How to use a color wheel to choose a harmonious color scheme

Are you tired of looking at your walls? Maybe it’s time to repaint a room or two in your home. Choosing new colors and repainting your walls can make your home feel like an entirely new place. And it’s a relatively inexpensive way of setting yourself up for a new state of mind. If only you could figure out which colors would go well together.

If you don’t trust yourself with color decisions, choosing a color scheme for your rooms can seem like more work than actually painting. Don’t forget, though, that color experts have been working on these issues for centuries. You don’t need to figure it out for yourself — artistic and scientific people have done that for you by inventing the color wheel to show color relationships.

What is a color wheel?

A color wheel is a tool that artists have been using for centuries to choose colors for their paintings. Munsell Color credits Sir Isaac Newton with inventing the first color wheel in 1704. His studies of light refracted through a prism proved that colors have relationships to each other, and those relationships determine how our eyes perceive them when they’re next to each other.

Our eyes are capable of perceiving a range of light that is created by wavelengths from 380 – 700nm. Light that travels at wavelengths in that range is received by our eyes and translated into a spectrum of color ranging from violet to red.

The wheel shows samples of each category of the spectrum of light visible to human eyes. You might notice how colors next to each other appear related. It’s no coincidence that the arrangement of these colors on the wheel follows the same progression of color gradations in a prism spectrum or rainbow.

They are all arranged in relation to the three primary colors — colors that cannot be replicated by mixing other colors together.

A few basics of color theory that will help you make a decision

Primary colors

Primary colors red, yellow and blue, are equidistant from each other on the color wheel.

The three primary colors are red, yellow and blue. All other colors are made by mixing these colors together in various proportions. Mixing any two of these will produce what’s called a secondary color.

Secondary colors

Secondary colors orange, violet and green, are made by mixing two primary colors.

Secondary colors are those three colors made by mixing two of the primary colors together. Orange is made by mixing red and yellow. Green is made by mixing yellow and blue. And purple – you guessed it – is made by mixing blue and red.

How to choose aesthetically pleasing color schemes by understanding color relationships

Complementary colors

Complementary colors are two colors that appear opposite each other on the color wheel. Such pairings include red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and purple.

Note that the color opposite a primary color is always a secondary color. The important thing to remember about complementary colors is that they complement each other because of their contrast.

For example, green is the complement of red because it’s a secondary color that contains blue and yellow (the other two primary colors) but doesn’t contain red. Orange is the complement of blue because it has no blue in it. Placing complementary colors next to each other makes them appear more brilliant because each one in the pair has something the other lacks.

Being next to blue makes orange look more intense.

Split-complementary colors

A split-complementary color scheme involves three colors, two of which are adjacent to the opposite color on the wheel from the first. For example, red’s split complementaries would be blue-green and yellow-green.

Orange with its split complementaries, blue-green and blue-violet.

Orange’s split complementaries would be blue-green and blue-violet. Because both colors are mixes of blue, they each offer an opportunity for different but related interactions with orange.

Analogous colors

This is another three-color scheme that consists of three colors next to each other on the wheel. For example, if you chose blue as a color to build a palette around, you would choose blue-green and blue-violet as analogous colors to go with it.

Analogous colors blue-green, blue, and blue-violet.

The color wheel shows you not just colors at their pure hue, but also their tints, tones and shades.

What are tints, tones and shades?

Each of these are made from a mixture of the pure hue in turn with white, gray, and black. To lighten a hue, you add white. Mixing a hue with gray makes it duller but doesn’t necessarily change the value (make it lighter or darker). Mixing the hue with black will darken it.

All three types of mixes will desaturate the color. You can see from the windows in the wheel what the effect on each hue will be.

Here’s a video that will walk you through basic use of the color wheel.

%d bloggers like this: