6 Ways to Make the Color Wheel Work for You
Use a color wheel to create a perfect color palette every time.
By Thea Voutiritsas
Understanding a bit of color theory can take the guesswork out of choosing beautiful color schemes, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. There are three basic categories of color theory you should know: the color wheel, color harmony, and color context. If you study these, you’ll be able to pick the perfect palette every time.
Understanding the Color Wheel
1. Compare Color Temperatures
The color wheel can be separated into warm and cool colors. Warm colors—like reds, oranges, and yellows—feel vivid and energetic, and pop forward on the page. Cool colors—like blues, greens, and purples—tend to be calm and soothing, and are often used to create shadows. Neutral colors aren’t represented on the color wheel, but they’re generally black, white, and brown. Neutral colors generally pair well with any color on the wheel.
2. Understand Color Types
All colors are created from the three primary colors: red, blue, and yellow. These hues are the building blocks of the color wheel. Mix equal parts of any two primary colors, and you get the secondary colors: orange, green, and purple. Mix a primary color with a secondary color, and you’ll get a tertiary color, like blue-violet, red-orange, or blue-green. From here, the color possibilities are endless. Understanding color temperatures and types will not only help you select a cohesive color palette, but it will also help you when mixing and blending colors. Cool colors mix and blend best with other cool colors, and likewise for warm hues.
3. Easily Find Harmonious Color Schemes
There are several ways to create a harmonious color scheme, depending on how subtle or loud you’d like your coloring page to look. For a calm, cohesive look, try going for a monochromatic color scheme by selecting three or more shades of one hue and use those as inspiration. For something a bit bolder, try an analogous color scheme by choosing a few neighboring hues on the color wheel (for example, yellow, blue, and green). Try to stick with 2-6 neighboring colors to keep things more subtle. For bolder looks, start looking across the color wheel, instead of left and right. Complimentary colors sit opposite from each other, like purple and yellow. Complimentary color schemes tend to be the loudest.
4. Pair Evenly Spaced Colors
For a slightly more subtle contrast that still pops, try a triad. A triad is made up of three evenly spaced colors on the color wheel. If you draw a line from each one to the next, you should have an equilateral triangle in the middle of your wheel. Though the colors in a triad are drastically different, they are balanced because they are evenly spaced on the wheel. Much like a triad, drawing a square in the center of your wheel would also yield four evenly spaced colors. The four colors in the square should balance each other out enough to create a beautifully balanced coloring page.
5. Color Context
The look of a color can change dramatically depending on the colors that surround it. For instance, a yellow square may look incredibly bright and bold against a black background, then quite dull against a tan background. A cobalt blue might look like a dark shadow against a baby blue background and a highlight against a navy background. Understanding how colors can affect each other will help you choose more successful color palettes.
6. Think of Themes
Imagine a beautiful vacation destination or your favorite holiday. Use the color wheel to help you identify the colors that remind you of these themes. For instance, think of the colors in an Arizona desert: Perhaps a deep red, dark brown, and terra cotta paired with a splash of bright green could evoke the same image. Well, that’s three monochromatic colors, and one complimentary color as an accent. Now you have a beautiful, balanced theme.
Don’t be afraid to try out different color schemes to find what works for your coloring pages. Once you learn the basics, you can experiment with bold and unique color combinations that will take your coloring pages to the next level.