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10 Color Theory Basics Everyone Should Know


1. How To Use The Color Wheel

Like trigonometry, the color wheel is probably one of those things that you learned about as a young child and haven’t thought of since. However, to really understand color, you may have to dust off some of that knowledge.


Simply put, the color wheel provides a visual representation of which colors blend nicely together. It removes all the guesswork, essentially. Most models are comprised of 12 colors. However, in theory, the color wheel could be expanded to include an infinite number of shades.


Don’t worry if you haven’t memorized the color wheel just yet. There are tons of ways to access it digitally. Paletton is a website that will let you create your own color scheme from the comfort of your computer screen and ColorSchemer offers the same capabilities in an app that’s available for iphone.


2. What Are The Basic Colors

We bet some of you read the last paragraph and went, “12? How are there 12 colors in the color wheel? There are only 7 colors in the rainbow. “ True. But, trust us, there are, in fact, at least 12 shades on every color wheel. Here’s how things break down:


Primary Colors: Red, blue, and yellow. Cannot be made from mixing other colors.

Secondary Colors: Orange, Purple, and Green. Can be made by mixing the primary colors together.

Tertiary Colors: The six shades that can be made from mixing primary and secondary colors.


If you’re unsure of where to start when it comes to decorating a colorful interior, one of these 12 is often a good jumping off point. Pick one and it will help you narrow down your selections until you settle on the exact shade that you love.


3. Changing Colors With Neutrals:

Once you’ve selected a basic color, it’s easy to create many different versions within the same family. All you need to do is combine that color with a neutral in order to make it lighter or darker. In interior design parlance, this is known as tint, shade, and tone.


Tint: The act of lighting a color by adding white to it.

Shade: The act of darkening a color by adding black.

Tone: Slightly darkening a color by adding gray.


Many artists recommend experimenting with color by mixing paints until you have a feel for how drastically neutrals will affect a color. However, if you don’t have access to art supplies, you can easily see an example of tinting and shading by going to your home improvement store and picking up a few of those sample color palettes.


4. Understanding Color Temperature

You may have heard colors described as having a temperature. A dining room may be decked out in warm tones while your friend may have chosen a cool color to finish off her bedroom. These temperatures also describe where the color falls on the color wheel.

Reds, oranges, and yellows are often described as warm colors. They are typically more vibrant and seem to bring a sense of liveliness and intimacy to a space. In contrast, blues purples, and most greens are the cool colors. They can be used to calm down a room and bring a relaxed feel.


When choosing color temperature for a space, you should also consider the size. Using a warm color in a tight room could make things feel a little claustrophobic. However, using cool colors in a spacious room could leave things feeling stark.


5. Complementary Color Scheme

When it comes to color schemes, complimentary is the simplest. It uses two colors that sit opposite each other on the color wheel. Typically one color acts as the dominant shade and the other as an accent. This means combinations like red and green, blue and orange, or yellow and purple.


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