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.

Primary Colors

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.

Secondary 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.

Tertiary 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.

Complementary Colors

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.

Analogous Colors

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

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

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