When picking colors, one of the most common concerns is deciding which hues go together. The color wheel is a simple tool that can help answer that question. Every decorative color combination can be defined by where it resides on the color wheel, a diagram that maps the colors of the rainbow. The wheel makes color relationships easy to see by dividing the spectrum into 12 basic hues: three primary colors, three secondary colors, and six tertiary colors. Once you learn how to use it and its hundreds of color combinations, the color wheel can provide a helpful reference when deciding what colors to try in your design, home etc.
A color wheel or color circle is an abstract illustrative organization of color hues around a circle, which shows the relationships between primary colors, secondary colors, tertiary colors etc.
A color wheel based on RGB (red, green, blue) or RGV (red, green, violet) additive primaries has cyan, magenta, and yellow secondaries (cyan was previously known as cyan blue). Alternatively, the same arrangement of colors around a circle can be described as based on cyan, magenta, and yellow subtractive primaries, with red, green, and blue (or violet) being secondaries.
Most color wheels are based on three primary colors, three secondary colors, and the six intermediates formed by mixing a primary with a secondary, known as tertiary colors, for a total of 12 main divisions; some add more intermediates, for 24 named colors. Other color wheels, however, are based on the four opponent colors, and may have four or eight main colors.
Primary colors are red, blue, and yellow. These colors are pure, which means you can't create them from other colors, and all other colors are created from them. Between the equidistant primary color spokes on the color wheel are secondary colors: orange, green, and violet. These hues line up between the primaries on the color wheel because they are formed when equal parts of two primary colors are combined. Tertiary colors are formed by mixing a primary color with a secondary color next to it on the color wheel. With each blending (primary with primary, then primary with secondary), the result hues become less vivid.
You can rely on the color wheel's segmentation to help you mix colors and create palettes with varying degrees of contrast. There are four common types of color schemes derived from the color wheel.
Three shades, tones and tints of one base color. Provides a subtle and conservative color combination. This is a versatile color combination that is easy to apply to design projects for a harmonious look.
Although the monochromatic look is the easiest color scheme to understand, it's perhaps trickiest to pull off. A design filled with just one color can feel boring or overwhelming, depending on how you handle it.
For a bit more contrast, an analogous palette includes colors found side by side on the wheel, such as orange, yellow, and green, for a colorful but relaxing feel. Neighboring hues work well in conjunction with each other because they share the same base colors. The key to success for this scheme is to pick one shade as the main, or dominant, color in a room; it's the color you see the most of. Then choose one, two, or three shades to be limited-use accent hues. This living room demonstrates an analogous scheme of blue, purple, and fuchsia.
Using two hues directly opposite each other on the color wheel, such as blue and orange, is guaranteed to add energy to any design. These complementary colors work well together because they balance each other visually. You can experiment with various shades and tints of these complementing color wedges that find a scheme that appeals to you.
Three colors that are evenly spaced on the color wheel. This provides a high contrast color scheme, but less so than the complementary color combination — making it more versatile. This combination creates bold, vibrant color palettes.
A tetrad is a color scheme, a special variant of the dual color scheme, with the equal distance between all colors. All four colors are distributed evenly around the color wheel, causing there is no clear dominance of one color.
Tetradic color schemes are bold and work best if you let one color be dominant, and use the others as accents. The more colors you have in your palette, the more difficult it is to balance,