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Mastering the Color Wheel and Color Theory

Aug 23, 2022
Mastering the Color Wheel and Color Theory

Have you ever found it challenging to decide on what colors to use?

Don't worry. All artists and designers encounter this problem at some point. We all struggle with color combinations until we discover the color theory and color wheel.

So, what are they, and how can they help you choose the right colors for your work? Learn all you need to know in this article.

The Color Theory and Color Wheel

Color theory is an artistic and scientific practice used to determine the relationship between colors. It has been around for centuries as it originated from the work of one of the greatest artists, Leonardo da Vinci, in the 1490s.

However, the color theory didn't gain popularity until the legendary Isaac Newton invented the color wheel in 1666. The color wheel is a circle that consists of various colored areas that show different color combinations.

Colors that combine well are called complementary colors. By understanding color theory and how to use the color wheel, you can get the best out of colors and make the desired psychological effects on the viewer.

So, What Does the Color Wheel Look Like?

We have two forms of color wheels. First is the RYB color wheel featuring a red, yellow, and blue scheme.

Designers use it to choose their color palette or the right colors to combine to get the intended results.

We also have the RGB wheel for digital designers. RGB stands for red, green, and blue, and this wheel makes it easier for digital designers to select the right colors for screens and digital media.

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The Classification of Colors

A color wheel usually consists of 12 primary colors. Designers and artists split them into three categories, namely primary, secondary, and tertiary colors.

Primary Colors

Primary colors are the most basic category of colors in a color wheel. When developing a color wheel, you can create secondary and tertiary colors from these colors.

The colors are red, yellow, and blue are the primary colors in the RYB color wheel. You can't create any of these colors by mixing others.

As for the RGB color wheel, the primary colors are red, green, and blue. The combination of these three colors produces white light.

Secondary Colors.

Secondary colors are what you get from the mixture of two primary colors. They are also three in number.

To create secondary colors in the RYB model, you can combine red and yellow (orange), red and blue (purple), and yellow and blue (green).

Meanwhile, the secondary colors in the RGB model include yellow, magenta, and cyan. Red and green (yellow), blue and red (magenta), and red and blue (cyan). You will need to add visible light to create these colors.

Tertiary Colors.

A color wheel consists of six tertiary colors. To create these colors, mix a primary color with the secondary color next to it.

In the RYB model, you can produce combinations such as yellow-green, yellow-orange, red-violet, red-orange, blue-green, and blue-violet.

As for the RGB model, the possible tertiary colors include orange, azure, rose, violet, chartreuse green, and spring green.

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Warm and Cool Colors.

The colors can also be classified based on their temperature, i.e., warm and cool colors.

What's the significance of color temperature? Color psychology tells us we feel a certain way when we see colors. For instance, cool colors like red and orange signify warmth, energy, and passion, while blue and green signify coolness, peace, and serenity.

Color Combinations.

You can create color schemes in several ways using the color wheel. However, you must first understand how to combine the colors.

Complementary Color Scheme.

Complementary colors sit on opposite sides of the wheel. When these colors are combined, they produce a high-contrast appearance. You should use a complementary color scheme when you need something bright and prominent.

Monochromatic Color Scheme.

A monochromatic color scheme involves different variations of a single color. It helps designers to create a serene and relaxing feel. When it is done right, it makes designs appear harmonious.

Analogous Color Scheme.

The analogous color scheme consists of three colors positioned next to one another. Designers love it for its versatility, but you should use it carefully. Combine a dominant color with two passive colors to prevent your design from becoming overwhelming.

Triadic Color Scheme.

The triadic color scheme incorporates three evenly spaced colors. It is an excellent alternative to complementary colors because it produces a high contrast while being more harmonious. Use this color scheme to produce bold and lively color palettes.

Tetradic Color Scheme.

Tetradic color schemes consist of four evenly spaced colors. It would help to make one color more dominant than the others to get the best results.

Some Important Terms.

To understand the color wheel better, you need to familiarize yourself with some terms:


A hue is the primary form of any color on the wheel. Depending on your needs, you can create lighter or darker hues.


A shade represents a more profound variation of a hue. Shades are usually dominating and intense. You can create one by mixing a base hue with the color black.


A tint is a lighter variation of a hue. Tints are less intense and great for balancing colors. You can tint a hue by mixing it with the color white.


A tone is similar to a tint, representing the lighter version of a hue. You can create it by adding grey or a mixture of white and black.

Final Thoughts.

We have covered the basics of the color wheel theory. You can now use the knowledge gained to improve your designs. However, there is still a lot to learn about color theory.

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Frequently Asked Questions:

Which colors go well together?

The colors that combine well on a color wheel are complementary, i.e., colors on opposite sides.

What are the 12 hues of the color wheel?

The colors in the RYB model are red, yellow, blue, purple, orange, green, red-orange, red-violet, blue-green, blue-violet, yellow-green, and yellow-orange.

What are the seven major color schemes?

The seven major color schemes are complementary, split complementary, monochromatic, analogous, triadic, square, and tetradic.

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