Color Theory Basics

When it comes to graphic design there are few concepts that are more important than color theory. In essence, color theory refers to the general guidelines used for color mixing, as well as the visual effects of color combinations. And while learning all the facets of color theory can take years, there are some fundamentals that you need to know. Here is some information on color theory basics.

Using the Color Wheel

The Color Wheel Will Help You Determine Which Colors Go Well Together.
Image Source: Wikimedia

If there is a starting point for color theory, it would be the color wheel. The color wheel is a visual tool that helps to show which colors work well together. In most cases, the color wheel contains a spectrum of 12 colors, however, there is literally no end to the number of shades that could be used. It is good practice to memorize the color wheel, but it can easily be accessed online as well.

The Basic Colors

In line with the colors represented on the color wheel, there are 12 basic colors that every graphic designer must learn. The most important group of colors, known as primary colors, is comprised of red, yellow, and blue. When primary colors are mixed, they create secondary colors, which includes orange, purple, and green. Finally, there are the tertiary colors – six shades that can be made by mixing various primary and secondary colors.

Combining Colors with Neutrals

Neutrals can be Used to Shade, Tint, and Tone.
Image Source: Wikimedia

Once you have determined which basic color you will be using, you can combine it with a neutral to make it lighter or darker, while still remaining within the same color family. This technique of creating colors from neutrals involves three main concepts – shade, tint, and tone. Shading refers to the act of making a color lighter by adding white, while tinting is the darkening of a color by adding black. Tone is achieved by adding gray for a slightly darker appearance.

Color Schemes

There are a number of different color schemes that you will need to familiarize yourself with when learning graphic or interior design, such as the complementary color scheme, split-complementary color scheme, and the analogous color scheme, just to name a few. The complementary color scheme is the most basic color scheme, using two colors that lie opposite each other on the color wheel. On the other hand, the split-complementary color scheme uses a base shade, along with a color that is located on either side of the opposite color on the color wheel. The analogous color scheme is unique in that it utilizes three colors located in a row on the color wheel.

Now that You Know the Basics…

As it has been shown, there are several aspects of color theory to consider when planning a design. When you are starting the process, you may need to use the color wheel as a general guide as to which colors suit each other, and this will help you to familiarize yourself with the basic colors. In addition, try adding a neutral, such as white or black, to make the color lighter or darker. Keep these fundamental concepts in mind, and you will be well on your way to becoming a professional designer.