A useful introduction and guide to colour theory for designers.
The colour wheel
The colours that you include in your design can set a mood – they can demand attention from the reader or can make a statement. Combining colours in the right colour scheme can convey style, elegance, warmth, or a feeling of calm. Used correctly, colour can be the most powerful element of design.
The colour wheel provides a basic tool for combining colours with the first circular colour diagram designed by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666.
The colour wheel is designed so that virtually any colours selected from it will look good together. The most common version is a wheel of 12 colours, split into warm and cool colours. Warm colours are vivid and arresting, while cool colours give an impression of calm and are soothing. It is best to stick to two or three colours in your design.
Techniques for creating colour schemes
There are a number of colour combinations that are considered to be pleasing. They consist of two or more colours with a fixed relationship in the colour wheel. The primary colours in this colour wheel are red, yellow and blue. There are three secondary colours – green, orange and purple, which are created by mixing two primary colours. Another six colours, called tertiary colours, are created by mixing primary and secondary colours.
Complementary colour scheme
A complementary colour scheme comprises colours that are opposite one another on the colour wheel (red and green, for example). Complementary colours are high in contrast and can be quite overpowering when used in large areas, but work well when you want something to stand out.
Triadic colour scheme
A triadic colour scheme comprises three colours that are evenly spaced around the colour wheel. Apply a 60, 30, 10 rule for a successful design. Use 60 per cent of the main colour, 30 per cent of a secondary colour and 10 per cent of an accent colour (Figure 2).
Analogous colour scheme
Analogous colour schemes use colours which are next to one another on the colourÂ wheel. The colours usually match well and give tranquil, peaceful designs. Analogous colour schemes are often found in nature. Again, use one dominant colour, a second supporting colour, and a third ‘accent’ colour.
Colour Tools for Designers
There are many websites that can assist a designer in the creation of colour schemes. Here, we review a few of the websites available:
The web-hosted application for generating colour themes for any project. No matter what you’re creating, with Kuler you can experiment quickly with colour variations and browse thousands of themes from the Kuler community.
Color Scheme Designer
Color Scheme Designer has great colour space conversions, a previewÂ panel, enhanced scheme creation, and a permanent URL of the schemes you create. Colour schemes can be exported to several formats including ACO (Photoshop Palette).
Infohound Color Schemer
Infohound Color Schemer helps you find and test colour schemes for website or graphic design. Included features allow you to configure the saturation and brightness, set the value for hue, and have your colours automatically matched for you.
Pictaculous lets you upload your image and analyse its colours. This is ideal for the designer who would like to create a design around an image without having to manually choose the best combining colours every time.
Colour Wheel Color Calculator
The Sessions Educational Colour Calculator is an interactive colour wheel that allows any designer to select RGB or CMYK colours for the creation of useful colour schemes.