Home Design: Color Theory
by Jake Lohser
Color theory is the art and science of color. This field includes mixing colors together to form different hues, tints, and shades as well as the way in which we perceive color and the emotions and feelings it invokes in us. Through effective use of color, an artist or interior designer can create a mood that's calming or jarring, energetic or serene.
A primary color is a color that contains only one pigment: Primary colors are used to create other colors, but you can't create them by mixing any other colors. Red, yellow, and blue are usually considered to be the primary colors on a color wheel.
- The Artist's Palette: Effects of Primary Colors in Art
- How Vision Plays a Part in Primary Colors
- Tutorial on Primary Colors
Secondary colors are created by mixing two of the primary colors together. For example, red and yellow mixed together make orange. Mix red and blue to get purple. A mixture of yellow and blue will make the green.
- Color Addition: Primary and Secondary Colors
- Secondary, Primary and Tertiary Hues
- Color Basics: Secondary Colors and Primary Colors
Tertiary colors are also known as intermediate colors. You create a tertiary color when you mix a primary color with a secondary color. For example, yellow and orange combine to make yellow-orange. Purple and blue make a blue-purple color.
On a color wheel, swatches of color are laid out next to each other in a circle formation. The colors found opposite from each other on the wheel are called complementary colors. These include yellow and purple, blue and orange, and red and green. These hues tend to complement each other in design.
The colors closest together on the color wheel are called analogous colors. Using three analogous colors in a design is considered to be pleasing to the eye. Usually, one color is chosen as the dominant one, another is used to support the first, and the third color is used as an accent.
The Color Wheel
Designers and artists use a variety of different visual aids to form color combinations, but most often, you'll see a color wheel of the primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. The colors are organized to help show the relationships that each color has with the others. Some color wheels also show tints and shades, lighter and darker versions of the basic colors of the wheel.
Color relationships show how colors work together. Some examples include analogous, monochromatic, and complementary color schemes. These relationships can be shown in different ways, including color wheels and triangles.
The Painter's Color Triangle
The painter's triangle is based on the standard primary colors: red, yellow and blue. These are what painters use to find different mixtures of color pigments.
The Printer's Color Triangle
The printer's color triangle is based on the colors of printing ink that can be combined to make colors. Printers use magenta, cyan, and yellow as the primary colors.
Nine-Part Harmonic Triangle of Goethe
Goethe's triangle shows primary colors at the points of the triangle. The secondary and tertiary colors show up between them. Goethe's research focused on how colors affect people's emotions; he posited that the colors in different parts of the triangle represented different emotional states.
More Information on Color and Design
- Theory on Color and Light: This guide introduces how color interacts with light.
- Graphic Design Tutorial on Color Theory: Find out how graphic designers use color theory.
- Hue Test: Test your color vision to see how well you can perceive different hues.
- Color Calculator: Use this interactive tool to see the choices of color you can create in design. Experiment with primary colors and different harmonies and find the perfect shade for your next project.
- Types of Color Wheels: This article discusses the different kinds of color wheels.
- Psychology of Color: Learn how the different types of colors affect how we feel.
- History of Josef Albers's Interaction of Color: Read the history of Josef Albers and learn how he came to be a teacher of color, following in the footsteps of Goethe.
- Color, Value, and Hue: This article discusses what color, value, and hue are and how to use them in design.
- Color Techniques in Landscape Design: Learn how to use color in landscaping design for Cleveland homes and real estate.