Color Wheel: The Most Complete Guide on Color Theory!

color theory basis every thing about color wheel

Have you heard of color wheel? Do you know what color theory is? Yes? No?
It’s impossible not to have seen a color wheel in our entire life. So, I’m sure everyone has at least seen a picture of this beautiful circle, which makes it so much easier to imagine when we are talking about it.

We use color for everything in our life, literally everything! Every masterpiece of painting, every great outfit, every exciting interior design, every beautifully captured image and every delicious plate needs a color, you get the point.

Sometimes, we need to choose more than just one or two colors, and we may get confused by the diversity of colors, this is where a color wheel comes in handy. You may ask why?! Or how?!
Well, I’m going to explain that in more details, but for now:
A color wheel gives you a clearer vision of colors that match best.

What Is color Theory?

Color theory includes several definitions, concepts, and design programs that help designers determine which colors look good together. At the heart of color theory, however, are three main categories: color wheel, color harmony, and the concept of how colors are used.

The color wheel was created by Newton in the late 17th century. Newton plotted the color spectrum in a circle, so that over the years, today, the color wheel can help artists and designers more easily find the right colors for their desired color. And also find harmonious color combinations based on the geometric relationships shown in the color wheel.

What Is Color wheel?

A color wheel is an illustrative set of color hues around an abstract circle, that shows the relationships between three categories of colors, including primary colors, secondary colors, and tertiary colors. In this circle, the colors are placed next to each other based on their wavelength.
This is just a basic and simple explanation about the color wheel, while it shows more than just relationships, which we will cover throughout this article.

You can have a poster of the color wheel. If you want to touch the image below or click here! Also, you can visit Dopely Color Wheel!

Gradient Color Wheel Poster in a white background
Color Wheel poster | Dopely Digital Goods

2 different types of color wheel

There are generally two types of color wheels, which named based on their 3 main color

abbreviation. RYB and RGB color wheel, which we will explain in the following.

RYB color wheel:

The first type, the RYB color wheel, which includes red, yellow, and blue, is known as the primary color. The sub-colors of this cycle are green, orange, and purple, and the combined colors are yellow-green, yellow-orange, red-orange, blue-purple, and green-blue. This type of cycle is commonly used by artists because it helps to combine physical colors.

RGB color wheel:

The second type, the RGB color wheel, consists of red, green, and blue, which are digital colors designed for online use. Because it refers to the mixing of lights. Like what happens on the screens of TVs and computers. This type of color wheel consists of two separate systems that divide colors into two categories: decreasing color and increasing color.  We have dealt with them in detail below.

Before getting deeper into the colors, let’s have a review of some important color terms.

Practical Color Terms:


The predominant color name of any color family is hue. For example, blue is a hue. But black, gray and white are not as a hue.


A hue produced by adding black is Shade


A hue produced by adding white is Tint. Sometimes it called a pastel.


A hue produced by adding grey is Tone.


The intensity or purity of a hue.


Specifies the relative degree of darkness and lightness of the hue.

The History Of The Color Wheels

It can be said that Newton drew the first color wheel. This is because of Newton’s many studies on the refraction of light in prisms. In fact, he was the first to seriously study the color wheel and write his opinions.

In one of his books, Opticks, Newton draws a color wheel to show the relationships between colors. In fact, Newton first used a triangular prism to divide the white ray into a rainbow. In doing so, Newton proved that light is composed of a spectrum of colors (ROYGBIV).

After noting the different colors coming out of the prism, he decided to connect the two opposite ends of the spectrum, which ended in red and purple, resulting in a circle. And so the first color wheel was created. In addition, Newton believed that colors could also have coordinated relationships with each other, so in this color wheel, he rotated geometric shapes to identify different types of relationships between colors.

What Are the Color Harmonies And Schemes?

Analogous Colors:

These are the colors that are located close to each other on a color wheel. Red, orange, and red-orange is an example. You may wonder what Analogous means? Well, the term analogous refers to having an analogy and corresponding to something in particular. 

If you are looking to find the harmony of your colors, you can use the Dopely Color Harmony Finder tool.

