Combining science and arts, the color theory is a set of guidelines to help you achieve color harmony. You need to learn about the color wheel and other principles involved to understand it better. Whether you’re into sewing, knitting, crocheting, weaving, fashion designing, art crafting, digital designing, or simply want to make sure your outfit looks good, the pieces of knowledge you’ll gain in this guide will prove beneficial.
Basics of Color Theory Foundation
Thanks to Sir Isaac Newton, colors or hues have been categorized systematically through the color wheel. It’s an excellent visual representation of several colors, as they’re arranged based on wavelength. It allows us to understand better the relationships between different color categories.
Undoubtedly, you’ve been introduced to the color theory's foundation, the color wheel, when you were in elementary school. That’s when your teacher provided you with three different colors and asked you to combine two of them and all of them. And then, identify the color or color spectrum produced.
Categories of Color - Primary, Secondary, Tertiary
Most, if not all, of you also already know that the color wheel divides colors into three categories: primary, secondary, and tertiary. The primary colors, red, yellow, and blue, are the foundation of the other colors.
Thus, the secondary colors, orange, purple, and green, are the resulting colors when combining two primary colors. Lastly, the six tertiary colors are the results of mixing primary and secondary colors.
The Modern Color Theory
Experts conceptualize the modern color theory to accommodate several industries, changing needs, and improving technology. It explains how light produces visible colors and is applicable in televisions, cameras, phones, and the like.
The modern color theory comes in two different categories of color:
- Subtractive Color
- Additive Color
Subtractive or physical colors, cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK colors), become darker as you add more color. Hence, they start as white and end as black. They’re perfect for painting, silk-screening, printing, and the like.
On the contrary, additive or digital colors, red, green, and blue (RGB color), become lighter when more color gets added. It starts with black and ends in white.
Color Theory Basic Principles
To successfully choose appropriate, meaningful, and appealing color combinations for your specific projects or goals, you must understand the several principles involved in color theory, namely:
- Color Temperature and Meanings
- Color Properties
- Color Scheme
Color Temperature and Meanings
The specific color’s temperature has a psychological effect on the individual looking at it and can reflect your brand or product’s personality. With that said, there are two different types of color temperatures within the color theory umbrella:
These colors usually reflect happiness, energy, enthusiasm, and passion, but there are also negative connotations, depending on the specific color. Warm colors are those you’ll find on the right side of the color wheel: yellow, orange, red, and the resulting color when combining one or more of them or separating orange.
Some of the popular meanings associated with the three basic warm colors in the color theory are:
- Orange - This color commonly indicates movement, change, creativity, vitality, health, energy, and vibrancy. It’s not as overpowering as red, so it’s inviting and friendly.
- Red - The famous meanings of the color are war, violence, anger, fire, cupid, devil, mourning and AIDS awareness (in South Africa), communism, danger, importance, happiness and prosperity (in China), passion, and power.
- Yellow - A bright and energizing hue, it portrays sunshine, happiness, hope, cheerfulness, calmness, danger, cowardice, deceit, mourning (in Egypt), courage (in Japan), and courage (in India).
The cool colors represent relaxation, calmness, and reservation, but, again, there are negative connotations, depending on the specific color. They're found on the left side of the color wheel, including purple, green, blue, and the resulting color when combining one or more of them or separating the secondary or tertiary colors.
Some of the popular meanings of the three basic cool colors in the color theory are:
- Blue - This color represents responsibility, calmness, friendliness, reliability, strength, peace, and sadness. It also has religious and spiritual connotations in some traditions and cultures. Blue helps give your project or design a relaxing, refreshing, and energizing effect.
- Green - As a down-to-earth type of hue based on color theory, green symbolizes growth, new beginnings, stability, wealth, nature, affluence, renewal, lack of experience, and jealousy or envy. The color also has calming effects like blue while still having the energizing attributes of yellow. As such, it provides harmony and balance in projects.
- Purple - As a resulting color when you combine blue and red, purple has characteristics similar to both. It also represents imagination, creativity, romance, luxury, wealth, royalty, and mourning (in Thailand).
According to color theory, the different color properties will significantly affect how the particular color looks, which will also affect your designs or crafts. They will also help you adjust the warmness and coolness of the color, as well as their specific meanings.
The most important color properties that you need to learn about are:
Also known as color purity, you can consider this property the hue’s brightness compared to white. Adding gray, black, or white to a color reduces chroma, while their absence gives the color a higher chroma. Combine colors with identical or slightly different chroma to have good-looking projects.
The color theory explains that this property refers to how pale, weak, or strong the color is when exposed to light. To use this concept in your projects, make sure you combine colors with different saturation levels.
This property is as simple as how dark or light the color is, wherein lighter colors have higher values while darker ones have lower values. It goes without saying that black has the lowest value and white has the highest value. Experts recommend that you use various colors, especially those with high chromas, in your projects.
The color theory explains that colors with higher tones have a softer or duller look than pure colors because of the addition of gray. Nonetheless, they’re easier to use and will give your project an elegant look and vintage feel.
