Color Theory

Color theory is the science and art of using color that explains how humans perceive color; how colors mix or contrast with each other and the primary rules and guidelines that surround color and its use in creating aesthetically pleasing visuals. It is the logical structure of color to create and use palettes more strategically. Thus the result means evoking a particular emotion, vibe, or aesthetic.

In color theory, colors are displayed on a color wheel and grouped into 3 categories: primary colors, secondary colors and tertiary colors.

So why should you care about color theory?

Color theory will help you build your brand and affect your sales too. It’s important to understand this as an entrepreneur, artist or a collector.

Color is conceptuality, perspective, representation and a lot more than just visual statement. People decide whether or not they like a product in 1.5 minutes or less. 90% of that decision is based solely on visual representation.

Our eyes absorbs light and the data sent from our eyes to our brains. Objects reflect light in different accumulation of wavelengths. Our brains pick up on those different wavelength and translate them into the phenomenon, we call color.

The color wheel.

Have you ever been attracted to the wide hues of the box of crayon. I was so amused that I almost gazed on it till I was called my name to concentrate. The layout of color was absolutely pleasing. Understanding the color wheel and color harmonies (what works,what doesn’t and their communication) is just as exciting as that.

Color theory is a practical combination, detailed study of art and science used to determine what colors look good together, how we can achieve a particular color and the different terms to study the hue. In 1666 Sir Isaac Newton invented the color wheel and mapped the color spectrum into a circle or the wheel. It is the basis of color theory because it shows the relationship between colors and how they react with or beside each other.

The color wheel consists of three primary colors (red, yellow, blue), three secondary colors (green, orange, purple) and six main tertiary colors.

What Are the Primary Colors


In color mixing for painting, the thumb rule is that three colors cannot be made by mixing other colors in any which way. These three colors, red, blue, and yellow, are known as the primary colors. They are the base of a color wheel, and all the other colors are made by mixing them in different proportions.

Red – eg, cadmium red

Yellow – e.g. cadmium yellow

Blue – e.g. ultramarine blue

How to Make Secondary Colors Using Primary Color


Secondary colors are obtained by mixing two primary colors.

Ie. To obtain

Purple: Red + blue

Orange: Red + yellow

Green: Blue+ yellow


If we mix all three primary colors, we get black.


When mixing colors, the choice of primary colors is of utmost importance. There are various red, yellow, and blue shades, which in combination also result in different secondary colors, thus giving a different color wheel each time.

How to Make Tertiary Colors Using Primary And Secondary Colors?


The tertiary colors are created by mixing two adjacent colors from the color wheel of the primary and secondary colors. These colors are also called fractional colors, intermediate colors because they are not as bright and distinct and voluminous as the primary and secondary colors.

Since these colors are mainly found in nature, tertiary colors are very important for natural-looking pictures.Examples of tertiary colors or Intermediate colors on a mixing chart:

Yellow + orange = yellow-orange

Orange + red = red-orange

Red + violet = violet-red

Violet + blue = blue-violet

Blue + green = green-blue

Green + yellow = yellow-green

Quaternary paint colors

There is a fourth level of mixing paint colors, which is rarely shown on a regular color wheel. When 2 tertiary colors are mixed, quaternary colors are formed. These colors are the most complex, interesting of all, and they add depth, sophistication, and oomph factor to paint color schemes.


A color mixing chart offers a great way to learn how different paint colors are created and how they relate.

Before We go ahead, let us recall 3 main ways of contrasting in a painting:

1. TONE (LIGHT AGAINST DARK) – most effective and most vital mean to create a great composition

2. COLOR (WARM AGAINST COOL) – as discussed below


These tools are uses to create an illusion on a 2d surface.

Understanding tone-


The tone goes from light to dark when you look at the black and white range in a particular hue. It takes more practice to see degrees of tone when you look at the color, and equally important to control it. It is best to limit the number of colors used while mixing until you feel complete tone control.

Importance of Warm and Cool Colors:


The color wheel can also be divided based on the warm and cool colors. The warmth or coolness of color is also known as the temperature of a color. The combinations found on a color wheel often have a balance of warm and cool colors. While the color wheel is divided into warm and cool colors, each color also has its cool or warm varients. Different colors can be achieved when a cool or warm version of the colors is mixed. For example, Cool red mixed with warm yellow will be different from a cool red mixed with cool yellow, and vice versa. And since we have a wide variety of the cool and the warm variant, the list of the colors mixed and achieved is limitless.

In the color wheel, Warm colors are the colors from red to orange to yellow like the colors of the sun. Cool colors are the colors from blue to green to purple, as the shades of water.

