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Introduction to Color Theory

The color wheel

12partwheel-bigThe wheel’s construction is actually quite simple. You have 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.

There are names for all of these colors, which are important to know. The following is a list of all of the names of colors and what they’re good for.

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.

Secondary Colors:

Orange, Green, Purple. 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.
Secondary colors are usually more interesting than primary colors, but they do not evoke speed and urgency.

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 eachother 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. For example, if you use a green background and have a red circle on it, the red will jump off the page and be almost blinding.

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.

There are plenty of other names and titles that refer to different aspects of color..

Warm Colors: Colors such as red, yellow, and orange. These colors evoke warmth because they remind us of things like the sun or fire.

Cool Colors: Colors like blue, green, and purple (violet). These colors evoke a cool feeling because they remind us of things like water or grass.

Neutral Colors: Gray, Brown. These aren’t on most color wheels, but they’re considered neutral because they don’t contrast with much of anything. They’re dull and uneventful.

Value: Usually refers to the amount of black in a color. The more black a color has, the darker its value.

Brightness: Refers to the amount of white in a color. The more white a color has, the brighter it is.

Saturation: Refers to the amount of a color used. When a color is at full saturation, it is extremely vibrant. When a color is “desaturated,” a large amount of color has been removed. Desaturated colors tend to be close to being neutral because there is so much gray in them.