Color Wheel

The color wheel is a visual representation of the primary colors Red, Yellow and Blue, and how they combine to create all other visible colors. The color wheel helps people understand the relationships between colors for art and design planning, such as color schemes. Note that black and white do not appear on the color wheel. The effect of black and white in relation to color space is referenced  on the CHARACTERISTICS OF COLOR page and is referred to as "Value."

Primary Colors

As we mentioned above, the primary colors are Red, Yellow and Blue. They are called “primary” (first) because these colors are not based on any other colors. These three colors can be combined to form any of the other colors on the color wheel. Mixing pigments from the three primary colors together will make brown.

Secondary Colors

There are three secondary colors. These are created by mixing equal amounts of two primary colors. The secondary colors appear on the color wheel in between the two primary colors that make up that secondary color.
  • Orange = Red + Yellow
  • Green = Blue + Yellow
  • Purple = Red + Blue

Complementary Colors

The primary color directly across from a secondary color on the color wheel is called its “opposite” or “complementary” color. These colors have interesting effects on each other, as we’ll discuss later. Note that each complementary pair consists of one warm color and one cool color. The complementary color groups are:
  • Red and Green
  • Blue and Orange
  • Yellow and Purple

Tertiary Colors

Tertiary means “third.” These six colors are the third level of mixed RYB colors. They are formed by mixing a secondary color with one of the primary colors adjacent to it on the color wheel. All the colors from pure red to pure yellow are called “warm” colors. All colors from yellow-green to red-purple are called “cool” colors. Tertiary colors include:
  • Blue-green
  • Red-orange
  • Yellow-orange
  • Yellow-green
  • Red-purple
  • Blue-purple

The Color Wheel in the Paint Industry

In the paint industry, the color wheel is used to help designers and consumers understand color well enough to create color schemes for homes and businesses. While the color wheel is not used directly by chemists to formulate specific colors, it is very helpful to those planning color schemes.

Here are a few simple rules using the color wheel to create themes. But as with any set of color rules, these rules are true most of the time, not all of the time. With practice, you can learn to trust your eye when deciding which colors really work together.
  • All reds go together
  • All blues go together
  • All greens go together
  • Soft oranges create a feeling of warmth
  • Yellow works well with greens and oranges
  • Greens can be used as a neutral color
  • Violet goes well with green
  • Greys and neutrals look good together

Use the color wheel to help your clients see that color selection is not as difficult as they might imagine. It’s a terrific tool to help making their color scheme planning much easier.

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