Design Monday - Basic Colour Theory

Posted in Design

Design Monday - Basic Colour Theory

With a love for design, and finding ways to relax after work on a Monday, LUXYCLAD® is excited to bring you "Design Monday" - weekly blog posts that highlight or feature something interesting, focused around the subject of "design." 


Although we could discuss colour theory extensively, we will only touch on a few topics, which will help answer these questions: 
What is colour theory? Why should I consider using colour theory in design, and how can I use it?

Colour theory is a set of principles that help guide us in the colour world. Based around the colour wheel, one can use these colour relationships to see visual changes, and learn how to use them to their benefit, whether it's by mixing them or representing them aesthetically. It is important to note that in the modern world of colour, television monitors and printing processes follow different colour outputs. This means that they are measured using "RGB" or "CMYK" - so "mixing" these colours is technological, and different, than how we would mix physical paints using the colour wheel.  

The Colour Wheel

The colour wheel (although it has been worked and re-worked over centuries) is basically all the colours we perceive, arranged in a circle. This circle is based around three categories: primary, secondary, and tertiary colours.

Modern Colour Wheel

Primary Colours

In terms of painting and mixing, these are known to be the three colours (red, blue, and yellow) that cannot be created by mixing other colours - they're the standalone colours. These colours are known as "primary colours" and they are all an equal distance away from each other on the colour wheel.

Primary Colours

Secondary Colours 

Secondary colours are the product of mixing your primary colours. That means they are orange, green, and purple.

Secondary Colours

Tertiary Colours

These are the product of mixing your primary colours with your secondary colours. That means they are yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green & yellow-green.
These colours (or hues) get their two-part name for that reason. You have probably seen these colours before in a set of crayons!

Tertiary Colours

Colour Harmony

If the colour wheel is like categorizing colours, then colour harmony is more like the arrangement, and how we choose to display colour. These arrangements are broken down too, to help guide us. While there are many different types of colour harmony, I'm just going to go through a few.

In order to find these principles, we must pick a colour to start with, so we can practice the harmonies. In colour theory, we call our main colour our "key colour". In each example, our key colour is circled.

Direct Harmony

A direct harmony is the colour that is opposite to your key colour, on the colour wheel. So if you chose your key colour to be a pure red, your direct harmony would be green. No wonder the "Christmas colours" have such an impact on us! These colours are also known as "complimentary" colours.

Direct Harmony or Complimentary Colours

Split Complimentary

A split complimentary (also known as compound harmony) is opposite of your key colour as well, but instead of being one colour, it is split into two equal parts. 

Split Complimentary Colours

Triadic Harmony 

A triadic harmony consists of three colours equally distanced from each other on the colour wheel. 

Triadic Colours

Analogous Harmony

The analogous harmony consists of three colours, side by side, on the colour wheel. 

Analogous Colours


Scott Pilgrim Direct Harmony
Iron Man Primary Colours
Thor Ragnarok Analogous

Practical Use

Using these guidelines, we can naturally gravitate people to our work, whether it's graphic design, photography, film, interior design, architecture, you name it. Some simple ways we can use this is in the way we dress or decorate our houses. If you have light knotty pine siding, you can compliment your potted flowers to be purple. These are all just ideas in the way colour and design can shape us!

Light Knotty Pine Colour Theory

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