A Thing or Two About Colors

1 Oct
by Melissa Arbotante, BHIPro
Monday, August 13, 2007
Even as a little kid I have already been bombarded with lessons about colors. I know that most of you don’t really take these lessons too seriously but as a fine arts graduate studying about colors takes a big chunk in my curriculum. And as a graphics designer, application is highly based on those studies.

Color is very important in designing, whether it is painting, drawing, print ads, video motions graphics or web. Colors can be one of the defining elements of ones design. My color theory Professor said, that even though you suck at Anatomy, having good color combination will do (but my anatomy professor says another thing…that’s a different story). At times, I just nodded in agreement but eventually, I realized that good color combination is definitely a key in good web designing.

Lets start out with the basics.

The color wheel (this is so kindergarten!)


As you could see, it is comprised of twelve colors. First, there are the primary colors red, blue and yellow. If you add two primary colors, it will produce secondary colors; Red + Yellow = orange; Blue + Red = violet; Blue + Yellow = green. Last, the tertiary colors. Most people don’t know they even exist. These colors are the result of a primary color plus a secondary color, namely red orange, yellow orange, yellow green, blue green, blue violet, and red violet. The color wheel is a guide in formulating color combinations.

Color Schemes

These are the basic formulas for creating color combination that work. We are not color geniuses who can whip up good color combos in a flash. We need guides to start-up our good old imagination. There are six classic color schemes:




Split complementary


Tetradic (also known as double complementary)


Using one base color with different tints and shades, this color scheme  will definitely stand out especially when you wan to emphasize a specific color.


Using colors adjacent to each other in the color wheel, it is advisable not to use many colors. Two to three colors will do. Choosing too many colors for the palette will confuse users of the identity of the website.


Colors that are opposite each other in the color wheel such as red and green, orange and blue, or violet and yellow are complementary, but have some disadvantages. Complementary colors are so different from each other. If they are not used wisely, the effect can be very painful to the eyes since each color can make the other color more vibrant and dominant.

Split-complementary, triadic, and Tetradic

Basically, these three remaining color schemes are just simple variations of the complementary color scheme.

Spit-complementary uses two colors adjacent to your base color’s complement. For example, Red is the base color, you will use yellow green and blue green to form a three color split complementary scheme.


Triadic color scheme involves pushing split-complements one more notch on each side so that each color is equally spaced. For example, with the red base color, we choose the yellow instead of yellow green and the blue instead of blue-green. Now, we have the three primary colors. If you turned the scheme clockwise you will have yellow-green, blue-violet, and red orange.

Tetradic color scheme uses four colors. This color scheme uses a combination of two complementary color scheme. For example, orange and blue plus yellow and violet.

Though one is not really required to follow these color schemes, these could be a guide in formulating your color palette. You may feel restricted and bored, but taking a risk in randomly picking colors in the color wheel could result to awful combinations. You could tweak the classic colors schemes to suit your needs.   


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