Color is all around us. It’s how we see and interpret the world. But have you thought about what colors go together? The color wheel can help you find color combinations that soothe, energize or balance a room. Learn what designers already know: knowing how to use the wheel makes you look like a color genius
The color wheel typically contains 12 colors, but some have 24. The 12 colors are:
- Teal (Blue-green)
- Blue-violet (Indigo)
When artists, advertisers, and interior designers create, they select colors wisely because they understand color theory. You can use the wheel and color theory to choose the perfect color combination with confidence.
The color wheel was invented by Isaac Newton in the 1600s. He mapped the color spectrum from a prism onto a circle. This wheel is the basis of color theory because it shows how colors relate to each other.
What are the Types of Color Wheel?
There are three types of color wheel.
The RYB or red, yellow, blue color wheel is used by painters to create colors.
The RGB, or red, green and blue color wheel, is used by computer screens and TVs because it mixes light.
The third type of color wheel involves cyan, magenta, yellow and black or CMYK. These ink colors are layered in the printing process to create all of the other colors. For the purposes of this article, we will stick to the RYB and the RGB color wheel.
Additive and Subtractive Color Systems
An artist who paints uses what’s called the subtractive color system. A designer, when choosing colors digital media, uses the additive color system.
Additive and subtractive are ways of mixing colors.
As you might guess, an additive color system the color is changed by adding different colors.
With the subtractive color system, the color changes occur when colors are taken away.
For example, if you want a color to appear more blue with the additive color system, you simply add more blue to the color.
With the subtractive color system, you subtract until you have the color blue. If you blend all of the additive system colors of red, green, and blue equally, you will create white. If all of the colors for the subtractive system are mixed in equal amounts, yellow, magenta, and cyan, you create black.
How Does a Color Wheel Work?
What are Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Colors?
Primary colors are those that cannot be created by mixing other colors. Red, yellow and blue are primary colors. the RYB color wheel has the 12 colors listed above.
There are also 12 main colors on the RGB color wheel, these hues are red, orange, yellow, chartreuse green, green, spring green, cyan, azure, blue, violet, magenta and rose.
What are Primary Colors?
The color wheel is into primary, secondary and tertiary colors.
in the RGB color wheel, primary colors are the ones that, added together, create pure white light. These colors are red, green and blue.
In the RYB color wheel, primary colors are colors that can’t be created from other colors. These are red, yellow, and blue.
What are Secondary Colors?
Secondary colors result from mixing two primary colors. There are three secondary colors in each color wheel.
In the RGB color wheel, these are cyan, magenta and yellow.
When you mix light, red and green make yellow, green and blue make cyan, and blue and red make magenta.
In the RYB color wheel, the secondary colors are purple which is red mixed with blue, orange that occurs when red mixes with yellow, and green made from yellow mixed with blue.
These are colors made by combining one secondary color with one primary color. There are six tertiary colors. In the RGB color wheel these are orange, chartreuse green, spring green, azure, violet and rose.
In the RYB color wheel, the tertiary colors are red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet.
Warm and cool colors
The color wheel can also be divided into warm and cool colors.
Warm colors are the colors from red through to yellow. Think fire and the sun.
Cool colors are the colors from blue to green and purple. These colors remind us of ice, water and shade.
Adobe Color’s Color Wheel Tool Free
A great free tool to use is Adobe Color and its Color Wheel Tool. This tool allows you to create color combinations, look at shades, tints and tones of colors.
What are Shades, Tints, and Tones?
You can create shades, tints and tones of a color by adding black, grey and white to a color.
A shade is created by adding black to a base hue, darkening the color. In the example below, the middle or third color from the right is the original color. Adobe color automatically generates shades for this color. This creates a deeper, richer color.
A tint is created by adding white to a color and lightening the color.
A tone is created by combining black and white—or gray—with a color.
Hue, Saturation and Luminance
A hue is basically any color on the color wheel. When you are using a color wheel or a color picker, you can adjust the saturation and luminance of a hue.
Saturation is the intensity or purity of the color.
Luminance is the amount of brightness or light in a color.
So now we get to how to choose color combinations. There are several ways to go, depending on the effect you want to create.
When you want to create a lot of contrast to a design, choose what’s called a complementary color scheme. Choose two colors that are on opposite sides of the color wheel. Here is an example using the same aqua color we used above.
As you can see the opposite color is a orangy salmon color.
Three shades, tones and tints of one base color make up a monochormatic color combination. If you want to create a subtle and more conservative feel, you could choose this color scheme option. This option also creates a harmonious look to a room, outfit or graphic design project.
Next is what’s called an analogous color scheme. This means we use three colors that are side by side on the color wheel. This color combination is versatile, but can be overwhelming if you use all three colors equally. It is best to choose a dominant or focus color and use two other colors as accents.
In this example from Adobe Color, the aqua color in the middle would be our focus and the green and darker blue on the ends would be the accent colors.
A triadic color combination used three colors that are evenly spaced on the color wheel. This creates high a contrast color scheme, but one that is more subtle than a complementary color combo. In this example, the aqua is paired with a mustardy yellow and a bright magenta-y color.
Hopefully, this article gave you a basic idea of how the color wheel works and why certain color combinations work the way they do. Be sure to check out our page of color schemes.