Adding white to lighten a pure color will produce a tint, and pastel is usually the term used for colors with very light tints. You apply various tints if you want to have projects that look more feminine and gender-neutral and when your target clients are parents of toddlers and babies.
You can achieve this color property by adding black to a base color, making it neutral-looking. It’s also one of the easiest to apply since it won’t really have too much effect, except that the color becomes darker. However, make sure not to apply it when using lighter neutrals or tints, as they’ll appear heavy and too dark.
Color Harmony Scheme
The following color schemes involved in the color theory will help you choose the right combination of colors and how to make them work:
- Split (Complementary or Compound)
- Tetradic or Rectangular
Complementary Color Scheme
Colors used for this color scheme sit oppositely in the color wheel; thus, one is warm and the other is cool, producing great contrast. You need to create vibrant harmony, so you must use high saturation. Else, they won’t be easy on the eyes or will clash, contradicting the goal of color theory.
One of the colors will serve as the focus color, while the other will complement the first one. Experts recommend that you use them in minimal doses because of the high contrast between the colors.
Split-Complementary or Compound
As a variation of the previous color scheme, the compound is still vibrant but less jarring because of the lesser contrast. As such, it’s easier for beginners to use or apply. Instead of choosing the color exactly opposite the base’s color, your color option/s would be the one or those adjacent to the base color’s complement.
Square Color Scheme
Aptly named, you would need to use four colors to have a square color scheme. The colors should be evenly spaced around the color wheel.
Choose a dominant color, and then the rest shall serve as accents to ensure you achieve the color theory’s main goal. Make sure you also pay attention to cool and warm hues.
Tetradic Color Scheme (or Rectangle)
Like the last color scheme, the tetradic contains four colors. These are two sets of complementary hues. It’s too rich, so it allows variety but will be too tricky to use. For the color scheme to work, you need to choose one dominant color. Also, pay close attention to cool and warm hues.
Triadic Color Scheme
Although it’s one of the most challenging color schemes to use, the triadic produces excellent results when used correctly. It’s composed of three equally spaced, vibrant, and rich colors, one being dominant, while the other two serve as accents.
You must draw a triangle on the color wheel and use the colors where the three points of the triangle rest. If the color combination seems non-complementary, you can make use of the shade and tint color theory principles to adjust them accordingly.
Analogous Color Scheme
Directly sitting right next to each other in the color wheel, analogous hues have the same purpose or characteristics but different origins. They effectively give those who look at them a calm, serene feeling, especially since you usually find this color scheme in nature.
When you use the analogous color scheme, one of the hues will dominate the rest, known as the dominant color. The second hue acts as the dominant color’s support, while the third serves as an accent. You also have to make sure that you use enough contrast in your project.
Monochromatic Color Scheme
From the root word mono, you only need to use one hue or color, but you should depend on the contrast color theory principle to achieve focus and attract attention. Hence, you would need to use tones, shades, and tints.
Achieving Color Harmony
With the help of the color wheel and the fundamental principles, you can now apply color theory to your project effectively. Your main goal is to achieve color harmony, wherein the colors you match or stay alongside each other look aesthetically pleasing.
The color scheme discussion has already given you an idea of the steps that you need to take. Nonetheless, let’s discuss them in detail to help you apply color theory in your projects betters.
The two basic steps are:
- Choose the Hero Color
- Choose the Right Supporting Colors
1. Choose the Hero or Focus Color
Depending on your goal, choose whether to use a warm or cool color as your hero, focus, or dominant hue. You may also consider the color’s meaning when picking one. It’s also best to start with a primary color. Once you’ve already decided on which color to use, you may adjust your hero color’s properties if you prefer.
2. Choose the Right Supporting Colors
This step is one of the most challenging or tedious, but your familiarity with color theory principles, especially color scheme, makes the task a tad bit easier. You can begin with monochromatic and analogous color schemes. You may also adjust their properties.
Another great technique is by choosing highly contrasting colors. For instance, use another primary color as a supporting hue if you’ve picked a primary color as your hero. Complementary colors are also perfect contrasting hues that you can choose.
Applying the Color Theory in Your Projects or Designs
The color theory is the best tool to help you decide what colors to use in your designs or projects, whether modern or traditional crafts. Use the many concepts circling the theories, but make sure you prioritize balance.
You should also keep in mind the meanings of the colors you plan to use, especially if you want to sell what you’ve produced. Marketers or brand strategists have long utilized the psychology of color for decades to ensure they gain an emotional response from their clients or customers. Meaning, it’s really effective.
You must also not forget the cultural, traditional, spiritual, and religious implications of the colors to prevent offending anyone, which will have a negative effect on your product, brand, name, and company. Remember that color theory explains that the specific meaning of each color will also change depending on how light or bright the hue is.
Lastly, have fun experimenting on several color combinations, while applying the color theory, and seek the opinions of several people about your color combination options.