Each of the six "flavors" of quarks can have three different "colors". The quark forces are attractive only in "colorless" combinations of three quarks (baryons), quark-antiquark pairs (mesons) and possibly larger combinations such as the pentaquark that could also meet the colorless condition. Quarks undergo transformations by the exchange of W bosons, and those transformations determine the rate and nature of the decay of hadrons by the weak interaction.

What's the difference between Quark Colors and Flavors, I've heard them used in the same way before. So what exactly is the difference between the three colors and 6 flavours?

  • $\begingroup$ They're extremely different... in fact, I don't know anything the two have in common. Can you give an example of a source that mixes these two things up? Or what you think they do have in common? $\endgroup$
    – knzhou
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/particles/quark.html $\endgroup$
    – EasyPeasy
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 18:37

3 Answers 3


One is talking quantum mechanics and attributed quantum numbers to elementary particles.

A simple quantum number is charge and it it assigned to quarks ( and antiquarks) as +/-1/3 or +/-2/3 as in the table


Charge is connected with the electromagnetic force.

Flavor is assigned as a quantum number to each quark, and it is connected with the weak interaction.

Each quark at the same time is connected with the strong color force of quantum chromo dynamics. So it can also come in the three color quantum numbers, for identification called red blue and green ( analogous to the weak Strange Charm Bottom Top).

The identifications are not random, they are within the SU(3)xSU(2)xU(1) group representations and algebra of the standard model of particle physics.

The quark forces are attractive only in "colorless" combinations .

Attractive is a wrong attribute. Color is always attractive, but it can be "nullified" in certain color combinations so that stable bound states of quarks appear, as with the rest of the quote.

Flavor characterizes the weak interactions of the quarks. Color the strong ones.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thank you anna, your last line sums it up so much better than my copy and paste answer. $\endgroup$
    – user108787
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 19:07

The "flavor" is the type of quark, like up or down.
"Color" is a characteristic property, somehow similar to electric charge just that it can have three values and not just two.

Going back to a less deep level, an analogy may be particles that can be protons, neutrons, electrons, mesons, etc. These will be like "flavors" of particles. Each one of these have some electric charge associated. (like color).


I am pretty sure you know the different flavors and their mass and charge differences, but the color question in one way seems to be moot, they are arbitrarily assigned as long as the hadrons get three giving white and the mesons get their whiteness from the anticolor of the antiquark.

From Quarks Wikipedia

Just as the laws of physics are independent of which directions in space are designated x, y, and z, and remain unchanged if the coordinate axes are rotated to a new orientation, the physics of quantum chromodynamics is independent of which directions in three-dimensional color space are identified as blue, red, and green. SU(3)c color transformations correspond to "rotations" in color space (which, mathematically speaking, is a complex space). Every quark flavor f, each with subtypes fB, fG, fR corresponding to the , forms a triplet: a three-componentquantum field which transforms under the fundamental representation of SU(3)c. 

The stipulation that the SU(3)c group should be local – that is, that its transformations be allowed to vary with space and time – determines the properties of the strong interaction. It corresponds with the existence of 8 generators of SU (3) implying the existence of eight gluon types to act as its force carrier.

enter image description here

Just for future users, as I am sure you have seen this quark flavor/ standard model chart countless times, I'll include it anyway.

enter image description here


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