A color wheel with bold analogous scheme of red and pink and purple and violet for showing how analogous palette are made with color wheel in dopely colors blog post about color theory and color basis

Complementary Colors:

As the name suggests, the colors are located opposite each other. When you combine complementary colors, they cancel each other out. Also, the colors in this section include the highest contrast. For example, red and green are complementary colors. Can you name some other of this category?! If not, this picture may help you.

A color wheen of twelve color of primary and secondary and tertiary colors with bold complementary scheme of pink and green-yellow or yellowish green for learning the basis of complementary palettes in dopley colors blog post about color theory and basis

Monochromatic Colors:

This color scheme is very versatile. As you can guess, monochromatic colors are derived from a base hue. In fact, from a base hue with shades, tones and tints of that color. To get a shade of a certain color, you have to add black to it. Also, to have a tone and a tint, one color should be added to the desired hue, gray and white. Ready to introduce the next color scheme.

Split-Complementary Colors:

This color scheme consists of a primary color and two secondary colors. In fact, instead of using a complementary color for the base color, two colors are used that are symmetrical around the complementary color for the base color. The general shape of such a color scheme resembles an isosceles triangle. The combination of three colors in this color scheme is a warm color and two cool colors or vice versa. Of course, you can also add shades of each color to your color scheme.

Triadic Colors:

In the triadic color scheme, you choose three colors in the color wheel that are at equal distances from each other. Exactly, each color is three times the distance from the other color. So to make sure that the colors you have chosen in the triple mode are correct, you should pay attention to the fact that the hypothetical shape of the three colors in question is triangular with equal lengths. Also, you can get 4 Triadic color schemes from each color wheel. This way, you can have a color scheme with beautiful and contrasting shades.

Double Complementary (Tetradic) Colors:

This color scheme is a combination of 4 colors. In a more precise definition, this color scheme consists of a combination of two complementary color pairs that are opposite each other in the color wheel. The combination of these 4 colors forms a rectangle. This way, you can have 6 tetradic color combinations. The colors in this color scheme are very vibrant and playful, so be careful when using them as they may look boring and annoying.

Square Tetradic Colors:

This color scheme is one of the lesser known color schemes. As the name implies, this color scheme is similar to a square with a combination of 4 colors in the color wheel. These 4 colors are evenly spaced around the color cycle. So, in this design, each color is placed at a distance of two colors from the other color. In a simpler definition, this combination is made up of two complementary color pairs that form the + sign. In addition, this color combination has a very high contrast and is eye caching.

Side Complementary Colors:

This color scheme is very similar to the complementary color scheme. The only difference is that after selecting the base color, instead of selecting the complementary color in front of it, the side color of the complementary color will be selected. This color combination, which consists of two colors, is a combination full of movement and sometimes calm, and its use depends on your taste.

Pentagonal Colors:

The Pentagonal color scheme is similar to the split complementary color scheme, with only minor differences! There are 5 colors in this design, after selecting a base color and two colors around its complementary color, select the other two colors, each one a distance from the base color in the color wheel. This way you will have a hypothetical five geometric shape that is a combination of warm and cool colors.

Hexagonal Colors:

The hexagonal color combination is made up of 6 colors. These 6 colors are each in the color wheel at a distance of one color from the other. In another definition, we can say that in the color wheel, if you choose the colors one by one, you will have a hexagonal shape. This color scheme, like the pentagonal, is created from a combination of warm and cold colors.

What Are The Color Relationships?

Primary Colors of Color Wheel:

Primary colors are red, blue, and yellow. It is called Primary because these three colors cannot be made by mixing other colors and are the basic essence.

Artists typically use the three primary colors red, yellow, and blue on three equally spaced spots around this abstract circle to create an illustrative model. But there is another type of this (a bit more modern) that magenta, yellow, and cyan are used as subtractive primaries.

Each subtractive color wheel has a central spot, which represents the center of gravity. The center of gravity is often black, indicating all colors of light are absorbed. In a color circle, however, the center is either white or gray, indicating a mixture of several wavelengths of light.

The color wheel with bold primary colors of blue red and yellow for learning about primary, secondary and tertiary colors in dopley colors

Secondary Colors of Color Wheel:

First, you need to know what a secondary color is. A secondary color is made of mixing two primary colors (or primary and secondary hues). Green, orange, violet( purple) are secondary colors. Now, do you know the primary colors that formed these three?

