Color the world with compelling color schemes

Jürgen Heiss

Let’s set a familiar scenario: you’ve made a great design, but despite your hard work there’s something that still doesn’t look right. What could it be? It might be your color scheme.

If this scenario is all too familiar, then it might be time to refresh yourself on the color wheel. Learn how to mix and match colors in an aesthetically pleasing and compelling color scheme.

The Color Wheel

The color wheel’s basic colors are called primary colors:

  • Red
  • Yellow
  • Blue

 

Primary colors are NOT made from any other color — they stand on their own. However, primary colors can produce other colors when they are mixed together.
When we mix the primaries, we call these colors secondary colors:
  • Red + Yellow = Orange
  • Yellow + Blue = Green
  • Blue + Red = Purple
secondary-color
The rest of the six colors are called tertiary colors which are the mixing of one primary color and one secondary color.
They are made from the combination of:
  • Red + Orange
  • Orange + Yellow
  • Yellow+ Green
  • Green + Blue
  • Blue + Purple
  • Purple + Red
Moving further into the color wheel, let’s learn the different ways you can combine the colors — this is where the fun starts!

Warm and Cool Colors

The color wheel is made up of warm and cool colors. Warm colors look vivid and give us a sense of energy and comfort. They also appear closer to the viewer. Cool colors look calm and give us a refreshing feeling. Cool colors appear farther from the viewer which makes them perfect for background colors.

Learn more on How Color Impacts Emotions and Behaviors.

Complementary Colors

Complementary colors are two colors that are directly opposite from each other on the color wheel. For example, red is a complimentary color of green, and yellow is a complimentary color of purple.

Since these colors are located across from each other, we get two colors that have a high contrast. Try not to overuse complimentary colors because of it’s high contrast. The only time you should use them is when you want something to really stand out.

Another thing to keep in mind: make sure your color choices don’t remind your viewers of something else. For example, Red + Green tends to give a Christmas feeling if it’s overused.

Here is an example where the cool color (Light blue) is in the background and its warm complementary color (Orange) is the font:
Here is the same example with the warm color as the background and the cool color as the font:
As you can see, the look and feel is completely different, so make sure you pick colors that fit the feel you are going for.

Analog Colors

Analog colors lie on either side of a given color. Unlike complementary colors, the contrast is low which makes them perfect for any kind of design.

Triads

Triade colors are three colors that are spaced evenly on the color wheel and are great to use if you want a colorfully balanced design.
One of the more popular triades is the primary triade which is built with the primary colors. The primary triade is very popular for children toys because the simple colors make it easy on children’s eyes.
Again, make sure you give the right feel to your project. You don’t want an IT Company’s logo to look like it was meant for a children’s store.
In addition to the primary triade, there are three other triades that can be found on the color wheel: one secondary triade and two tertiary triades.
These triades produce great color combinations! Particularly, the tertiary triades which have a good contrast and harmonic feel.
You might not have thought to combine these colors but give it a try on your next design.
I hope you aren’t tired yet, we still have more to learn!

Split Complementary

Split complementary colors is a “special triade.” Instead of using three evenly-spaced colors, we choose one base color and use its complementary color’s two neighbor colors. This might seem technical, so check out the image below to fully understand:
Your designs will have a strong visual contrast and a refreshing look with this color scheme.

Tints & Shades

So far, we have learned a lot about color schemes and you might be thinking, “How the hell do I make designs with only 12 colors?” This is where tints and shades come into play.
Tints are when you add white to any base color on the color wheel. I added an additional 20% of white on each inner circle:
Shades are when you add black to each base color in the color wheel. I added an additional 20% of black on each inner circle:
The base color can also be called a Hue which is a pure color with NO tints or shades. A hue is commonly referred to by its color name: red, green, etc.

Monochromatic

Monochromatic color schemes are quite simple, choose a hue then use shades or tints to get a variety of the color. Monochromatic color schemes are great and I love them! They are nice to look at and are great for a variety of designs, like web design.

You can create more than two tints or shades from one hue but in my example, I have added 20% and 40% of black and white to these hues:

 

You have successfully scraped the surface of color harmony and there is WAY more to learn, but this tutorial is a great start.
Now, it’s time to color the world and make awesome color schemes for your designs, but don’t forget to wash your hands. 🙂

 

Have any more questions about color schemes? Let us know in the comments.

Related articles

And the 2017 Pantone Color of the Year is…

And the 2017 Pantone Color of the Year is…

Every year the world waits with baited breath for Pantone’s big color announcement, which sets the creative stage for industries like fashion, home decor and (of course) graphic design. The annual selection is meant not only to predict aesthetic trends, but take our global temperature. The chosen color is a cultural representation of the world’s current mood and attitude,…

34 red logos that are red hot

34 red logos that are red hot

When it comes to logo design, there are few colors as visceral as red. Commonly associated with fire, hearts and roses, the warm color exudes boldness, beauty and inspiration. The artist Henri Matisse went so far as to say, “A certain red has an effect on your blood pressure.” So how has this fierce color…

The history and meaning of blue

The history and meaning of blue

From the ocean to the sky, the color blue is seemingly everywhere. Civilizations have long venerated this color for its strong and practical applications. In the past it was a color reserved for royalty, but today nearly everyone walks around in blue jeans. Hospitals use blue on their walls for its relaxed effect, and graphic…

Current Design Contests

Designers, check out these contests so you can start building your career.
0%