Understanding the color wheel is a key to understanding color. When you first look at a color wheel, it might seem confusing. But viewed one part at a time, it becomes clear.
First look for the primary colors -- red, blue, and yellow. These are the basic colors that cannot be made from or broken down into any other color. They are pure hues. All other colors are created by mixing primary colors with each other in various combinations. They are spaced equidistant from each other on a color wheel, making the points of an imaginary triangle. They are the largest circles on the wheel at right.
The next series is the three secondary colors -- orange, violet, and green. These are created by mixing equal amounts of two primary colors. To get orange, you mix red and yellow; for violet, mix red and blue; and for green, mix blue and yellow. On the color wheel, the secondary colors are midway between the primary colors from which they're made (the medium-size circles on the wheel shown).
The tertiary colors are mixtures of a secondary color with one of its primary colors: red and orange make red-orange, yellow and orange make yellow-orange. These are the smallest circles on the wheel.Warm and cool colors
Colors also have a perceived temperature value. Reds, yellows, and oranges are considered warm colors; blues, greens, and violets are usually cool colors.Using the color wheel
The color wheel helps you see what colors work well with each other. You may already know that there aren't any rigid rules you must follow when choosing a color scheme. You can, however, rely on combinations based on the color wheel to develop appealing color schemes.
Analogous colors are any three colors next to each other on the color wheel. For example, yellow-orange, orange, and red-orange make an analogous arrangement. So do blue-green, blue, and blue-violet. Analogous colors work well because they are closely related to each other, each containing some of the other color. This makes a harmonious color scheme.
Complementary colors lie directly opposite each other on the color wheel. Blue and orange are complementary colors, as are red and green. Complementary combinations are opposite in tone and work well because they balance a warm color with a cool one. They can produce dramatic effects but can overpower a design if you use intense hues.
Triadic colors lie at equidistant points on the color wheel. Greens, oranges, and violets make a triadic combination. So do the primary colors, red, blue, and yellow. Use care with any triadic combination. It's a high-energy scheme but can be dizzying with colors of high intensity.
Monochromatic combinations employ one color in various intensities and values to keep the mixture from looking dull. Adding different textures to the mix also makes the combination interesting and can create a very sophisticated design.Neutrals
White, black, and gray (a mixture of white and black), though often referred to as neutral colors, are not true colors. That's because white reflects all the colors in the visible spectrum, and black absorbs them all.It's all in a name
The names of colors on the color wheel are technically descriptive, but you'll get a puzzled look from the paint-store staff if you ask for gallon of blue-violet. You'll have to look at the color chips for that brand of paint and ask for the name or number of the color that's closest to blue-violet. Manufacturers develop thousands of names each year for their paint colors as part of their marketing strategy, an indication of the extraordinary variety of colors available.
When you start developing a color scheme for your room, start with the basic combinations shown here. Choose base colors that go together well, then you can branch out with other choices for accents, adding a little at a time.Shades, tints, and tones
If your color choices were limited only to the major classifications, designing a room would be a pretty dull business. Luckily, the range of colors at your disposal is practically endless, thanks to the possibilities created by adding just small amounts of colors to each other. You can also add white, black, and gray to any color to produce further variations called values.
Adding white to a color creates a tint of the color. The more white you add, the lighter the tint. Pink, for example, is a tint of primary red.
Adding black to a color creates a shade of the color. Shades are darker versions of any color, and on the color wheel you'll find them on the outer rings, becoming darker as they move away from their color of origin. Forest green, for example, is a shade of primary green produced by adding a small amount of black.
Another way to alter a color is to add gray. This makes a tone of the color -- a subtle variation of it. Yellow with some gray added produces a mustard color. Using a slightly different value of gray can make an almost imperceptible change in tone.