The Fundamentals of Color Theory

Color theory is a set of fundamental guidelines that designers use to choose color palette for a project. Color theory plays a huge role in how companies visually communicate their messages to their target audience. Marketers use the psychology of colors to gain an emotional response from their customers. We are literally surrounded by colors every day and whether your strategizing for your business or not, colors have a huge effect on our buying decisions.

In this post, I’m going to break down the basics of color theory from my own research and then I will also link more helpful resources on color theory at the end of the post.

Color Harmony

Simply put; color harmony refers to being able to combine aesthetically pleasing colors together.  

Let’s take it back to art class with a little review of the color wheel.


primary colors

secondary colors

The Color Wheel:

Isaac Newton laid the foundation for the color wheel as we know of today. There are two models of the color wheel; the first model is red, yellow, and blue (RYB), we also know them as primary colors. We then have secondary colors; green, orange, and purple. Primary and secondary colors are the base for any other color you can think of. 


Tertiary Colors

Tertiary colors are primary and secondary colors mixed together. (ie: yellow-orange, red-orange, red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green, and yellow-green.)


Intermediate Colors: 

Intermediate Colors are obtained by mixing two primary colors in unequal amounts. On a color wheel, you’ll find the intermediate colors in between the primary and secondary colors. (ie:  Red-OrangeYellow-OrangeYellow– Green, Blue-GreenBlueViolet, and Red- Violet).


Complementary Colors:

Complementary colors consist of combining colors that are opposites on the color wheel. The color wheel can be split in half making up cool colors and warm colors. (ie: red–green, yellowpurple, and blue–orange)

Monochromatic Colors

Monochromatic colors are all the colors from a single hue, using tints, shades, and tones to lighten or darken the original hue.


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