What Is A Colour Scheme

If you would like to learn more about colour schemes and how to understand the complexity of colour you are in the right place.

In this post I will share with you few things  about the colour theory, colour vocabulary, colour wheel and colour scheme basics.

The colour theory

There are two basic colour theory topics that will touch on: colour wheel and colour scheme.

With so many colours available to us, no wonder we have hard times describing colour so let’s begin with colour vocabulary.

A colour family is made up of a pure colour (hue) and its tints, shades and tones. When referring to a colour ( let’s say red), you may refer to the pure colour or to the entire family.

Hue is another name for pure colour and those are at their most intense state. The hues in the spectrum are traditionally listed as red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. Black, white and grays produced from them are not usually considered to be hues. Tints, tones and shades are variations of hue (colour).

Value is how much dark or light it reflects in relation with white and black and it’s often expressed in degrees of 1 to 10, 10 being white and 1 being black. You can raise the value of a colour by adding white and lower it by adding black.

Tint is a hue (colour) to which white has been added. For example, RED + WHITE = PINK.

Shade is a hue (colour) to which black has been added. As an example, RED + BLACK = BURGUNDY.

Tone is a colour (hue) to which black and white (gray) has been added. Doing this, the colour (hue) appears more subtle and less intense. For example, RED +GRAY = ROSE.

Every colour in the world can be placed into one of four groups so it can be either pure, a tint, a shade or a tone.

Chroma (or intensity, also saturation) refers to the purity of a colour and you can alter the intensity of a pure hue by adding white, black and grey. You can also strengthen the intensity by adding more of the predominant hue. For example, tints are usually pastels and you can add your predominant hue to make it more intense.

The colour wheel

The colour wheel is the basic tool to combine colours and it’s based on RYB (red-yellow-blue) colour model which is the traditional artist model.

The colour wheel allows us to see at a glance which colours are complementary (opposite on the wheel), analogous (adjacent on the wheel), triadic (three colours positioned at 120 degrees on the wheel from each other) and so on. We will get into this while discussing what is a color scheme.

The 12 hues or colors that make up the color wheel are divided into three groups.

Three primary colours: red, yellow, blue. These can not be mixed from other colours.

Three secondary colours: green, orange, purple.These colours are created when primary colours are mixed as follows:

GREEN = BLUE + YELLOW,

ORANGE = YELLOW + RED,

VIOLET = BLUE + RED.

Six tertiary colours: red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet and red-violet. These are made from equal measures of one primary and one secondary colour and the easiest way to remember them is to place the primary name before the other colour. As an example, when the primary colour BLUE is being mixed with the secondary colour GREEN, the resulting colour will be BLUE-GREEN and so on.

Before we move to our colour scheme topic, I would love to touch on colour temperature.

The phrase “warm vs. cool” refers to where specific shades fall on the color wheel.

Draw a line through the center of the wheel, and you’ll separate the warm colors (reds, oranges, yellows) from cool colors (blues, greens, purples).

When you recognize that color has a temperature, you can understand how choosing all warm or all cool colors in a design can impact your overall mood. Warm colors are generally associated with energy, brightness and action, whereas cool colors are often identified with calm, peace and serenity.

Colour schemes

Now that we know colour vocabulary and how the colour wheel works, let’s have some fun with colour schemes.

Colour harmony is a way to combine colours that work well together for most people. Using the colour wheel you can select a harmony and also modify the hue, value and saturation to make a harmony less or more stimulating or to improve the usability of a design. To find the best colour combination, it is necessary to start with a harmony and then tune the values and saturation to the desired result.

There are 12 colour harmonies but we will only touch on the most used.

Monochromatic schemes are based on tints and shades of one hue and tonal variations of light to dark value. Tonal variations are easy to use and create a simple background for other features such as furniture. Monochromatic colours are calm and restful but need texture and pattern to avoid monotony.

Analogous colours are groups of three colours that sit next to each other on the colour wheel. The analogous colour scheme is as easy to create as the monochromatic, but looks richer. One colour is used as dominant colour while the other two are used to enrich the scheme.

Complementary hues are two hues positioned directly opposite to each other on the colour wheel. They are vibrant, lively and dramatic, reason why would be preferred to have one colour dominating and the other as a contrast. Pure complementary colours are too intense in a scheme but subdued tones of these colours are pretty effective.

Split complementary harmony is one of the most used and useful harmony. Split complements have high contrast with less visual tension than complementary hues. It uses the main colour and, instead of its complement, it uses its two adjacent colours. Split complementary colour scheme is my favourite and this is why: it balances the stimulation of almost complementary hues with the calming effect of almost analogous hues so it is bright but not over stimulating – the perfect interior colour scheme.

Triadic scheme has three hues spaced evenly around colour wheel. This scheme is based on the three primaries, three secondaries or the three intermixes. Select every forth colour, leaving three colours between each section. I would recommend that one colour is more dominant while using the other two to complement. Use the 60% 30% 10% rule and use a purer, more saturated hue for the 10% area and tints or shades and lower saturation for the 60% and 30% areas. Three hues are easier to balance visually than four hues but we will touch on tertadic colour scheme next.

The rectangle or tetradic colour scheme uses four colours arranged into two complementary pairs. If you connect the colours on the colour wheel with lines you will draw a rectangle. This scheme is the most stimulating of all the colour schemes because it uses two complementary colour pairs. The tertadic scheme works best if you let one colour be dominant. This scheme is one to consider if you want a flashy look. Pay attention to the balance between warm and cool colours in your design.

There is one specific colour scheme I did not mention here and that’s achromatic that literally means without colour. Pure achromatic are black, white and greys. Cool grays are crisp and clean while warm grays tent to have a hint of brown or beige. They have a very low value of saturation and they can be of any hue. If you go for this scheme, add textural finishes or a splash of accent colour. Below it’s an achromatic colour scheme created with Nix Colour Sensor using Behr colours.

Colour tools

Below you will find some fun and handy colour tools you can use.

Go on Amazon or your local craft store and pick up a pocket colour wheel.

Online color visualizers are free colour tools that most paint suppliers have available to us. Use an online colour visualizer and play with your favourite colour schemes by going to the paint supplies websites: Behr, Dulux, Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams.

There are many free online colour resources to help you with your colours and I’ve curated few relevant online colour scheme generators for you:

Adobe Color CC: https://color.adobe.com

Coolors.co: https://coolors.co

Palleton: https://paletton.com

Color Safe: http://colorsafe.co

Check them out and let me know what you think.

I will be more than happy to share with you some of the colour tools available online in the future. If you think this can add value please comment below.

I hope you found this article useful. Thank you for reading.

9 thoughts on “What Is A Colour Scheme

  1. A whole lot goes into choosing a colour scheme than I thought. I really think adding the colour tools will be helpful, I can’t wait. Thanks so much for the break down.

  2. Since I’ve never dealt with colors before, this post has such a good information about the colour theory, colour vocabulary, colour wheel and colour scheme basics
    It’s interesting about the 12 hues and that there are only 3 primary colours.
    Thank you for sharing this informative post.

    1. Thank you for reading Anh-Tu. I hope you found the information on colour useful and if you need to know anything in particular please let me know. Talk soon.

  3. Amazing to see that there is so much things to know about colors! In fact, I’m not really good with them so your article really helped me understand better. Thank you for sharing this information 🙂

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