Wednesday, July 3, 2013


So, a lot of people get intimidated by color theory terms and just give up.  
But everyone uses aspects of color theory to choose color combinations in real life, even if they don’t know the terms for what they’re matching together.

Here’s an introduction to the basics of color theory.
Let’s start with the 3 base colors: Blue, Yellow and Red.  These are “Primary colors” because they are the first, most basic colors that you mix together to get everything else (they are also an example of “Triad Colors”—3 colors that are equidistant around the color wheel).
Then you mix each of these colors together.  Now you color wheel goes: Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, Red, Purple (also called “Violet”).
Now mix those colors together along the wheel: Blue, Blue-Green, Green, Yellow-Green, Yellow, Yellow-Orange, Orange, Red-Orange, Red, Red-Violet, Violet, Blue-Violet.  These are “Intermediate Colors” (“in the middle”).

As you can see, you can keep blending your colors forever, getting a more and more complex color wheel.

OK, so you have colors! Now what do you do with them?
Pick one "Key Color" to experiment with.  How about Blue?  First, make a scale of that color from black to white.  This is called "Monochromatic Color."  So all you really need to start creating is a single color!
Now, how do you match different colors together? If you choose a Key Color on the color wheel the easiest thing is to match it with the color directly opposite it on the wheel.  These are “Complementary Colors” or “Contrast Colors.”  They always look happy and loud together.   Your eye is drawn to anything with so much contrast.   This is why you frequently see Blue and Orange together, or Red and Green… An interesting phenomenon is that if you mix complementary colors together, you will get browns that eventually reach a greyer color when exactly evenly mixed.
“Tetradic Color Schemes” are a combination of two sets of complementary colors.  This can be a little overwhelming, unless you use these colors judiciously.
What if you want a more harmonious grouping of colors, that don’t contrast as loudly?   Try “Analogous Colors,” which are all in a row in one section of the wheel (“analogous” means “similar,” or “related”).  For example, Violet, Blue and Green, or Blue, Blue-Green and Green.  These are colors that are comfortably near each other.  This variation along a single color group is frequently seen in nature, and feels pleasant to the eye.
 “Split Complementary Colors” combine the idea of complementary colors and analogous colors—you pair your Key Color with an analogous group of its complementary color.
With all of these color combinations, the eye is more relaxed if one color is dominant.  But it all depends on what effect you are trying to create.  How sharp a contrast are you seeking? How soothing?  How much color variation?  Take a look at some book covers or ads and see what effect the designers are trying to achieve.  Try designing something along one of these color schemes, and see what happens if you add another color...