Transmitted light microscopy is used in pathology to examine stained tissues. Digital image analysis is gaining importance as a means to quantify alterations in tissues. A prerequisite for accurate and reproducible quantification is the possibility to recognise stains in a standardised manner, independently of variations in the staining density. The usefulness of three colour models was studied using data from computer simulations and experimental data from an immuno-doublestained tissue section. Direct use of the three intensities obtained by a colour camera results in the red-green-blue (RGB) model. By decoupling the intensity from the RGB data, the hue-saturation-intensity (HSI) model is obtained. However, the major part of the variation in perceived intensities in transmitted light microscopy is caused by variations in staining density. Therefore, the hue-saturation-density (HSD) transform was defined as the RGB to HSI transform, applied to optical density values rather than intensities for the individual RGB channels. In the RGB model, the mixture of chromatic and intensity information hampers standardisation of stain recognition. In the HSI model, mixtures of stains that could be distinguished from other stains in the RGB model could not be separated. The HSD model enabled all possible distinctions in a two-dimensional, standardised data space. In the RGB model, standardised recognition is only possible by using complex and time-consuming algorithms. The HSI model is not suitable for stain recognition in transmitted light microscopy. The newly derived HSD model was found superior to the existing models for this purpose.