Intro to Color Theory

Color Theory

Since the early days of art and design, the use of color has followed many rules and guidelines, which are collectively known as color theory. There are two basic categories of color theory that are a good starting point for us: the color wheel and color harmony.

color wheel

Color Terms

Before we get to the fun stuff, a little vocabulary to review:

• Hue: synonymous with “color” or the name of a specific color; traditionally refers to one of the 12 colors on the color wheel

• Shade: a hue darkened with black

• Tone: a hue dulled with gray

• Tint: a hue lightened with white

• Saturation: refers to the intensity or purity of a color (the closer a hue approaches to gray, the more de-saturated it is)

• Value: refers to the lightness or darkness of a color

The Color Wheel

The relationship between colors can be shown through use of the color wheel.

The color wheel shows links between different colors based on the red, yellow, and blue content of each color. It was first developed by Sir Isaac Newton in the 1600s.

Primary_Colors-lrg - Copy.jpg

Primary Colors: Red, Yellow and Blue

In traditional color theory (used in paint and pigments), primary colors are the 3 pigment colors that cannot be mixed or formed by any combination of other colors. All other colors are derived from these 3 hues.

Secondary_colors-lrg - Copy.jpg

Secondary Colors: Green, Orange and Purple

These are the colors formed by mixing the primary colors.

Tertiary_Color-lrg - Copy.jpg

Tertiary Colors: Yellow-Orange, Red-Orange, Red-Purple, Blue-Purple, Blue-Green & Yellow-Green

These are the colors formed by mixing a primary and a secondary color.

Color Harmony

Color harmony delivers visual interest and a sense of order. There are many theories for harmony. The following descriptions present some basic formulas.

1. Monochromatic: various shades, tones, or tints of one color; for instance, a range of greens varying from light to dark



2. Analogous: hues that are side by side on the color wheel



3. Complementary: opposites on the color wheel, such as red/green or blue/orange



4. Split-Complementary: any color on the color wheel plus the two that flank its complement

Split Complementary

Split Complementary

5. Triadic: any three colors that are evenly spaced on the color wheel



The study of color is a fascinating and never ending pursuit. Hopefully you have enjoyed this crash course in color. More information to come in the future.

Be sure to visit our social forums with any questions or to discuss any of your own color adventures!