Color Design theory – Introduction

Why is color important?  Color is a primary facet within the elements for design.  Color is such an important element and can have so much meaning behind its choice.  There is an entire industry dedicated to color based on emotion, supporting brands, designing rooms, this list can go on.  Color can grab your attention and lead our eyes around and even help determine how we can interact with objects, it has an effect on our emotions by expressing a mood, and can help enhance an object.  There are a number of people who lack the ability to see certain colors; however for the purpose of this explanation I will be discussing color theory for those who are not color blind.  Color is also different as it refers to in light – for this explanation I will only be discussing pigment.   The leader in the entire color industry is Pantone – they are an amazing resource for learning more about color trends, and coming up with new color pallets.   This is a completely basic introductory to color theory.

This lesson will include:

  • What the color wheel is
  • The different colors within the color wheel and what color pallet they are within
  • What Shades tints and tones are and how they are used
  • What the different color harmonies are

There are 3 types of colors based on the color wheel: Primary Colors, Secondary Colors and Tertiary Colors.  All colors that you see cannot be created from just these sets of colors, you will need tone, shades and base colors to create all the colors available.

Primary Colors: The primary colors include Red, Blue and Yellow.  These colors cannot be produced by any other colors.  With these three colors you can create any colors within the color wheel.

Secondary Colors: Secondary colors are Orange, Violet and Green.  You can produce a secondary color by mixing one primary color with another primary color.  By mixing Yellow and Red together you get orange, by mixing red and blue together you get violet, by mixing yellow and blue together you get green.

Tertiary Colors: Tertiary Colors include: Green-Blue, Yellow-Green, Yellow-Orange, Red-Orange, Red-violet, and Blue-Purple. Tertiary colors are created by mixing one primary color with one secondary color.

What is Black and White?  Black is technically if you added all the colors together in perfect proportion, however it is known as a Shade.  White is the lack of pigment or color this is known as a tint.  When you mix black and white together you get your neutral – grey or a Tone.   Black is a shade, white is a tint, and grey is tone.

In order to get all the colors that could be available you need to add tints, tones and shades to the colors.  Tints are adding white to pigment, shades are adding black to pigment.  The amount of variety you can get from adding these to the color wheel is endless.

When you only add shades or tints to ONE color it is called a Monochromatic color.

If you notice this is something that would look similar to something that you would see if you went to pick out your perfect paint color.  Depending on the amount of tint, tone or shade that you add to the color it can greatly change the outcome.

Color Harmonies
Color harmonies are putting colors together in a pleasing way based on the color wheel theory.  This is important because this is how you put together a pleasing color scheme within your design.  Having contrasting colors is having colors that do not match up together.    

Warm Colors – Include Red, Yellow, and Orange.  These colors are more vibrant and bright.   They can be used to make things stand out, or make a more lively impression.

Cool Colors- Include Green, Blue and Purple.  These colors are less vibrant and can create a feeling of quiet or restfulness.

Analogous colors – Analogous colors are colors that are next to each other on the color wheel.  For example, Red, orange and yellow are analogous colors as are Blue, Green and Yellow.   Analogous colors are often found within nature.  They can create a serene look.

Complimentary Colors- Are directly across from each other on the color wheel.  Complimentary colors are excellent to use is you are looking to make something stand out against other areas within your design.  Complimentary colors can occasionally be difficult to read within text.

Split Complimentary – The split-complementary color scheme is a variation of the complementary color scheme. In addition to the base color, it uses the two colors adjacent to its complement.

Triadic color scheme – A triadic color scheme uses colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel.

Rectangle (tetradic) color scheme – tetradic colors arrange four colors arranged into two complementary pairs.

Square color scheme- Similar to a rectangle color scheme by having two colors across from two other colors, but all four colors are evenly spaced around the color wheel.

Leave a comment