Color Theory

The Color Wheel:

The color wheel's construction is actually quite simple. You have your 6 basic colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Then, depending on which wheel you're looking at, you have extra, "in-between" colors that are mixes of the basic colors.

So that everyone is on the same page, the following are names the various colors, which are important to know, and basic terms which you're likely to hear during the class.

Primary Colors

Red, Yellow, Blue. These 3 colors are the base colors for every other color on the color wheel. This is why they're called "primary." When you mix two primaries together, you get a secondary color. Also note the triangular positioning of the primary colors on the color wheel, and how the secondary colors are next to them. Primary colors are useful for designs or art that needs to have a sense of urgency. Primary colors are the most vivid colors when placed next to each other, which is why you'll notice that most fast food joints use primary colors in their logos, as it evokes speed.

Secondary Colors:

Orange, Green, Purple/Violet. These 3 colors are what you get when you mix the primary colors together. They're located in-between the primary colors to indicate what colors they're made from. Notice how green is in-between yellow and blue.

Tertiary Colors:

These are those "in-between" colors like Yellow-Green and Red-Violet. They're made by mixing one primary color and one secondary color together. There can be endless combinations of tertiary colors, depending on how they're mixed.

Complementary Colors:


Red and Green, Blue and Orange, Purple and Yellow. These are the colors directly across from each other on the color wheel. They're called "complementary" because, when used together, they become extremely vibrant and have heavy contrast. Complementary colors are useful when you want to make something stand out.

In the illustration above, there are several variations of yellow-green in the leaves and several variations of red-purple in the orchid. These opposing colors create maximum contrast and maximum stability.

Analogous Colors:


Red and Orange, Blue and Green, etc. These are colors right next to each other on the color wheel. They usually match extremely well, but they also create almost no contrast. They're good for very serene-feeling designs and artwork where you want viewers to feel comfortable.

Warm and cool colors:

The color circle can be divided into warm and cool colors. Warm colors are vivid and energetic, and tend to advance in space. Cool colors give an air of calm, and create a soothing impression.

White, black and gray are considered to be neutral.

Other Color Schemes:

Triadic color scheme:


A triadic color scheme uses colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel. Triadic color schemes tend to be quite vibrant, even if you use pale or unsaturated versions of your hues. To use a triadic harmony successfully, the colors should be carefully balanced – let one color dominate and use the two others for accent.

Split-Complementary color scheme:


The split-complementary color scheme is a variation of the complementary color scheme. In addition to the base color, it uses the two colors adjacent to its complement. This color scheme has the same strong visual contrast as the complementary color scheme, but has less tension. The split-complimentary color scheme is often a good choice for beginners, because it is difficult to mess up.

Rectangle (tetradic) color scheme:


The rectangle or tetradic color scheme uses four colors arranged into two complementary pairs. This rich color scheme offers plenty of possibilities for variation. Tetradic color schemes works best if you let one color be dominant. You should also pay attention to the balance between warm and cool colors in your design.

Square color scheme:


The square color scheme is similar to the rectangle, but with all four colors spaced evenly around the color circle. Square color schemes works best if you let one color be dominant. You should also pay attention to the balance between warm and cool colors in your design.