LEAP!Tracy HolmesComment

With some colours, it's easy to see the ingredients. With element primary colours, there's only one (pure C, M, or Y), but the further you get from the Corners, the more complex the formulas get. Want to know the truth about a Hue? Enter the Matrix . . .


The Hue Matrix is the first of 3 infographics on the Code Side of every BTC Colour Card. It answers the question that's most often top of mind when we are exploring colour:


In BTC, every colour is the sum of 3 parts: Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow, in that order. So maybe the question should actually be:


The Hue Matrix is a visual version of the Colour Code. It's a grid of 3 rows of squares and each row corresponds to one of the 3 element primary ingredients. The top row is Cyan, the middle row is Magenta, and the bottom row is Yellow.

Here's a look at both the BTC and Colour Basics Hue Matrix grids when they are 'empty' of colour:

In the BTC deck, each row has 5 squares. So there are 6 possible quantities for each primary ingredient: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Or, in more figurative terms, none, a little, some, more than half, lots, or all. There is no 'exactly half' point in the BTC Colour Code scale; the amount of any one primary is either less than or greater than half. With 3 rows of 5 squares each, there are a total of 15 squares in the BTC Hue Matrix grid.

In the Colour Basics deck, the grid is 12 squares: 3 rows of 4 squares each. There are 5 possible quantities for each primary ingredient, but because the Colour Basics deck Colour Codes are not numeric, think of these 4 squares and the quantities they represent in simpler terms: none, all, exactly half, and half of half.

Here are the Hue Matrix grids for the 8 Corner Colours in the BTC deck:

At the top is the 'nothing' of White, an empty grid. Next are the 3 element primaries (C, M, and Y), each with 'all' of 1 and 'none' of the other 2. Below that, the compound primaries (R, G, and B) combining 2 out of 3. And at the bottom, the full strength of Black, with 5 out of 5 of all 3. 

As we've already learned, with 5 as a maximum and 0 as a minimum, these 8 Corner Colours show all the possible 'all or nothing' combinations of C, M, and Y. Here's a review of the 'Colour Sums':

In the Hue Matrix, the sums are the same, whether it's showing the element primary ingredients as a single column of 1, or a Matrix of 4 or 5 columns. With more columns, we can vary the ingredients in more steps. In the BTC deck, by varying 1, 2, or all 3 of the element primaries within the range of 6 possible quantities, we can make a total of 6 x 6 x 6 different mixes, giving us our 216 different colours.


Adding Hue to White gives us Tints, until we reach full Hue with 5 out of 5: 

When all 5 squares in a row are full, there is no room for White. That's why, at a glance, if you see a Colour Code that has a 5 in it, you know there is no White in that colour. And, looking at it the other way, if a Colour Code has no 5s, there is at least some White. Colour Codes with digits that range from 0 to 4 are Tints


Adding Hue to Hue shifts that Hue to a different place on the colour spectrum:

Colour Codes with at at least one 0 and one 5 are pure Hues. In this example, the amount of Yellow doesn't change; it starts at full-strength 5 and stays there. By adding Cyan, we aren't really ever seeing Cyan by itself, we're changing portions of the Yellow to Green, shifting the Hue from pure Yellow to pure Green. In the first step, the amount of added Cyan is less than half, so the Hue remains in the Yellow family, influenced by Green. In the second step, the amount of added Cyan is more than half, so the Hue has tipped into the Green family, influenced by Yellow (since Yellow is now less than half as a Hue on its own). By the time we get to pure Green, there is no independent Yellow in the Hue Matrix.


In this example, we start out with Magenta at full-strength 5. Adding the other two element primary ingredients, we aren't really adding Cyan or Yellow, we're changing portions of the Magenta to Black, shifting the Hue from a pure Hue to a Shade:

When all 3 squares in a column are full, the element primary ingredients add up to Black. That's why, at a glance, if you see a Colour Code that has no 0s in it, you know there is at least some Black in that colour. Colour Codes with digits that range from 1 to 5 are Shades


It's important to note that even when less than all the squares are filled in in any row, the parts that are there are full strength. It's like the battery indicator on your cell phone. If it's showing at half, it doesn't mean you have battery power that's only half as strong as when your phone is fully charged. It means that the power you have is still going to keep your phone working, but for only half as long. Or think about adding food colouring to white cake icing; a single drop won't change the White very much at all, and several drops will result in a brighter more 'colour-full' icing, but in both cases, the food colouring itself is the same full-strength ingredient.

This may be a bit counter-intuitive, because while it's true that Green is half Yellow and half Cyan, what that really means is Green is equal parts Yellow and Cyan, with both at full strength.

Technically speaking, if you only had 'half Yellow,' the other 'half' would be White, resulting in a Tint of Yellow; and if you only had 'half Cyan,' the other 'half' would be White, resulting in a Tint of Cyan. Together these would add up to a Tint of Green, and not full-strength Green.


The best way to learn to 'read' the Hue Matrix is to practice. Using the individual Colour Code digits, find sets of Colour Cards that create colour flows up and down, shifting 1, 2 or all 3 of the C, M, and Y values up and down in sequence. Observe how these increasing and decreasing quantities impact the colour, removing Hue to take the colour towards White, adding or subtracting Hues to shift the colour along the spectrum, or filling in the squares in all 3 rows to take a colour closer to Black. 

The Hue Matrix shows a colour in its most distilled-down version, splitting a single colour into its 3 element primary ingredients and then splitting each of those ingredients into parts equal to the quantity within the colour. But to get a true sense of what that colour is made of, what it looks like as a sum of Corner Colours, we have to think of the Matrix squares not on their own as individual parts of 12 or 15, but as columns of parts that add each up in single row, a summary of each column. It's that summary that will give us the colour's Formula, as Corner Hues, Connector Hues, Tints, Shades, and Tones.