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Basic Color Schemes

There are eight types of basic color schemes to choose from:

  • Complementary: Complementary or opposite colors from the color wheel
  • Split Complementary: Three colors—the main color and colors from either side of its complement
  • Triad: Three colors from equidistant points on the color wheel
  • Monochromatic: Different shades and depths of a single color
  • Analogous: The main color and the colors from either side of it on the color wheel
  • Neutral: Uses a color that has been reduced by adding black
  • Achromatic: No color—just blacks, whites and greys
  • Secondary: Green, purple and orange used together

Here are some of the most popular basic color schemes.

Complementary Color Schemes

The complementary scheme uses colors that are directly across from each other on the color wheel. Examples include:

  • Red and Green
  • Red-Orange and Blue-Green
  • Orange and Blue
  • Violet and Yellow

Working with complementary colors can be tricky. Be sure to vary shades and saturation levels. Complementary colors of the same intensity can look like they are vibrating when placed next to each other. This can be disconcerting, to say the least.

Split Complementary Color Schemes

The color scheme uses three colors: A color and two other colors that are directly adjacent to the first color’s complement on the color wheel. This provides the visual interest of a complementary color scheme but without the vibration. It also allows the use of more color. Examples include:

  • Red, Yellow-Green and Blue-Green
  • Yellow, Blue-Violet and Red-Violet
  • Green, Red-Violet and Red-Orange

Triad Color Schemes

This color scheme makes use of three colors that are equally spaced from each other on the color wheel. Examples include:

  • Red, Yellow and Blue
  • Yellow, Blue-Violet and Red-Violet
  • Green, Violet and Orange

Monochromatic Color Schemes

This color scheme uses two or three colors from the same color family on the color wheel. Examples include:

  • Dark Blue and Light Blue
  • Dark Green, Grass Green and Light Green
  • Purple and Lavender

Analogous Schemes

This scheme uses one color along with the colors on either side of it on the color wheel. Examples include:

  • Green, Blue-Green and Yellow-Green
  • Yellow, Yellow-Green and Green
  • Yellow, Yellow-Green and Yellow-Orange