Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 170, Issue 5, pp 533-543

The colour hexagon: a chromaticity diagram based on photoreceptor excitations as a generalized representation of colour opponency

  • Lars ChittkaAffiliated withFreie Universität Berlin, Institut für Neurobiologie

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


A chromaticity diagram which plots the 3 photoreceptor excitations of trichromatic colour vision systems at an angle of 120° is presented. It takes into acount the nonlinear transduction process in the receptors. The resulting diagram has the outline of an equilateral hexagon. It is demonstrated by geometrical means that excitation values for any type of spectrally opponent mechanism can be read from this diagram if the weighting factors of this mechanism add up to zero. Thus, it may also be regarded as a general representation of colour opponent relations, linking graphically the Young-Helmholtz theory of trichromacy and Hering's concept of opponent colours. It is shown on a geometrical. basis that chromaticity can be coded unequivocally by any two combined spectrally opponent mechanisms, the main difference between particular mechanisms being the extension and compression of certain spectral areas. This type of graphical representation can qualitatively explain the Bezold-Brücke phenomenon. Furthermore, colour hexagon distances may be taken as standardized perceptual colour distance values for trichromatic insects, as is demonstrated by comparison with behavioural colour discrimination data of 3 hymenopteran species.

Key words

Colour vision Chromaticity diagrams Opponent processes Colour computation Bezold Brücke phenomenon