An image with the hues cyclically shifted in HSL space
The hues in this image of a painted bunting are cyclically rotated over time.

Hue is one of the main properties (called color appearance parameters) of a color, defined technically (in the CIECAM02 model), as "the degree to which a stimulus can be described as similar to or different from stimuli that are described as red, green, blue, and yellow" (the unique hues). Orange and violet (purple) are the additional hues, for a total of six, as in the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet. The additional colour appearance parameters are colorfulness, chroma, saturation, lightness, and brightness.

Usually, colours with the same hue are distinguished with adjectives referring to their lightness and/or colorfulness, such as with "light blue", "pastel blue", "vivid blue". Exceptions include brown, which is a dark orange, and pink, a light red with reduced chroma.

In painting color theory, a hue refers to a pure color—one without tint or shade (added white or black pigment, respectively). A hue is an element of the color wheel. Hues are first processed in the brain in areas in the extended V4 called globs.

Computing hue

In opponent colour spaces in which two of the axes are perceptually orthogonal to lightness, such as the CIE 1976 (L*, a*, b*) (CIELAB) and 1976 (L*, u*, v*) (CIELUV) colour spaces, hue might be computed together with chroma by converting these coordinates from rectangular form to polar form. Hue is the angular component of the polar representation, while chroma is the radial component.

Specifically, in CIELAB

while, analogously, in CIELUV

where, atan2 is a two-argument inverse tangent.

Computing hue from RGB

Preucil describes a colour hexagon, similar to a trilinear plot described by Evans, Hanson, and Brewer, which might be used to compute hue from RGB. To place red at 0°, green at 120°, and blue at 240°,

Equivalently, one might solve

Preucil used a polar plot, which he termed a colour circle. Using R, G, and B, one might compute hue angle using the following scheme: determine which of the six possible orderings of R, G, and B prevail, then apply the formula given in the table below.

HSV colour space as a conical object
An illustration of the relationship between the "hue" of colours with maximal saturation in HSV and HSL with their corresponding RGB coordinates
OrderingHue region
Red–yellow
Yellow–green
Green–cyan
Cyan–blue
Blue–magenta
Magenta–red

Note that in each case the formula contains the fraction , where H is the highest of R, G, and B; L is the lowest, and M is the mid one between the additional two. This is referred to as the "Preucil hue error" and was used in the computation of mask strength in photomechanical colour reproduction.

Hue angles computed for the Preucil circle agree with the hue angle computed for the Preucil hexagon at integer multiples of 30° (red, yellow, green, cyan, blue, magenta, and the colours midway between contiguous pairs) and differ by approximately 1.2° at odd integer multiples of 15° (based on the circle formula), the maximal divergence between the two.

The process of converting an RGB colour into an HSL colour space or HSV colour space is usually based on a 6-piece piecewise mapping, treating the HSV cone as a hexacone, or the HSL double cone as a double hexacone. The formulae used are those in the table above.

Specialized hues

The hues exhibited by caramel colorings and beers are fairly limited in range. The Linner hue index is used to quantify the hue of such products.

Usage in art

Manufacturers of pigments use the word hue, for example, "cadmium yellow (hue)" to indicate that the original pigmentation ingredient, often toxic, has been replaced by safer (or cheaper) alternatives whilst retaining the hue of the original. Replacements are often used for chromium, cadmium and alizarin.

Hue vs. dominant wavelength

Dominant wavelength (or at times equivalent wavelength) is a physical analogue to the perceptual attribute hue. On a chromaticity diagram, a line is drawn from a white point through the coordinates of the colour in question, until it intersects the spectral locus. The wavelength at which the line intersects the spectrum locus is identified as the color's dominant wavelength if the point is on the same side of the white point as the spectral locus, and as the color's complementary wavelength if the point is on the opposite side.

Hue difference: or ?

There are two main ways in which hue difference is quantified. The first is the simple difference between the two hue angles. The symbol for this expression of hue difference is in CIELAB and in CIELUV. The additional is computed as the residual total colour difference after Lightness and Chroma differences have been accounted for; its symbol is in CIELAB and in CIELUV.

Names and additional notations for hues

There exists a few correspondence, more or less precise, between hue values and color terms (names). One approach in colour science is to use traditional colour terms but try to give them more precise definitions. See spectral color#Table of spectral or near-spectral colors for names of highly saturated colours with the hue from ≈ 0° (red) up to ≈ 275° (violet), and line of purples#Table of highly-saturated purple colors for colour terms of the remaining part of the colour wheel.

Alternative approach is to use a systematic notation. It can be a standard angle notation for certain colour model such as HSL/HSV mentioned above, CIELUV, or CIECAM02. Alphanumeric notations such as of Munsell colour system, NCS, and Pantone Matching System are additionally used.