Hands-on Activity: RGB to Hex Conversion

Contributed by: VU Bioengineering RET Program, School of Engineering, Vanderbilt University

Zeros and ones float over a dark grey background.
Learning unit conversion between RGB and hexadecimal.
Copyright © 2004 Microsoft Corporation, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA


Students practice converting between RGB and hexadecimal (hex) formats. They learn about mixing primary colors in order to get the full spectrum of colors and how to average pixel values.

Engineering Connection

Red, green and blue (RGB) are the primary colors of light and it is through the use of these three colors that digital images are made. Representing pixel values in hex is a convenient way to analyze and manipulate digital images. Such operations fall under the field of digital signal processing, a sub-field of electrical engineering. Digital signal processing is important in many types of communication technologies and data transmission.

Pre-Req Knowledge

  • A basic understanding of the definitions of digital image, pixel, RGB and hexadecimal.
  • Previous exposure to the equations and process used to convert between RGB and hexadecimal.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Find the color of a specific pixel in an image.
  • Convert the RGB value of a pixel to hexadecimal.
  • Average a pixel's value from surrounding pixels.
  • Explain how this information connects to engineering.

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Materials List

Each student needs:


Tell me what you know about digital images? What's a pixel? What are we talking about when we say RGB and hexadecimal? What do they have to do with digital images? (Listen to student responses. Correct and amend their understanding, as necessary.)

In this activity, you will practice converting between RGB and hex representations of a pixel value. Then you will explore a website dealing with color and figure out how to find the average value of a pixel from the values of the pixels surrounding it.


digital image: An image represented in binary.

hexadecimal: A number system that uses 16 different symbols per placeholder, 0-9 and A-F. The first 30 numbers are: 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,A,B,C,D,E,F,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,1A,1B,1C,1D.

pixel: One of the small discrete elements that constitutes a digital image.


  1. Gather materials, arrange for computer access and make copies of the worksheet.
  2. Divide the class into student pairs and hand out the worksheets.
  3. Direct student groups to do the conversions between RGB and hex on the worksheet.
  4. Then have students go to the the DEW Power of Digital Images website to read about digital images and making colors with light (as opposed to pigment), and summarize on the worksheet what they learned.
  5. Next, have students average the pixel values surrounding a central pixel to find the value of the central pixel.
  6. As a class, share and discuss students' results and conclusions. Link what they've just done to real-worl engineering by explaining that computer science engineers make similar calculations as part of their work.



Pre-Activity: Ask students questions to assess their base knowledge of the background knowledge for this activity, and amend as necessary. Ask the students: What do you know about digital images? What is a pixel? What do RGB and hexadecimal have to do with digital images?

Embedded and Post-Activity/Lesson: Observe students' calculations and answers as they work through the worksheet. At activity end, review their answers to gauge their depth of understanding of the lesson and activity content.


Gould, Alan. Introduction: The Power of Digital Images. Last updated February 28, 2012. All About Digital Earth Watch-Chapter 1, Digital Earth Watch, Global Systems Science, The Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California Berkeley. Accessed June 13, 2013. http://dew.globalsystemsscience.org/about/allaboutdew/01-intro
PDF version of the above DEW website: http://www.lawrencehallofscience.org/gss/dew/documents/AllAboutDEW201204.pdf


Mark Gonyea; Anna Goncharova; Rachelle Klinger


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2010 Vanderbilt University

Supporting Program

VU Bioengineering RET Program, School of Engineering, Vanderbilt University


The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under National Science Foundation RET grant nos. 0338092 and 0742871. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.