middle of the set of samples above, the code '043' shows no Cyan, but more than half of both Magenta and Yellow, which add up to more than half Red. At the other end, the code '112' is very light, because there's hardly any C, M, or Y (putting it close to the '000' of White). The last code, '453,' tells us that there is more than half of everything, which is why this colour is so close to Black (Black is 555, a full-strength 5 out of 5 of all three element primary Hues).


Using what you know about Colour Math, and reading the individual code digits as 'greater than half' (3, 4, or 5) or 'less than half' (2, 1, or 0), grab a handful of cards from the BreakThroughColour collection, shuffle them up, and see if you can sort them into their Corner Colour families without actually looking at the Corner Cube clue in the bottom corner.
At least one '0' means no Black, and at least one '5' means no White. One of each means no Black or White (so therefore a pure Hue), and neither (only 1s, 2s, 3s, or 4s) means both Black and White (so therefore a Tone). Using these clues, can you sort the cards into pure Hues (at least one 0 and one 5), Tints (0s to 4s), Shades (1s to 5s), and Tones (1s to 4s)?


Here is a collection of cards from the Colour Basics deck...


The Colour Basics cards are also coded, but the codes here are visual rather than numeric. Each card has a Colour Square icon.

In the 8 Colour Basics Corner Colour Cards, the square is a full solid colour. As the colours get more complex, so do the Colour Squares. Let's take a closer look at the Colour Squares in this collection...

Corner Hues are easy to spot as full solid squares (like Cyan, first on the left). There are 8 Corner Hues in the Colour Basics deck.

Connector Hues are midway mixes of two Corner Hues and show an even vertical split of those two Hues (card 2 above). There are 6 Connector Hues in the Colour Basics deck.

Tints show White at the top and the Hue (or Hues) at the bottom (cards 3 and 4). There are 12 Tints in the Colour Basics deck.

Shades show the Hue(s) at the top and Black at the bottom (cards 5 and 6). There are 12 Shades in the Colour Basics deck.

Tones show Hue(s) on the left and White and Black on the right, indicating that half of the colour is a middle Grey (an equal mix of both White and Black). There are 15 Tones in the Colour Basics deck (one 'toned down' version of each of the 12 Hues, plus the 3 Hue Greys that connect White and Black).

At a glance, these Colour Squares tell you not just the 'ingredients' in the colour, but also their ratio, in full, half or quarter portions, from the full-square Corner Colours to the four-part Connector Hue Tones.


In the bottom right, there's a Corner Cube just like in the BTC deck. Looking at the almost monochromatic collection of Colour Basics cards above, you might expect the Corner Cubes to all be Cyan...

But they're not. Rather than define these cards by Colour family, the Colour Basics Corner Cubes are categorized according to the quality of the colour.

Corner Colours (like Cyan, first on the left) get their own Corner Colour Cube, bold and bigger than all the rest (just like in the BTC deck).

Connector Hues (like card 2), have a CMY Corner Cube, identifying them as pure Hues, but not belonging to one specific Corner family (they are exactly halfway between two neighbour Corner Hues). Depending on how you are sorting the Connector Cards (and their Tint, Shade, and Tone variations), you can put them with one Corner family, or the other. You can also put them with neither, giving them their own category, like the Tertiary colours on a traditional colour wheel.

Tints (cards 3 and 4) have a White Corner Cube. Pure White also has a White Corner Cube, but it's bigger, to identify is distinctly as a Corner Card, containing only White.

Shades (cards 5 and 6) have a Black Corner Cube. Pure Black also has a Black Corner Cube, but it's bigger, to identify is distinctly as a Corner Card, containing only Black.

Tones (cards 7 and 8) have a Grey Corner Cube. The Grey is a middle Grey, half White and half Black, since 12 of the Tones in the Colour Basics deck are a mix of Hue(s) and middle Grey. The other 3 Tones are the Hue Greys, containing only White and Black.


There are 12 Hues, 12 Tints, 12 Shades, and 15 Tones in the Colour Basics deck, the same collection of primary, secondary, and tertiary colours you'll find on most traditional colour wheels. But unlike a colour wheel where the hues and their variations are fixed in place, these cards can be shuffled, sorted and sequenced in a number of different ways. Get to know your Colour Basics using both the Colour Squares and the Corner Cubes to sort and sequence the full deck into smaller sets, according to different sort criteria.


The Colour Basics deck also includes a set of 11 True Grey cards: White, Black, and 9 versions of Grey connecting them at equal increments in between.

In these cards the Colour Code is an equation representing the ratio of Black to White. The first number is the amount of true Black, and the second is the amount of pure White. In all cases, the sum is 10.

The Colour Cube shows 3 different values of Grey, to distinguish them from the solid Grey Corner Cube on the Colour Basics Tones cards.


The three Greys in the Colour Cube are the hueless versions of BTC's 3 element primary Hues: Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow. Can you tell which one is which?