Color theory is the conceptual bedrock of any chromatic design activity. From artists and web designers to architects and photographers, understanding color is essential to any visual composition. However, the implementation of color in design can often seem difficult and complex to the inexperienced.

Some visually pleasant color schemes just “look right” to the casual observer. However, color choice is rarely that straightforward. By learning the basics of color theory, anyone can gain a grasp of why certain hues and palettes work. Perhaps more importantly, any designer can learn which color combinations to use and which to avoid.

In part 1 we briefly discussed on the different color families and when you should use them. Part 2 went a bit more in depth on color concepts such as hues, shades, tones, etc. Go back and check out those posts if you haven’t already! This will be the final post discussing some basic color schemes and will conclude this very basic yet important short lesson on color theory for all the beginners out there. Without further ado, let’s begin!


  • Monochromatic color schemes are made up of different tones, shades and tints within a specific hue. They’re considered among the simplest color schemes to create, as they’re all taken from the same hue, making it harder to create a harsh or ugly scheme.Though monochromatic schemes are simple to create, they can also seem dull if done poorly. Adding in a strong neutral like white or black can help keep things interesting.


  • Analogous color schemes are the next easiest to create. Analogous schemes are created by using three colors that are next to each other on the 12-spoke color wheel such as red, orange and yellow. In most cases, analogous color schemes all have the same chroma level, but by using tones, shades, and tints we can add uniqueness to these schemes and adjust them to the needs of whatever is we’re designing.



  • Complementary schemes are created by combining colors from opposite sides of the color wheel such as purple and yellow. In their most basic form, these schemes consist of only two colors, but can easily be expanded using tones, tints, and shades. Be careful though: using colors that are exact opposites with the same chroma and/or value right next to each other can be visually clashing so know when to correctly use this particular scheme.



  • Split complementary schemes add more complexity than regular complementary schemes. In this scheme, instead of using colors that are opposites, you use colors on either side of the hue opposite your base hue. As an example, green, red and turquoise with different shades and tones in between.



  • Triadic schemes are made up of hues equally spaced around the 12-spoke color wheel. This is one of the more diverse color schemes. They can be difficult to do well but will add a lot of visual interest to a design when they are.



  • Custom color schemes are the hardest to make. Instead of following the predefined color schemes discussed above, a custom scheme isn’t based on any formal rules. Keep in mind things like chroma, value, and saturation when creating these kinds of color schemes.



  • Adding a bright accent color into an otherwise-neutral palette is one of the easiest color schemes to create. It’s also one of the most striking, visually. If you’re not yet confident of your skills in creating custom schemes, try starting out with these types of palettes. A simple example would be white, grey, dark grey, black and red. Replace red with any color you prefer.


Do keep in mind that we’ve barely scratched the surface on color theory. This subject is not something that you can master by reading a few short blog posts. Professionals literally spend years mastering and refining their ability to choose colors that are appropriate for any given situation. Just like every other skill in life, practice makes perfect. The best way to hone your skills is to create your own schemes on a daily basis.

So, that concludes the final lesson in our 3-part blog on color theory. We hope you’ve gotten some useful knowledge and are able to create better and more striking designs after this! Feel free to share these posts with your friends and colleagues if they’re having a rough time with their colors as well.


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