Understanding Colour

Children’s Home – Durban
July 16, 2014
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September 19, 2014
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One of the most important factors of any design is colour. Colour reflects the mood of a design and can invoke emotions, feelings, and even memories.

Figuring out which colours work well with others isn’t just a matter of chance. There is actually a science behind which colours work well together. Different colour combinations fit into different categories, and can be broken down easily. Let’s start with the absolute basics and move on to more advanced colour combinations.

Primary Colors

Colours start out with the basis of all colours, called the Primary Colours. These are red, yellow, and blue. If we are talking about screen colours, such as for web devices and monitors, red green, and blue (RGB) are the basic colours which make up all colours found on screen devices.

Secondary Colors

If you evenly mix red and yellow, yellow and blue, and blue and red, you create the secondary colours, which are green, orange and violet. Combining these colours in projects can make for a lot of contrast.

Tertiary Colors

Tertiary colours are made when you take the secondary colours and mix them with the primary colours. These are red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green, yellow-green, red-orange, and yellow-orange.

So, now that you know how colours are made, you can understand how the colour combinations on the colour wheel model work. Understanding the principles of colour combinations will help you to choose combinations that work well together, set the right mood, and create the right amount of contrast within your design work. Next are the basic colour combinations derived from the colour wheel.

Complimentary Colors

Complimentary colours are colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel. Examples would be blue and orange, red and green, Yellow and purple, etc. Complementary colour schemes create a high amount of contrast, but can create a lot of visual vibration when they are used at full saturation.

Analogous Colors

Analogous colours are colours that are next to each other on the colour wheel. It is a good idea to choose a set of analogous colours that create a sense of variety. A good example would be blue-green, blue, and blue-violet or yellow-green, yellow, and yellow-orange.


A triad of colours is a set of colours that are evenly spaced around the colour wheel. A triad has a nice variety of colours, but is also well balanced. In the examples above, blue-violet and yellow-green create a lot of contrast.

Split Complimentary Colors

Split complimentary colours take a color and — instead of choosing the colour directly across from it on the colour wheel — it takes the two on either side of it. In the example above, we chose yellow. The opposite colour on the colour wheel is purple, but instead we choose blue-violet and red-violet, which creates a lot of contrast and make for some highly cooperative colours.

Square Colors

The square colour model takes four colours evenly spaced around the colour wheel. In the example above, the colours are blue, orange, red-violet, and yellow-green. This colour scheme is really nice and would work well with one strong colour and muted versions of the other colours.

Tetradic Colors

Tetradic colour schemes are built by creating a rectangle on the colour wheel. Select two opposites on the colour wheel and then select another colour two spaces over and its compliment across the colour wheel.

Tints and Shades

A tint of a colour is when you take a colour, such as blue in the example above, and add white to it. A shade is a hue that has black added to it. You can create a monochromatic colour scheme buy using tints and shades of the same hue.

Warm Colors

Warm colours create a sense of warmth and heat in an image or a design. When you see warm colours, you think of the sun, heat, fire, and love (passion). Red is the colour of blood, which is warm, and orange and yellow go along with summer. Adding an orange photo filter to an image instantly makes it look warmer and happier.

Cool Colors

Cool colours carry connotations of cool climates, winter, death, sadness, ice, night, and water. Cool colours can be associated with calmness, tranquility, trust, cleanliness. Purple is associated with royalty, because they are supposed to be reserved.

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