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How many shades of yellow are?

How many shades of yellow are?

Yellow is a bright, warm color that captures the radiance of sunlight and evokes feelings of happiness and optimism. It comes in a wide spectrum of shades, from pastel lemon yellow to vibrant canary yellow. So how many different shades of yellow are there exactly? Let’s explore the diversity of yellow hues and how they are created.

The Color Spectrum of Yellow

The primary shade of yellow is the pure hue with no tints, tones or shades added. This primary yellow is the brightest and most intense yellow. From this pure hue, we get a range of shades when other colors are mixed in.

On the warm end of the yellow color spectrum, shades contain more red or orange. This creates vibrant warm yellows like goldenrod, gamboge, and saffron. On the cool end, shades mixed with green create cooler yellow hues like chartreuse, lime, and lemon yellow.

Yellow also has a wide range of lightness and saturation. Pale pastel yellows like cream have high lightness and low saturation. Bright neon yellows have high saturation but can vary in lightness. Rich earthy yellows like ochre have low lightness and moderate saturation.

How Many Named Yellow Shades Are There?

Many distinct shades of yellow have specific names, from amber and gold to lime and saffron. But it’s difficult to put an exact number on how many named shades of yellow exist.

In color theory, tertiary colors can be created by mixing a primary color with one or two secondary colors adjacent to it on the color wheel. For yellow, this gives hues like chartreuse (yellow-green), amber (yellow-orange) and citron (yellow-green-orange).

The Pantone Matching System (PMS), a standardized color reproduction system used in design and printing, has 20 unique yellow colors including 108U Lemon Yellow and 123U Process Yellow. The Natural Color System (NCS) identifies 140 distinct yellow shades by hue, chromaticness and lightness.

So there are at least dozens of specifically defined and named yellow shades. But new tints, tones and hues can always be created by mixing colors, so there is no definitive cap on the number of distinct yellows.

How Many Yellow Shades Can the Human Eye Distinguish?

While it’s impossible to put an exact count on all perceivable shades of yellow, scientists have sought to estimate how many differences in shade the human eye and brain can discern under ideal conditions.

Early estimates stated the human eye could see up to 200 shades of one color under ideal lighting and against a neutral background. More recent research indicates humans can distinguish many more gradations of color:

  • In the 1950s, scientists estimated the average person can distinguish 150 shades of yellow.
  • A 1987 study found the human eye can see 7.5 million colors.
  • Researchers in 2012 determined the human eye can detect over 10 million different colors, provided the shades are spaced evenly apart.

However, this number dramatically drops for similar shades clustered close together. Scientists assess that the average person can distinguish around 2.3 million colors that are just barely noticeably different. This still points to an impressive amount of color discernment.

This research indicates the human eye and brain can likely see several hundred thousand distinct shades of yellow, even though most individuals wouldn’t be able to name anywhere near that many.

Measuring Yellow Using RGB, HSL and Hex Codes

While we can’t assign names to every perceivable shade of yellow, we can precisely define shades mathematically. Color models like RGB, HSL and hex codes plot colors numerically based on properties like hue, saturation, lightness and red-green-blue composition.

These models give us the tools to systematically vary yellow shades. For example:

  • In RGB color space, yellow is created by combining green and red light. Varying the R and G values creates different yellow hues.
  • In HSL, yellow is defined by a hue of 60 degrees. Tweaking the saturation and lightness percentages gives new shades.
  • Hex color codes define yellow with combinations of the red (FF), green (FF) and blue (00) channels. There are 256 possible values per channel, equating to 16,777,216 possible yellow hex codes.

While these systems don’t name or categorize every shade, they allow us to precisely reproduce any yellow hue computable by modern screens and printers.

Key Variables Creating Unique Yellows

What are the key factors that create unique shades of yellow?


The dominant wavelength of light determines the basic hue of yellow. Pure yellow sits at about 570 nanometers on the visible light spectrum. Nearby wavelengths create shades leaning towards red or green.


The intensity and purity of color is its saturation. Neon or primary yellows have full saturation while pale pastels have low saturation.


How light or dark the shade is impacts its brightness value. Lightness is measured on a scale from white to black.


Yellow’s temperature skews warm due to its relationship with red and orange. But greenish-yellows take on a cooler tone.

Color Property Measure Example Shades
Hue Wavelength Lemon, Canary, Chartreuse
Saturation Intensity of color Pastel, Primary, Neon
Brightness Light vs dark Gold, Khaki, Ochre
Temperature Warm vs cool Amber, Lemon, Lime

By modifying these elements, we can create a vast spectrum of distinct yellow shades.

Popular and Notable Shades of Yellow

While yellow has countless shades, some stand out as especially popular or significant:

Lemon Yellow

This light, cool yellow mimics the color of lemon peel. It represents spring and has a cheerful, uplifting effect.


Gold’s warm, glowing yellow is associated with wealth, prosperity and success. Metallic gold adds shine.

Canary Yellow

Named after a bright yellow songbird, this energizing yellow embodies joy and optimism.


Amber is a golden yellow that radiates warmth. As a fossilized tree resin, it is timeless and natural.

Yellow Green

The cool yellow-green of new spring growth and foliage. It connotes renewal and vitality.


A yellow with hints of orange, evoking the color of sunflowers and summer.

School Bus Yellow

This vivid, attention-grabbing yellow has cautionary associations from school buses and traffic signs.


Mustard yellow has spicy, tangy connotations. Different strengths of French’s mustard have distinctive yellow shades.

How Yellow Pigments Are Produced

What gives yellow its coloring? In nature, yellow comes from pigments in plants, minerals and animals. Here are some key yellow pigments and how they are used:


This bright, warm pigment comes from the turmeric root. It is used as a spice, food coloring and dye. Turmeric contains up to 5% curcumin.


Lutein is a yellow carotenoid found in marigolds and egg yolks. It is an antioxidant and commonly used as a natural food coloring.


Saffron comes from the threads of Crocus sativus flowers. It provides an intense golden yellow but is extremely expensive to harvest.


This opaque, resinous yellow pigment comes from gamboge trees. It has been used as a paint and dye for centuries.


Orpiment is an arsenic sulfide mineral that emits a deep, warm yellow but is also highly toxic. It was a common pigment until the 19th century.

Cadmium Yellow

Cadmium yellow is a vivid, opaque pigment made from cadmium salts. Due to toxicity, many modern paints use hues like azo yellow instead.


Yellow occurs in an extraordinary diversity of shades and gradations. While it’s impossible to definitively count all perceivable yellows, the human eye can likely distinguish hundreds of thousands of unique yellow hues. Color theory gives us the tools to systematically vary yellow’s properties of hue, saturation, lightness and temperature to generate new shades. So next time you glimpse a yellow flower or paint sample, consider the vast spectrum encapsulated by those vibrant yellow tones.