Glorious Color: Color Theory and Harmonies

One of the questions we hear most often is about color harmonies: how do you know which color looks good with which color? So our thought was to explain basic color theory and relationships between colors, along with a few visual examples of simple harmonies.

Basic Color Theory

We have primary colors, secondary colors and tertiary colors. Combine two primary to produce a secondary, and combine either a primary and a secondary, or two secondary colors to make a tertiary color. When you use a color wheel, you're also able to discern hues, and from that tints, tones and shades. Tints, tones, & shades are less saturated versions of the hue that include more white, gray, and black.

If you combine pure hues, you create very dynamic color harmonies. For more subtle harmonies combine colors that are closer in value to each other: light with light, dark with dark. When exploring color harmonies, it's often best to begin with pure hues, then experiment with various tints, tones, and shades.

Common Color Harmonies

Monochromatic
A single hue and a selection of tints, tones and shades.

Monochromatic Colors

Analogous
Colors that are side by side, or very near each other on a color wheel.

Analogous Colors

Complementary
Colors appearing across from one another on a color wheel. These color combinations offer the maximum amount of contrast.

Complementary Colors

Split-Complementary
One hue plus two colors on eitherside of its complement. These provide less contrast than straight complements.

Split-Complementary Colors

Triad
Three colors that are equidistant on a color wheel.

Triad Colors

Tetrad
Two pairs of complimentary colors.

Tetrad Colors