  • Blue +  yellow = green
  • Blue + red = violet
  • Red  + yellow = orange
The color wheel of primary and secondary and tertiary colors with bold secondary colors of purple and orange and green for understanding secondary colors in dopley colors blog about color theory and color basis

Tertiary Colors of Color Wheel:

Tertiary colors are a bit more complex. A tertiary color is made by mixing full saturation of one primary color with half saturation of another primary color. Including green-yellow, yellow-orange, orange-red, red-violet/purple, purple/violet-blue, and blue-green.

If you have heard of these expressions(primary, secondary, tertiary), you probably have heard these too, Complementary colors and Analogous colors.

The color wheel of twelve colors with primary and secondary and tertiary colors and bold tertriay colors of red-purple or pink, blue-purple, blue-green, green-yellow or yellowish green, yellow-orange or orangish brown, and orange-red for learning tertiary colors in dopley colors blog post about color theory and color basis

Quaternary Colors of Color Wheel:

When two tertiary colors are mixed together, the result is a Quaternary color. In fact, quaternary are very neutral colors of green, purple, and orange, also called olive, prune, and buff.

Quinary Colors of Color Wheel:

By combining two quaternary colors with each other, a quinary color is obtained. These colors are the most neutral form of secondary colors, namely green, purple and orange. The most popular of these colors are Blue-gray, gray-brown and khaki.

What Is The Use Of Color Wheel:

The color wheel is like a guide for everyone, especially artists. Everyone uses the color wheel as a tool to find the best combination of colors and shades. From web design and graphics to interior decoration and fashion! The color wheel facilitates the processes of creating harmony or contrast in color combinations due to the great variety of color schemes described earlier.

What Is A Color System?

A set of colors that represent a particular visual spectrum is called a color system. In fact, a number of colors are placed next to each other to create a limited usable range, which is called the color system. Like RGB and CMYK color systems. The color wheel includes two types of system, Additive and Subtractive and Both of them are very useful in our daily lives.

Additive Color System

The additive color system is as RGB (Red, Green, Blue), which is suitable for light. So, if the visible light spectrum is divided into three parts, it shows the three main colors, red, green and blue.

Combining RGB colors with each other, white is obtained. TV and color monitors use additive colors (RGB).

Subtractive Color System

The subtractive color system is as CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black). In fact, the modern model is RYB. In the real world, color is declining, due to the reflection of white light and the reduction of wavelength.

From the primary color combination in RGB; Yellow, Magenta and Cyan colors appear in CMYK. Combining all three of these colors together produces black.

The colors that painters and graphic artists recognize as the primary colors are subtractive colors (CMYK). Also, It’s used in print colors and ink-based works.

What is the color temperature?

A term called color temperature is used to describe the appearance of light provided by a device. Color temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin (K) on a scale of 1000 to 10000. Color temperatures above 5,000 K are called cold colors and color temperatures below 5,000 K are called warm colors.

Neutral Colors:

There are also colors that have no place in the color wheel, which are neutral colors. While neutral colors seem to have no color, they are actually muted shades of primary colors. It can also be said that they complement the primary and secondary colors. such as white, black, gray, beige, brown and cream colors.

Warm Colors:

We divide color wheel into warm colors and cool colors. Warm colors contains a range from yellow to red. Yellow, orange and red colors are among the warm colors of the color wheel. The darker the shade of these colors, the closer to neutral colors, and the lighter the shade, the brighter the colors will be. Warm colors convey the feeling of warmth and closeness to the viewer and convey more emotion and have great excitement and flexibility. In addition, warm colors have a lot of restlessness and energy.

Cool Colors:

But, cool colors are paler than warm colors. They contains a range from purple to green. Purple, blue and green colors are among the cold colors in the color wheel. The darker these colors are, the more neutral they are. Cold colors induce feelings such as peace, freshness, stillness and security to the surrounding environment.

Active VS Passive Colors

Do you know anything about active and passive colors? Colors on a color wheel are either visually active or passive.

Active Colors:

Active colors are the colors that will advance when put against passive hues. Warm, saturated, and light value hues are placed in this category. I think now you can guess what passive colors are!

