How Do You Use the Color Wheel?
The color wheel is a simple tool that helps put together color combinations that work. Here are the basics of how to use the color wheel and apply color theory to your home decorating.
We’ve all experienced uncertainty at some point when trying to choose paint colors that go together. The color wheel — a diagram that maps out the colors of the rainbow — is a way to narrow down options. But first, you have to know how it works. The wheel illustrates color relationships by dividing the spectrum into 12 basic color categories: three primary, three secondary, and six tertiary colors. Once you understand how to use it, the color wheel can be an invaluable tool for helping decide on colors.
How It Works
Primary colors, or pure colors that cannot be created from others, are red, blue and yellow. All other colors are created from different combinations of these three primary colors. On the color wheel, primary colors are positioned equidistant from one another and in between are the secondary colors made by combining them in equal amounts. For example, between red and blue is violet, between blue and yellow is green, and between red and yellow is orange. Tertiary colors are created by mixing a primary color with an adjacent secondary color. As you continue to blend, the resulting colors become less vivid.
Building Color Schemes
Where the color wheel really comes into play is using its segmentation to help you mix colors and build palettes with different levels of contrast. Here are four common color scheme types you can obtain from the color wheel:
• Monochromatic Scheme: This is a tone-on-tone color combination that uses several shades and tints of a particular hue for a more subdued palette. Shades are created when black is added to a color, while tints are made when white is added. An example of a monochromatic color scheme is pale blue, sky blue and navy blue. Unfortunately, despite being the easiest color scheme to understand, the monochromatic look is probably the trickiest to pull off. After all, an entire room filled with a single color can feel either overwhelming or really boring, depending on how it’s executed. Some successful techniques include adding in brighter fabrics to liven things up as well as incorporating a variety of textures to add depth.
• Analogous Scheme: This option allows for a bit more contrast by including colors located directly next to one another on the wheel, like green, yellow and orange. As a rule, neighboring colors on the wheel work well with one another because they have the same base colors. The main way to succeed with this scheme is to choose one shade as the dominant color in your space — the one that you will see the most of. Then choose one to three additional shades to be used as accent colors. An example of an analogous scheme would be to use a dusty purple hue as the dominant shade, with vibrant fuchsia and dusty blue accent colors. The accent colors share the same purple undertones so suit the overall palette. A warm neutral, like grey, can be used to round out the look.
• Complementary Scheme: When two colors opposite each other on the color wheel are used together, like orange and blue, it is a complementary scheme. This type of pairing will add energy to any room. The reason complementary colors go together well is because they provide visual balance. When exploring this option, consider experimenting with different tints and shades of your desired complementing color wedges until you hit on a combination that works for you. The key to complementary schemes is to keep the colors balanced — don’t let one color dominate the other. While one will naturally appear more prominently, the other can be used as a strong accent.
• Triadic Scheme: For those looking for adventure, a triadic palette uses three colors evenly spaced on the wheel, like yellow-orange, turquoise, and fuchsia. The result is a color scheme with balanced colors and vivid contrast. These lively schemes tend to work best in living rooms because they lend a happy, uplifting spirit to a room. Make use of different shades and tints of your three color choices to generate more contrast or to soften the vibrancy.
Another thing to keep in mind as you go about building color schemes is how color can affect moods and emotions. For example, greens tend to be soothing while yellows are energy-inducing and uplifting. Bold reds show confidence and passion, while soft pink is associated with sweetness and femininity. Blues are considered quieting; oranges are warm and comforting; and purple is a complex color that can be seen as spiritual or seductive.
In addition, colors are considered “warm” or “cool.” This designation is basically assigned due to association. People typically think of reds, oranges and yellows as warm because we compare them to fire or the sun. Similarly, blues, greens and purples are considered cool because of their association with the sky, water and foliage. When decorating, don’t limit your palette to all warm or cool colors. A more balanced look will have one or the other dominate and set the overall feel of the room, but will also include alternate elements to provide contrast.
These color wheel terms will prove helpful as you move forward making color decisions for your home:
• Analogous: Side by side on the color wheel.
• Chroma: The brightness or dullness of a color.
• Complementary: Colors that are direct opposites on the color wheel. These colors appear brighter when used together.
• Neutral: Black, gray, brown, and white
• Secondary: The color resulting from equal parts of two primary colors. (Green, orange and purple are secondary colors.)
• Shade: When black is added to any color. This term is also used to reference slight color variations.
• Primary: Pure colors that cannot be made from other colors — red, yellow and blue. All other colors on the wheel are made from the three primary colors.
• Triad: Three colors equidistant on the color wheel. One typically is dominant in a color scheme.
• Tertiary: The hue resulting from a combination of equal parts of a primary color and a secondary color.
• Tint: When white is added to any color.
• Tone: The intensity of a color or the degree of its lightness or darkness.