#96 Basic Color Theory & The Principles of Color Theory


Color theory covers a vast design application, concepts, and definition that will be enough to fill-up a whole database. Nonetheless, there are three primary color theories that serve as the foundation of the rest of the principles.

These are the context on the use of colors, color harmony, and the color wheel. Understanding the basic color theory and the principles of color theory will help you comprehend the relations of color with each other.

A Complete Guide on the Basic Color Theory and the Principles of Color Theory

Color theories aim to create a solid and logical structure for the colors. Colors affect us in different ways be it physically, emotionally, or mentally.

Reports have proved that red can stimulate our blood pressure and increase our heartrate. On the other hand, blue will have a relaxing effect.

Color Wheel: The Basic Theory for Color Combination

Color wheel or also known as color circle is based on the three primary colors; the blue, red, and yellow. This is the most basic theory of color in the field of design and arts.

The first ever circular diagram has been developed by Isaac Newton in 1666. This design has become the basis of numerous artists and scientists in creating multiple concepts and variations.

Up to this day, there has been several debates regarding the validity of each variation. Color wheel introduces a comprehensive sequence of hues that are arranged logically.

Primary Colors – Yellow, blue, and red. According to the conventional color theory, the three colors that belong in this category will not be formed by simply combining the other colors. All existing pure colors are derivatives of these colors.

Secondary Colors – Purple, green, and orange. These colors can be derived by mixing the primary colors. For instance, combining red with yellow will produce orange.

Tertiary Colors – These are the colors that can be created by mixing the primary and the secondary color such as red orange, blue green, yellow green, etc.

Color wheel can also be separated according to the warm and cool colors. Warm colors are energetic and vivid. Cool colors will give you a sense of calmness. This also provides you with a relaxing sensation. In this color circle, grey, black, and white are considered as neutral colors.

Color Harmony: Harmonious Arrangement of Hues

Harmony is described as a pleasing and systematic arrangement of different parts whether in terms of poetry, music, and color. In terms of visual experience, it creates something that is not straining to the eye.

It entertains while maintaining an order. When certain things are not in harmony, it gives you a sense of chaos or dullness.

There are instances when visual experiences are bland and not engaging. It will be difficult for the brain to process information when things are boring.

On the other hand, there are also cases when visual experiences will be overwhelming. This will make things too chaotic that it will be too difficult for a person to stand it.

Our brain is also designed to reject the information once we cannot recognize it. Thus, the color harmony is intended to create order and visual interest.

Formulas Related with Color Harmony

There are various theories related with color harmony. We will list some of the basic principles and description here.

Analogous Colors – This is defined as any three shades found side by side on the color circle such as yellow, yellow-green and yellow orange.

Complementary Colors – The complementary colors are the colors that are directly opposite each other in the color wheel such as green and red.

Nature – There are also color harmony that are based on nature. For instance, green, yellow, and red can create a harmonious visual experience.

Triadic – This is the concept of using colors that are spaced evenly in the color circle. This color scheme will appear to be brighter and more vibrant even though you prefer the neutral and subtle colors. When using this color scheme, it is recommended to use a dominant color and let the remaining colors be the support.

Split – Complementary  – This is a type of complementary color harmony. Aside from its base color, it will also utilize colors that are opposite of the complementary color. The strong visual experience it offers is similar with the complementary scheme. However, it has lesser tension. This is often the scheme used by the beginners.

Tetradic – This is also known as the rectangle color scheme since it utilizes two pairs of complementary colors that form a rectangular shape. This scheme offers multiple variations and just like the triadic scheme, color will be more harmonious if you choose a single dominant color.

Square Color – The concept behind this color scheme would be similar with tetradic. However, all 4 colors that will be used will be spaced evenly that creates a square form.

Color Context: Understanding the Behavior of Color with Regards to Shape and Other Colors

You might notice how red will appear bolder and more vibrant in a dark background. At the same time, it will look subtle on a white backdrop.

When you use an orange background, the red will be dull and lifeless. Its brilliance will be magnified in a blue green background.

You may also notice that the red will appear bigger in the dark background when compared with other colors.

Principles of Colors for the Designers

Color palettes that are used in design will be built according to the hero color. This major color will then have to be supported by at least 2 colors. In a branding campaign, there are companies that will use two hero colors.

When choosing the essential color for your marketing campaign, it is important to understand that there are colors that will look better together compared to others.

The Principles of Hero Color

Choosing hero color is the easiest part of the designing process. In branding campaign, the hero color will be chosen based on familiarity. For instance, blue and green colors are cool colors that are often associated with calmness and loyalty.

Oranges are associated with growth, yellow with happiness, and red pertains to passion. By tweaking the saturation, temperature, and lightness of the color you can introduce nuance on expression.

Color Combination

Apart from the hero color, there are supporting color work together with the dominant color to complement and express a certain idea. The process of choosing the supporting color will not be as easy as looking for the hero color.

In order to choose the appropriate supporting color, you will need to have a thorough understanding on the basic theory of color particularly the concept related with the color contrast.

For instance, if you choose your hero color as red, you want your color palette to be harmonious. Therefore, the supporting color must correspond to red. Another way to achieve unity with your hero color is to use monochromatic color as your supporting colors.

Color, Tints, Tones, and Shades

Disregarding the white and black color, the rest of the color variations and blends are considered as pure or saturated colors.

The effect will be intense, bright, and noticeable. These pure colors are often used in the rooms of the kids due to the different effects towards the kid’s emotion, personality, and mood.

Shade – Shade can be made by adding a dose of black color to the pure color. This is meant to reduce the brightness of the color and will visually subdue it. Continent upon the intensity of black introduced on the pure color, this can make the color slightly dark or create a moody effect on the saturated color.

Tint – This is created by adding white on pure color. This will lead to a lighter version of pure color or a pastel shade. There are also instances when it will be extremely pale. This will depend upon the white color that has been added.

Tones – This is another type of pure color. This will involve the use of white and black color or also known as grey. Once the grey has been added to the saturated color, the result will be the tone. Different level of black and white mixed with the pure color can transform it and give it multiple effects. The black and white mixture will also be used on the monochromatic schemes. This will then be divided into monotone achromatic and chromatic.


Now that you are aware of the basic color theory and the principles of color theory, you will be surprised to know that this theory is applicable to our daily life.

The concept and theory of colors will help you understand how to make everything looks better and pleasing to the eye.

The most common application would be on the color of the clothes that you wear. You probably know by now that some colors will complement, and others will class with each other.

Next time you will go on a shopping, print a copy of the color wheel and remember the color theories that we’ve discussed in this article.


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