Color Wheel

The color wheel is a visual representation of the primary colors and how they combine to create all other visible colors.

The color wheel is helpful for understanding the relationships between colors for art, design planning and color schemes. Note that black and white do not appear on the wheel, but do play a role in color space and characteristics of color.

Primary Colors

The primary colors are Red, Yellow and Blue. They are called “primary” (first) because these colors are not based on any other colors. These three colors can be combined to form any of the other colors on the spectrum. Mixing pigments from the three primary colors together will make brown.

Complimentary Colors

The primary color directly across from a secondary color on the wheel is called its “opposite” or “complementary” color. These colors have interesting effects on each other, as we’ll discuss later. Note that each complementary pair consists of one warm color and one cool color. The complementary color groups are:

  • Red and Green
  • Blue and Orange
  • Yellow and Purple

Secondary Colors

There are three secondary colors, Orange, Green and Purple. These are created by mixing equal amounts of two primary colors. The secondary colors appear  between the two primary colors that make up that secondary color.

  • Orange = Red + Yellow
  • Green = Blue + Yellow
  • Purple = Red + Blue

Tertiary Colors

Tertiary (third) colors are the third level of mixed RYB colors and consists of six colors. They are formed by mixing a secondary color with one of the primary colors adjacent to it on the circle. All the colors from pure red to pure yellow are called “warm” colors. All colors from yellow-green to red-purple are called “cool” colors. Tertiary colors include:

  • Blue-green
  • Red-orange
  • Yellow-orange
  • Yellow-green
  • Red-purple
  • Blue-purple

The Color Wheel in the Paint Industry

In the paint industry, the color wheel is used to help designers and consumers understand color well enough to create color schemes for homes and businesses. While this representation of color is not used directly by chemists to formulate specific colors, it is very helpful to those planning color schemes.

Color Wheel Rules

Here are a few simple rules for using the this representation of color to create themes. But as with any set of color rules, these rules are true most of the time, but not all of the time. With practice, you can learn to trust your eye when deciding which colors really work together.

  • All reds go together
  • All blues go together
  • All greens go together
  • Soft oranges create a feeling of warmth
  • Yellow works well with greens and oranges
  • Greens can be used as a neutral color
  • Violet goes well with green
  • Greys and neutrals look good together

The color wheel can help simplify color selection. It’s a terrific tool to help making their color scheme planning much easier.