The colour wheel – a guide to understanding and defining colour

Colour wheel

Many professionals work with colour and design on a daily basis – architects and interior designers for instance, or colour trend forecasters and fashion designers. As well as having natural creative flair for these jobs, they have also studied colour theory and understand the base rules for creating different moods using colour.

If you would like to give your space a new look but aren’t sure where to start, understanding the basics of colour theory can give you a great background and help you to choose your approach to a colour scheme. 

The colour wheel is a circle with colour arranged in a logical sequence. It is made up of primary, secondary and tertiary colours.

 

 

 

 

 

What are primary, secondary and tertiary colours?

Primary colours are the three pigment colours that cannot be mixed or formed using a combination of other colours. These are red, yellow and blue.

Secondary colours are created by mixing primary colours together. These three resultant colours are green (yellow and blue), orange (red and yellow) and purple (blue and yellow).

Tertiary colours are then formed when colours are further mixed together, for instance a blue green or a blue purple. There are six tertiary colours and these can be described as red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow- green, blue-green, blue-violet and red- violet.

This family of 12 basic colours around the colour wheel can also be known as hues. So for instance if you were trying to define the root colour of a maroon, the hue would be red.

How are further colours created from the basics on the colour wheel?

All colours on the wheel can then be used to create new tints, shades and tones.

A shade is a darker version of the colour, whereas a tint is a lighter shade of the colour. Put simply a shade has black added to it while you add white for a tint.

A tone is a ‘greyed down’ version of the colour, and are generally seen as more complex and pleasing on the eye.

How can we use the colour wheel to choose colour schemes?

 There are a few ways that you can use this knowledge to pick a scheme:

1. Choose a complementary colour scheme – colours opposite each other on the wheel are considered to be complementary, such as blue and yellow. These can create a good contrast. You probably wouldn’t want to paint 2 walls blue and two yellow, but you could use blue as a wall colour and yellow as an accent for cushions and details for instance.

2. Choose an analogous colour scheme – for less contrast and for a calmer and harmonious, choose colours that sit beside each other on the colour wheel, such as greens and blues.

3. Think about warm and cool colours – colours on one side of the wheel, including reds, oranges and yellows are considered to be warm colours and generally are thought to create energy while the other side of the wheel which contains lilac, blues and greens are thought of as cool colours which are more calm and soothing. You can actually take this a step further too, as within one set of colours – blues for example – you can have warmer and cooler blues, depending on whether they have more yellow or grey in them for instance.

The best way to decide on a scheme you like is research. Look for images of rooms that you like. Collect paint colour cards and cut out the colours you like, putting them beside each other to see how they work together. Use pinterest to create online moodboards for schemes. The main thing to remember is that there is no such thing as right or wrong – if you like it. Then it’s right for your home!