The colour wheel is an illustrated map of colour. A vivid amalgamation of art and science. The colour wheel’s inventor, Isaac Newton, invented the wheel to illuminate the relationship between hues, tints and shades. Your iPhone won’t include a colour wheel app next to Calculator and Measure, nevertheless it’s super important to the creative industry. Use a colour wheel to identify primary (red, yellow and blue), secondary (orange, purple and green) and tertiary colours. In future articles, we’ll delve deeper and deeper into colour theory.
In this tutorial, I’ll demonstrate how to design a colour wheel in Adobe Illustrator—simple!
Step 1: Colour wheel
Firstly, select the Ellipse Tool (L). Click the artboard and, before releasing the click, pull the cursor out to draw an ellipse. Hold Shift while dragging to maintain a perfect circle. Tip: Hold Option/Alt to draw a circle from the centre of the cursor/artboard.
Step 2: Line Segment Tool
Next up, draw a straight line using the Line Segment Tool (\). Hold Shift to maintain a 90° angle. Position the line as shown—ensure it’s centred with the Align panel and Horizontal Align Center tool—and ensure it extends past the circle.
Step 3: Spin the colour wheel
Now, select the line and double-click the Rotate Tool (R) tool. By default, the point of rotation should be central to the line. In this tutorial, we want to divide the circle into 12 segments. One full rotation is 360° degrees. 360°÷12=30. In short, we’ll need to set the rotation angle to 30°. Select Copy.
Step 4: Transform Again
Now, right-click the new line and select Transform Again (⌘D). This will produce another line, another 30° from the previous. Repeat this action until the circle is divided into 12 equal segments, as shown.
Step 5: Paste in Place
Next, let’s split each segment into a further seven segments. Select the circle, Copy (⌘C) and Paste in Place (⇧⌘V). This will produce an identical circle in the same position as the original.
Step 6: Transform Panel
Select the new circle and open the Transform panel. Click the Width field and, following the px value, input /7 to divide that existing value by seven. Click the Artboard to see the result. Our tutorial circle is now 102.857px × 102.857px.
Step 7: Blend Tool
Select the two circles and double-click the Blend Tool (W). Input 5 Specified Steps—click OK. To complete the action, click the topmost point of the outer circle, followed by the topmost point of the inner circle (represented by the two green dots in the above image). This will produce five new circles between the two existing circles. Want to learn more about the Blend Tool, click here.
Step 8: Expand the colour wheel
Select the new blend and click Object > Expand… to ungroup the selection. Expand the Object and click OK. This will allow us to manipulate the new circles.
Step 9: Divide the colour wheel
Now, let’s split the lines into editable segments. Select All (⌘A), open the Pathfinder panel and, under Pathfinders, click Divide. Our segments are now editable. Learn more about Pathfinders here.
Step 10: Colour
If, like me, you’ve been drawing without a Fill colour, Select All (⌘A) and click the White swatch. Now, select the Direct Selection Tool (A) and select a segment. Fill that segment with the corresponding swatch—use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to colour pick from the tutorial colour wheel. Continue to Fill the colour wheel. In the above screenshot, I’ve given the project a black outline. This is to make it easier to see the individual divided shapes.
Colour wheel tutorial complete
Once you’ve applied a Fill colour to each segment, it should resemble the above illustration. Congratulations, you’ve made a colour wheel in Adobe Illustrator. Want to learn more about colour? Read our next article here: Tutorial: How to use Blending Modes in Adobe Illustrator. Don’t have Adobe Illustrator? Click here to make an account.