We propose what is to our knowledge a novel technique for filtering a two-dimensional multichannel color image based on its interpretation as a three-dimensional (3D) signal and the application of a 3D Fourier transform. The color image is considered to have the two usual spatial coordinates with the color distribution as the third dimension of the signal. This approach permits the 3D generalization of the usual phase-only filter and phase correlation, and color pattern recognition can be performed by means of a 3D correlation. We analyze two cases: whitening only along the color Fourier spectrum and whitening the whole 3D Fourier spectrum. We study the transformation induced in the color content of the image by the whitening of the color Fourier spectrum and how it affects the correlation distribution. In particular it is demonstrated that the whitening of the 3D Fourier spectrum improves the recognition performance of the correlation. © 2003 Optical Society of America.