How to Make a Spinning Color TopIf more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. - J.R.R. Tolkien
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How to Make a Spinning Color Top

Back in the mid 18th century, Munsch and Ignaz Schiffermüller devised an ingenious way of experimenting with additive color mixing. They attached a disk to a top. The disk was colored with different portions of the primary light colors, red, green and blue. As they spun the disk very fast, the colors blended together to form a new color or hue.

A century later, James Clerk Maxwell and Ogden Rood developed a number of color theories using this spinning top.

How the Spinning Color Top Works

The disk is divided into three pie shaped areas. The areas can be any size and are the primary colors, red, green and blue. Spinning the disk creates an illusion of one single, pure hue of a color. The light reflected from the colors is visually mixed together causing the illusion. We can find out what mixture of primary colors is needed to make the hue we see by measuring the proportion of primary colors on the disk.

How to Make a Spinning Colored Top

You can easily make your own spinning top with these simple items. You will need:

  • Pencil with a point

  • Tape or glue

  • Piece of paper, heavier is better

Open one of these pdf files and print it. Cut out the colored circle.


Take your pencil and poke it through the center of the circle. It might help to cut the center open with an Exacto type knife.

Tape or glue the pencil in place, leaving enough room below the disk for your hands to spin it.


Spinning Color Optical Illusion

Watch this principle at work in a spinning optical illusion which uses only two colors.

Would you believe that you can sometimes see different colors than what is there on a spinning disk? This optical illusion is an attempt to recreate that effect.


Home Light Speed of Light Additive and Subtractive Colors CIE 1931 Color Space Colorimetry Color Space Color Temperature Spinning Color Top Glossary of Color Terms History of Color Science Metamerism Motion After Image Munsell Color System TriStimulus Refraction Double Slit Polarization Human Eyesight The Retina Color Optical Illusions More

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Color Theory for the Layman
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