Getting color: the color wheel explained

How colors work together (or not).

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How colors work together (or not)

Put different colors together, and you evoke different moods and feelings. Color theory explains why, and the color wheel explains color theory.

What’s a color wheel?

A color wheel illustrates the relationship between primary, secondary and tertiary colors. The primary colors are red, yellow and blue. Secondary colors are colors formed by mixing the primary colors, green, orange and purple. Tertiary colors are created from mixing primary and secondary colors.

There are actually many different kinds of color wheels, but what’s important about any color wheel is the way it shows you how complementary colors, analogous colors, and warm and cool colors, work.

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Complementary colors

Complementary colors, sometimes called contrasting colors, are colors that lie opposite each other on the color wheel. For example, blue complements orange. These colors pair well together, and make the other look more vivid.

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Analogous colors

Analogous colors are those that lie side by side on a 12-part color wheel. They look harmonious together, but create little contrast. For example, orange and red look good next to each other, but they also look similar.

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Warm and cool colors

Warm colors are the colors from red through yellow, with browns and tans included. Cool colors are the colors from blue-green to blue-violet. In general, warm colors attract more attention and will appear closer to the viewer, even if they’re actually in the background. Cool colors tend to recede into the background. Placing warm and cool colors together creates strong contrasts.

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