It’s essential to recognize that individual colors have are bias toward cool or warm color mixing based on their undertones. If you mix two warms, you’ll get a warm secondary color, and reversely, if you mix two cools together, you will get a cool secondary.

For example, mixing cadmium yellow and cadmium red light creates a warm orange. If you mix lemon yellow with alizarin crimson, you get a cooler, grayish orange. Mixing secondary colors is about the proportions of two primary colors and knowing what different reds, yellows, and blues produce.

The purest mixing comes from:

1. a red which has no yellow in it to start with (Called different names in different brands of paint – e.g., Rose
madder, Magenta, Crimson)

2. a yellow which has no red in it to start with (a Lemon yellow) and

3. a blue without any red or yellow in it (French ultramarine).

For, e.g., we can understand How to Make a cleaner version of green and orange?

Ie. Clean green is made from cooler yellow

Pure orange is made from warm yellow

Color Harmony

Colors that go well together are called color harmony. Artists and designers use these color moods to create a particular look or feel. I’d suggest you use the color wheel to find color harmonies, mix colors to achieve new colors, and understand how to make other Colorado apart from primary, secondary, and tertiary colors.

Visually speaking, harmony means pleasing to the eye. It will engage the viewer and creates an inner sense of order or a balance. When something is not harmonious, it’s either boring, outrageous, bland, or chaotic. The human brain will reject and not engage, or so extreme, that it is overdone & chaotic that the viewer can’t stand to look at it, and the human brain rejects what it can’t organize, cannot process, or something that it cannot understand. Harmony creates a dynamic equilibrium.

The mother color theory


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Some Formulas for Color Harmony- Understanding color scheme

Monochromatic color scheme

When a color is given different shades, tones, and tints by adding white, black, or grey color to the base color, it provides a monochrome. This subtle and conservative color combination is a versatile color combination that is easy to apply. To understand any painting, a person must do a tonal study to better design harmonious projects.

Complementary colors: These are the two colors that are on opposite sides of the color wheel. This combination provides high contrast and appeals to the human eye, thus appearing brighter and more prominent.


Fun fact-For each of the three secondary colors, the complementary color is the primary color not used in the making.


The complementary color of green is red

The complementary color of orange is blue

The complementary color of violet is yellow

Split complementary color scheme-


These include 3 colors in total. One color is the primary color from the complementary pair, and the other two
are on either side of the other complementary color. For, e.g., red, green-yellow, and blue-green. Choosing
these colors combination can be confusing to many but is highly appealing.

Analogous color scheme-
Three colors that are placed side by side on the color wheel are called Analogous. This color combination is

versatile and does beautiful wonders on a floral combination or illustration. To balance an analogous color
scheme, choose 1 dominant color and use the others as complimenting or accents, as the results can be

Triadic color scheme-
Three colors that are uniformly spaced on the color wheel are called Triadic. Which provides a high contrast

color scheme but is less contrary as compared to the complementary colors. An example of this is primary
colors, secondary colors, and tertiary colors, individually.

Tetradic color scheme-
Four colors that are uniformly spaced on the color wheel, creating a square, are known as tetradic colors.

Tetradic color schemes are bold and work best if you let one color dominate and use the others as
complementing accents.

Can be divided into square and rectangular position of colors given on the color wheel.

A color scheme based on nature-

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Nature provides a perfect point for color harmony. Inspiration was taken from nature never goes wrong regardless of whether this combination fits into a technical formula for color harmony or not.

Observing the effects different colors have on each other is the starting point for understanding the relativity of color. The relationship of values, tone, hue, saturation and the warmth or coolness of respective shades can cause noticeable differences in our perception of color and its mixing.

Let’s discuss values- Shades, tints, and tones-

When choosing a color scheme, Value of the color wheel gives you opportunities to create brighter, lighter, softer, and darker colors by mixing white, black, and gray color with the base colors:


Shade-A shade is created by adding black to a base hue, darkening and creating the deeper, richer color. It
can be pretty dramatic and overpowering.

Tint-A tint is created by adding white to a base hue, lightening the color, making it less intense.

Tones-A tone is created by combining black and white, in different variants of grey—with a base hue. It’s also called the chroma of the color. Like tints, tones are subtler versions of the original color, less likely to look pastel, and more likely to be duller and reveal complexities not apparent in the base color. It affects the intensity of the color.

And that’s how it changes the entire game of color and visual representation if you understand the color theory and go by its rules. Remember to take notes on the colors that appeal to you while playing with them and using them simultaneously in your artwork and projects.

Artist:-Neha Chopra Nahata


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