Learn the Basics of Color Theory to Understand What Looks Good

Pantone has chosen its Colors of the Year for 2020 , and they are a study of contrasts: Lighting – sunny yellow; and “Ultimate Gray” which is … pretty gray. The New York Times claims that these shades represent the light at the end of the tunnel that was in this terrible year of the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean you should repaint your bedroom with them for now. The choice of color is careful, and not only when it comes to paint.

Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist, chances are you have encountered situations where you had to match colors for something. This happens every morning when you get dressed (unless you are a cartoon character who has the same outfit in his entire wardrobe) or when you set up a new room in your home or office.

And while we know that colors are an important part of what makes things beautiful, not everyone instinctively knows that orange and blue are the perfect combination. If you can’t trust your own judgment, understand the fundamentals of color theory and rely on them to always choose the right colors.

Explore the color wheel

This is a basic color wheel to help you choose a color. You’ve probably seen this in school, but here’s a quick reminder in case you forgot.

Red, blue and yellow are the primary colors. When you mix red and yellow, you get orange; mix blue and yellow to make green; mix red and blue to make purple. Therefore, orange, green and purple are called secondary colors. Tertiary colors, such as red-violet and blue-violet, are obtained by mixing a primary color with a secondary color.

All colors have shades and shades. Hue is the variation of that color when mixed with white; hue is the variation of that color when mixed with black. But in general, you don’t have to worry about tints and tints for basic color schemes, says Color Wheel Pro:

According to color theory, harmonious color combinations use any two colors that are opposite to each other on the color wheel, any three colors evenly spaced around the color wheel to form a triangle, or any four colors that form a rectangle (in fact, two pairs of colors opposite each other.) … Harmonious color combinations are called color schemes – sometimes the term “color harmonies” is also used. The colors remain consistent regardless of the angle of rotation.

There is another division in the color wheel that you need to be aware of in order to better understand color schemes: warm and cool colors. Each has its own goal – to convey emotions. Warm colors show energy and joy (best for private messages), while cool colors convey calm and serenity (best for office use). The wheel itself can be easily split to reveal which colors are warm and which are cold:

Master basic color schemes

There are several basic rules for color matching depending on the wheel. And they are actually pretty simple.

Complementary colors are any two opposite colors on the wheel. For example, blue and orange or red and green.

They create high contrast, so use them when you want something to stand out. Ideally, use one color as a background and another as an accent. Alternatively, you can use shades and shades here; for example, a lighter shade of blue contrasts with a darker orange.

Three colors are used to separate complementary colors . The schema takes one color and maps it to two colors adjacent to its complementary color. For example, blue, yellow-orange, and red-orange.

This scheme is ideal for beginners because it is difficult to screw up. That’s because you get contrasting colors, but they’re not as diametrically opposed as complementary ones, says Tiger Color .

Similar colors are any three colors next to each other on the wheel. For example, orange, yellow-orange and yellow.

When using similar colors, it is best to avoid shades as they can be annoying. Instead, focus on shades of similar colors. Another tip of Color Wheel Pro is to avoid combining warm and cold colors in this scheme.

Triad colors are any three colors that are equally distinguished on the color wheel. For example, red, yellow and blue.

The Triadic scheme is also high contrast, but more balanced than the complementary colors. The trick here, according to Decor Love , is to let one color dominate and highlight the other two.

Tetradic or double complementary colors use four colors together in the form of two sets of complementary colors. For example, blue and orange are combined with yellow and purple.

As TheArtClasses points out, this scheme is the hardest to balance:

It offers more color variety than any other scheme (but) if all four colors are used in equal amounts, the scheme may look unbalanced, so you should choose a color that will dominate or subdue the colors. Avoid using pure colors in equal amounts.

Understand black and white using monotone tones

Once you know the basic color schemes, you can go up a notch with tints and tints. As we discussed, tints arise from adding white to tints, and tints from adding black to tints. And so on until you get pure white or pure black. Besides shades and shades, there are also shades in which a hue is mixed with gray.

