How to Use the Colour Wheel and Why It's Beneficial



Why is colour so important?

Colour has the ability to convey certain emotions and can be a powerful tool in your next design project. It's important not to pick colours because you like them, there should be some thought and research behind it. 

For example, if you own a plant shop you might consider staying away from red as it comes across as very intense, passionate, and dramatic. Instead, you might opt for a pale green or yellow. 

If you Google colour psychology you will find a ton of information on how colours represent certain feelings.

Learn how to use the colour wheel and why it's so beneficial for your next project. Become a colour wheel pro and create stunning palettes. 

Understanding the Colour Wheel

First, let's dig into understanding the colour wheel and why it's so useful.

The purpose of the colour wheel is to display the relationship between colours.

This is a super handy tool for designers and anyone who takes the time to understand the colour wheel. It will help you put together a colour palette that will look amazing.
 

The colour wheel is made up of:

Primary colours - Primary colours can't be created by mixing colours together. They stand as their own original colour. 

Primary colours are: red, yellow and blue.

If you need a little refresher...

Red and yellow mixed together creates orange.

Blue and red mixed together creates purple. 

Blue and yellow mixed together creates green. 

Secondary colours - Secondary colours are are created by mixing primary colours together.

Secondary colours are: green, orange and purple.

Tertiary colours - Tertiary colours are created by mixing primary and secondary colours.

Tertiary colours are: yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, red-violet and yellow-orange.

 

Colour Wheel Schemes

Now let's dig into the different colour schemes you can create. 


COMPLEMENTARY

The complementary colour scheme uses colours that sit directly across from each other on the wheel. 

Complementary colours are usually pretty vibrant and can lack variety. If you want to add contrast to your complementary palette try adjusting the hue and saturation of the colours. 


An example of a complementary colour palette


 

SPLIT-COMPLEMENTARY

The split complementary colour scheme uses three colours, a colour and two others that sit directly next to the first colours complement on the colour wheel.

Split-complementary is similar to complementary, however it gives you more colours to work with. 


An example of a split-complementary palette.


MONOCHROMATIC

The monochromatic colour scheme uses two or three colours from the same colour family on the colour wheel. 

Because monochromatic colour schemes are only one colour they create a very cohesive palette when paired with different tints and shades of the colour. This is a good option if you want to add colour to your design but you don't want it to be the main focal point. 

 


An example of a monochromatic colour palette.


ANALOGOUS

The analogous colour scheme uses one colour along with the colours on either side of it on the colour wheel. 

Analogous colours are pleasing to the eye, however, they lack the contrast and vibrance a complementary colour scheme has. 


An example of a analogous colour palette.


TRIAD

The triad colour scheme uses three colours that are equally spaced from each other on the colour wheel.

If you find the triad colour scheme you are using is too bright you can always bring down the saturation by mixing them with a grey colour. 


An example of a triad colour palette.


Tints

A tint is when you add white to a colour to lighten it up. In the colour wheel below I added a white overlay to the original colours and brought the opacity down to 30%. 

Shades

A shade is when you add black or grey to a colour to darken it. In the colour wheel below I added a black overlay to the original colours and brought the opacity down to 30%. 

Warm Colours

Warm colours convey fire, passion, warmth, energy, and happiness. 

Cool Colours

Cool colours convey peace, serenity, sadness, calmness, and professionalism. 

Tips and Tricks

  • Avoid using too many colours in your design. Colours convey emotions so if you are using too many it might be sending mixed emotions to your audience. 
  • Be mindful with the colours you choose. They should be easy on the eyes and not cause your audience to run away. 

Let's look at a few examples below. 

The text in the image below is hard to read against the black background. The red is faded and almost blends into the black background.

If you are working with a dark background like black keep in mind you are going to need to use a bright colour in order for the text to stand out.

The bright red colour below is a bit better but I would still avoid using it for long paragraphs of body copy. 

If you are working with a black background a safe bet is to stick with white. It's a lot easier on the eyes and you won't send your audience running. 

The image below is the ultimate sin and I'm sure you can see why. The text vibrates off the image and strains the eyes. 

If you are stuck using two colours that don't mix well together then consider using a different tint or shade of the colour.

Check out the example below.

I've used a tint of the red and green so when paired together it's a lot easier on the eyes.

 

  • When designing your next project not only think about what colours will work best but what will captivate your audiences attention. 

Free Pre-made Palette Chips 

If you liked the colour palette chips I used in this post then click the image below to get your free pre-made palette chips. 

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  • EPS file | Works with Adobe Illustrator CS4+
  • Link to download the font used on the chips
  • Space to write your colour codes
  • Simply change the grey boxes to your desired colour palette
  • Perfect for creating colour palettes to reference when you need them

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Learn how to use the colour wheel and why it's so beneficial for your next project. Become a colour wheel pro and create stunning palettes. 

Please keep in mind rules are meant to be broken and design is subjective but the above info will put you on the right path if you need a little help. 

You might also like: 15 Unique Websites for Colour Inspiration