Humans are endowed with the facility to perceive colour. This not only provides an additional aesthetic dimension but also helps perform visual tasks efficiently. There are many occupations, including inspection, not open to those with defective colour vision. Todays machine vision systems are virtually all colour-blind. Yet there are applications where colour is intrinsic. Consider for example the inspection and grading of fruit, vegetables, biscuits and other food products. Consider also the widespread use of colour coding for wiring and components in the electrical and electronic industries. Automatic optical inspection of such things cannot be done without relating to colour. There are other applications where colour is not directly relevant but the additional information provided can help simplify and speed up the processing task. This paper reviews the nature of colour, relating the psychophysical aspects of colour perception and the physical properties of available sensors to the needs of an automatic inspection system. The theory of colour perception is based on the tri-stimulus theory which says that any colour may be matched using appropriate proportions of three primary colours. Although later experiments have suggested human colour perception is more complex, most electronic video sensors employ a three colour system. Usually the red, green and blue primary components are derived and may be used directly as sensory inputs to a vision system. However the primary representation of colour is not the most efficient means of encoding nor is it the most useful basis for interpretive processing. The R,G and B primary signals may be simply transformed into a new coordinate system where one of the axes represents true object colour or hue. Using this new colour space simplifies processing. These ideas are illustrated by an inspection example. The colour coded wires of a European power cable are identified to ensure that a power plug is safely wired. For this application a straightforward and reliable inspection system can only be produced using colour information.