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Knowhow: simple guide to Color Theory and the Color Theory Wheel

color theory wheel

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Colors can reflect a painter’s emotions. Choosing the right color for the right art can make a significant change. Every person perceives colors differently. To understand the psychology between humans and colors, Color Theory and the Color Theory Wheel were developed.

Color Theory is the science of using, and mixing colors. It explains how humans experience and see colors. Designers, painters, and artists use this theory all the time to make their work more appropriate, and attractive.

The Importance of Color Theory

The theory helps us create color patterns, combinations, and teaches their significance. It also shows how and why colors affect our psychology. The biggest brands and marketers often use color theory to communicate with their audience on a subconscious level.

Certain colors have their characteristics as well. For instance, Red represents passions, anger, and love. Blue represents spirituality. Green reflects nature, good health and yellow represent hope, ideas, and innovation.

Colors can be used as psychological triggers that impact the viewer’s perception.

Common Terms Used in Color Theory

color theory wheel

These terms are commonly used in painting and designing. Having a clear concept will help you use the theory better.

The Color Theory Wheel

Artists use the color wheel all the time to create color mixtures and palettes. You can create your version of a color wheel using artincontext online color mixer. The wheel consists of multiple colors that can be categorized into the following-

1. Primary Colors

Red, Blue, and Yellow

2. Secondary Colors

The primary colors are mixed to create three secondary colors- Green, Purple, and Orange

3. Tertiary Colors

Both primary and secondary colors are combined to make six tertiary colors that include Red-Orange, Red-Violet, Yellow-Green, Yellow-Orange, Blue-Violet, Blue-Green, etc.

In the wheel, the warm colors are yellow, orange, and red and the cool colors are purple, green, and blue.


Saturation is used to reduce the brightness of the color by mixing it with the color gray or an opposite color of the spectrum.


Hue is the opposite of saturation and refers to more of the dominant and bright colors of the wheel.

Shades and Tints

These are all different variations of the Hue. The tint is created when you add the color white to another color. For example, if you add white to blue, you will have a tint. Shade is when you add black to another color. If you add black to red, it will create a shade.


The tone is another variation of hue in which you have to add the color gray to another color. This does not darken the color like a shade but lessens the intensity of the original color.


Value is simply the measure of how bright or dark a color is. To increase or brighten the value of a color, yellow or white is added. To decrease or darken the value of a color, blue or black is added.

How to Improve Your Painting with Color Theory

To master color theory you will have to practice a lot. It is all about experimenting and combining different colors. Here are a few exercises you can do to improve your skills using color theory.

1. Create Your Own Color Theory Wheel

You have to be more familiar with the color wheel. You can find color wheel tools online but if you are a painter and want to perfect your skills on a canvas you should start creating your own wheel.

It is pretty simple to make. You can use a reference photo and copy it. First, you have to add your primary colors in position. Usually, yellow is placed at the top, red is placed at the bottom left and blue at the bottom right.

Now, mix the colors to make your secondary colors of orange, purple and green and place them according to your reference photo.

2. Experiment by Mixing Different Colors

After placing your primary and secondary colors, you have to learn how to create the six tertiary colors. Your essential colors are only going to take you so far. To understand the wheel better, you will have to practice, combine and create your shades and colors.

However, start by creating tertiary colors in order. For instance if you start with red, create Red-Orange, Red-Violet and move on to the next color. After including your tertiary colors, the wheel might look different from your reference photo or other online photos, but there is nothing to worry about. That is how it’s supposed to be. The purpose of this practice is to find and create different variations of a color.

3. Work with Different Color Schemes

Aside from the primary, secondary and tertiary colors there are also a few different types based on schemes. There are primarily three colors schemes that are-

1. Complimentary Colors

Some may mistake the term complementary for something similar but in the world of colors, complimentary actually means two colors from the opposite side of the wheel. The basic complementary pairs are yellow and purple, blue and orange, red and green.

Complementary colors can create a dynamic effect and enhance your painting. Complementary colors are not always soothing to watch because of the sharp contrast between the two colors, so one has to be careful when using them.

2. Triadic Colors

Triadic colors as the name suggests consist of three colors. The colors have to be spaced out evenly on the wheel. Red, blue, and purple make one triadic color and green, purple and orange make another.

Triadic colors are often used for website and logo designs. They offer a visual harmony with contrasting colors.

3. Analogous Colors

Blue, blue-green, and green are analogous hues that are positioned next to each other on the color wheel. In an analogous line-up, the first hue will take center stage, while the second will provide support and the third will serve as an accent.

Final Thoughts

You won’t be able to master color theory instantly. It takes practice and time to develop the necessary skills to combine, mix and create new colors. You will also have to go through a lot of trial and error. We do hope we were able to portray the basics of color theory. But to master it, you need to grab your palette, canvas, brush and start practicing today.