Black and white are used for “monochromatic color schemes”, which are further divided into monotone chromatic and monotone achromatic. The colors on the internet do a great job of explaining what that means:

Monotone chromatic

A monotone color scheme is just one hue and its variations in terms of hue, hue, and saturation. It is always good to use saturation and color hue / hue variation. However, in most cases, I would not recommend using a completely monochrome scheme, as there is a risk of uniformity. However, using it with pure white or black can be effective.

Monotone achromatic

A monotone achromatic color scheme is a special example of a monotone color scheme that consists of only neutral colors ranging from black to white. A scheme like this can be effective, but it can easily seem boring. Using an achromatic scheme with one bright color to highlight can be very effective.

Use popular color palettes and apps

While the basics of color combinations are now clear to you, that doesn’t mean you’ll always use them. But, as if nothing had happened, there is an easy way out!

Public speaking expert Zach Holman says you can use websites where designers offer color palettes , such as ColourLovers . This portal features popular color schemes that you can quickly and easily use for any need.

While it helps when starting from scratch, what do you do when there is a color in front of you, but you need to know what its complements or triads are? This is where applications come in handy . SwatchMatic for Android detects whatever color you point your camera at (no need to shoot) and suggests what you can match it to using the basics of the color wheel.

While not exactly the same, ColorSnap is a good option for the iPhone. You need to take a photo and the application will then detect different colors on it. Tap one of these and you will see a palette of matching colors from the company behind the app, Sherwin Williams. You can ignore this part and just use the palette for reference. Paint companies seem to have limited the market to this type of application, including others like Color Smart (Behr), Color Capture (Benjamin Moore), and Pick-a-Paint (Valspar).

Finally, Color Matters says that you don’t always need to rely on the color wheel and take inspiration from nature or other elements around you:

Nature is the ideal starting point for color harmony. In the illustration above, red, yellow and green create a harmonious design, whether or not the combination fits into the technical color harmony formula.

Apply color theory to your daily life

You now have a basic understanding of color theory, but what does this mean for your daily life? Basically, these concepts will help you figure out how to improve your appearance.

This usually manifests itself in the clothes you are wearing. Some people can dress well at all times, while others wear clothes that don’t or don’t go well with each other. Print out the color wheel and glue it to the cabinet door. The next time you pick one piece of clothing, simply refer to the chart to see which colors in your wardrobe would best complement it; and use warm and cold base colors to convey the emotion you want to convey. Of course, colors are only part of learning how to dress better . The Kinowear Style Blog provides some tips on how to use colors in clothes:

Generally, you don’t want more than three colors in your outfit. Use colors that suit your skin tone and color. Try different colors on your skin and find out which palettes work best for you. Plus, get a second opinion. Never use holiday colors like red and green unless they are close to that holiday. Avoid combining grays with bright colors such as yellow.

Likewise, color theory can help you in the office, whether it’s spicing up your resume when looking for a job or creating a presentation and slides. Again, a general rule of thumb is to limit yourself to three or fewer colors. You should also check this color psychology chart to figure out which vibrations will make your chosen colors stand out. And remember, this will be a digital projector, so your colors need to be safe, as Holman points out :

I usually look for vibrant colors that suit projectors. This means that the colors will have a lot of contrast. For example, choose dark, light, and accent. This way, you can superimpose the dark on the light and still read it at the far end of the room in which you are speaking.

And of course, color theory is very useful when you want to paint your home or any important subject in it. There are many websites and many professionals to help you choose the right colors, but these three tips from Apartment Therapy are always worth remembering:

Three rules to keep in mind:

• More than one color in a room might look great, but if you go in the same direction, keep a maximum of three colors. If you choose two bright colors, the third should be neutral to give your eye a rest.

• When choosing colors, start by choosing the boldest color, and then choose others with the first color in mind.

• Do not be afraid! The paint is not permanent and can always be changed.

Spruce also has some great tips for picking the right colors, including extracting a color from a print you like and finding historical color schemes for inspiration.

Of course, this is not the only application of color theory. Colors and their combinations appear quite often in life, and knowing these basics will help you choose a scheme that will appeal to you and everyone else.

This story was originally published in July 2014 and has been updated on December 22, 2020 to provide an updated context.

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