Color Wheel

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Understanding Color Wheel and Color Theory

Color theory defines the colors on a color wheel as the base colors and then uses various iterations of the base color either alone or in combination. The usage of a color wheel is given below.

How to use Color Wheel and mix match colors?

How to create beautiful designs using color wheel?
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In this video, learn how to use color wheel and mix match colors to create beautiful designs.

The concept of color theory came to light a few centuries after Newton’s definition and creation of the first Color Wheel. The color wheel gradually gave rise to the concept of color theory. Today, the color wheel and general concepts of color theory are used by both artists and designers for their respective professions.

Differentiating the different types of colors

Color differentiation based on origin of color:

A color cycle has about 15 colors. They can roughly be categorized into three categories:

  • Primary colors: Primary colors are the main colors of a color wheel. For online design, these include red, green and blue. A red, yellow and blue palette is used for artistic works. Primary colors unique because they cannot be created by mixing other colors of the color wheel.
  • Secondary colors: Secondary colors are created when two primary colors are mixed with each other. There are six colors that qualify as secondary.
  • Tertiary colors: These colors are formed when a primary color is mixed with a secondary color. Just like secondary there are six colors that are tertiary.

tricolor

Color differentiation based on color temperature:

Color temperature divides colors on a color wheel into roughly two types: warm and cool. Color temperature is the feeling of warmth or coolness of a color. It is not based on literal temperature but rather how a color affects the viewer psychologically. For example, the association of Ferraris being hot looking cars is more due to the liberal use of red rather than the design. A blue Ferrari does not have the same feel.

The difference between warm and cool colors is explained through the psychology of association which makes the viewer develop different feelings. For example, yellow is termed as a warm color due to its association with the sun and green is termed as cool due to its association with trees. According to color temperature, warm colors evoke warmth and raise energy and cool colors bring about a feeling of serenity and isolation.

Colors from red to yellow are considered warm and colors from blue to green/purple are considered cool.

warm-cool

Applying the Color Wheel

Professional designers use the RGB color wheel palette to design the aesthetics of online websites. The color scheme of a website, often called the color harmony, is made by combining various colors of the wheel in different color combinations. Usually, there are 5 kinds of color combinations that are used by designers for the color scheme of a website. They are given below:

  1. Complementary color: Complementary colors are on opposite sides of the color wheel. Using these colors provides a bright and prominent feel. This combination has an extremely high contrast and can often be termed as loud.
  2. Complementary

  3. Triadic color: Triadic colors use three opposing colors from the different sides of the color wheel. Triadic is rarely used since balancing using three opposing colors is difficult. Just like complementary colors triadic creates bright, contrasted color schemes.
  4. Triadic

  5. Monochromatic color: Monochromatic colors use the three different shades, tones and tint of the same base color. Monochromatic color schemes are usually soothing to the eye and provide a great amount of versatility and harmony to the designed website.
  6. Monochromatic

  7. Analogous color: This color scheme uses three neighboring colors of the color wheel. It provides the same versatility as the above but analogous colors are extremely hard to balance together and making the colors harmonious in nature is a challenge.
  8. Analogous

  9. Tetradic color: This color scheme uses 4 colors from the color wheel and uses colors that are evenly separated from each other. Tetradic color is the hardest to balance and they often create a very bold color scheme. It works best if one of the four colors are used as the dominant color and the rest accentuate.
  10. Tetradic

Iterations of base colors

Base colors of the color wheel are never used directly for a color wheel. They tend to be crude and lack versatility as background or foreground colors. They are changed with the help of the following mixes. These give a base color the needed versatility and aesthetic appeal that can go a long way in deciding the psychological perception of a website.

Iterations also ensure that a wide color scheme is available for designers to create unique color schemes.

Shades, Tint and Tones

Shades, tint and tones of a colors are created by adding black, white and grey to a base color respectively.

Shades, Tint and Tones

  1. Shades: Shades are created when black is mixed with a color from the wheel. Shades create a deep and bold color. Using shades extensively can be overpowering.
  2. Tint: Tints are created when white is mixed with a color from the wheel. Tints are great when mixed with warm colors as they decrease the intensity of a color and help in balancing it out.
  3. Tones: Tones are created when a color is mixed with gray and it ends up creating a subtle version of the original color. Tones create excellent color mixes and shows gentle but intense iterations. Tones can end up creating an excellent color scheme.

Hue, Saturation and Luminance

Hue, Saturation and Luminance

Hue is a word that is commonly thrown around with reference to color. Hues are defined as the constituent colors that can be found on a color wheel.

Saturation is the purity of a color while luminance is the brightness a color exhibits.

To use color theory properly, a rule of thumb is to adjust the saturation and luminance of a base hue and then mix with either shades, tints or tones. This ensures that the composite nature of your chosen colors is properly maintained.

Top Frequently Asked Questions


A color wheel is the visual representation of colors in a chromatic order. You can segregate the color wheel further into three – complementary colors, analogous colors and triadic colors. The color wheel helps you easily identify the perfect color schemes that match, contrast and blend perfectly with the design that you wish to create.


To read or understand color wheel, you need to learn about different types of colors in the color wheel. The primary colors are the main colors of a color wheel i.e. red, yellow and blue. The secondary colors are the colors created when two primary colors are mixed with each other. Green, orange and purple qualify as the secondary color. The tertiary colors formed when a primary color is mixed with a secondary color. There are 6 colors that qualify as tertiary colors.


The color wheel works on the placement of colors. Using a color wheel, you can easily find the best color for your designs, based on your liking.


There are so many colors that go together. However, finding the best color combination depends entirely on your choice and the design that you are creating. Listed hereunder are some of the color combinations that can help you create the perfect design for your needs –

  • Yellow and blue
  • Navy and teal
  • Black and orange
  • Maroon and peach
  • Navy and orange
  • Deep purple and blue
  • Pastel pink, blue and purple
  • Yellow, red and orange
  • Same color in different shades
  • Turquoise, pink and yellow
  • Black, red and orange; and many others


Most of the color wheels generally show 12 major colors. This includes three primary colors, three secondary colors and six tertiary colors. Some color wheels add more intermediates and show 24 colors, while some are based on the four opponent colors, and can show four or eight main colors.


Based on color theory, the difference between tint and shade is that tint is a mixture of a particular color with white and shade is the combination of the particular color with black. Tint typically is a version of the same color with reduced darkness while shade is a version with increased darkness.


You can create the best color combination to suit your unique purpose using a color wheel. However, here are some of the best color combinations that you can give a try –

  1. Yellow and red
  2. Black and yellow
  3. Purple and pink
  4. Blue and green
  5. Orange and purple
  6. Red, navy and yellow
  7. Purple and yellow
  8. Pink and blue
  9. Black and red
  10. Blue and turquoise

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