A color wheen of twelve color of primary and secondary and tertiary colors with bold active colors such as red, orange, yellow-orange, yellow, yellowish green for learning active colors in dopley colors blog post about color theory and basis

Passive Colors:

The colors that appear to recede when placed in front of active hues, and therefore cool, low saturated, and dark value hues are placed in this category.

A color wheen of twelve color of primary and secondary and tertiary colors with bold passive colors such as purple-red or pink and purple and violet and blue-purple and blue and dark blue and blue-green and green  for learning passive colors in dopley colors blog post about color theory and basis

A Glance Through the Color Psychology

The study of colors and its relation to human behavior is called color psychology. The purpose of this study is to determine the color of everyday human decisions. Colors have different effects on humans. Everyone may have a different feeling when looking at a color. In fact, color psychology involves the use of color theory and the practical application of different color combinations to discover concepts such as color perception and the effect of color combinations.

One cannot find a fixed and acceptable meaning for each color. Because I mentioned earlier that each color creates different feelings in everyone’s mind. But some colors evoke general emotion in most people. For example:

RedIt is the color of love, importance and danger.
OrangeIt is the color of energy, fun and optimism.
YellowIt is the color of attention, warmth and joy.
GreenIt is the color of nature, growth and success.
BlueIt is the color of trust, peace and security.
PurpleIt is the color of creativity, wisdom and luxury.
WhiteIt is the color of health, innocence and purity.
BlackIt is the color of complexity, mystery and power.

Since you are somewhat familiar with colors, you can create the color palettes you need with the Dopely Palette Generator tool.

What Is Color Accessibility?

Accessibility is very important in designing digital products. Because, accessibility is like creating experiences for everyone, including those with hearing, vision and speech disabilities. In fact, a product should be made for all people and consumed.

Color availability is also a case that allows people with visual impairments or color vision impairment to have the same digital experience as their non-visually impaired counterparts.

The Highest Contrasting Colors:

The colors that are located opposite each other on the color wheel and contrast when put next to each other. The level of contrast differs from high to low. The location of each color determines the intensity of contrast.

Colors directly positioned opposite one another make the highest level of contrast. For example, green and red.

What Is A Color Triangle?

In graphic art, there is a topic called the color triangle. As the name implies, a color triangle is an arrangement of colors in a triangle. This triangle is designed in such a way that three main colors are placed in each corner. Depending on the source or reflected light, these colors can be red, yellow and blue (RYB) or red, green and blue (RGB). The transition spectrum between the two primary colors along the sides of the triangle creates sub-colors.

Painters’ Color Triangle?

In the painters’ color triangle, the three main colors, red, yellow and blue, are emphasized. As I said before, in a color triangle, the primary colors are at the vertices of the three sides of a triangle, with the secondary and tertiary colors in between. As a result, due to its special shape and three-dimensionality, it is easier for painters to use the color triangle. Because it makes it easier to see the combinations between colors.

Printers’ Color Triangle?

In the color triangle of printers, unlike painters, different colors are used for the vertices of the color triangle. That is, these colors include cyan, magenta, and yellow.  In fact, the color triangle of printers is a simulated model of the color triangle of painters. But the main colors are different in each.

Nine-Part Harmonic Triangle of Goethe

Goethe color triangle consists of three colors red, yellow and blue in its three corners. By combining both primary colors, secondary colors are placed in the middle. Then, combining each primary color with the secondary color creates third colors that are placed between them. In fact, the Goethe color triangle is a way of showing color relationships, with an emphasis on the three primary colors!

He chose colors based on the scenarios in this color triangle. He believed that its triangle is a diagram of the human mind and any color related to one of the human emotions. According to Goethe, the sense of color that reaches our brain is formed by our perception. Therefore, what we see from an object depends on our object, light and perception. Thus, his research marks the early beginnings of modern color psychology.

Goethe, for example, believed that blue was associated with a calm mood, and that red was associated with a more vibrant mood that led to imagination. For this reason, Goethe has grouped his color triangle along with the primary, secondary and tertiary colors into six different categories, giving each one a title with emotional elements. Goethe’s color triangle contains 9 small triangles. He groupings with emotional titles include:

  • Mighty: The set of 4 colored triangles at the top of the pyramid.
  • Serene: The set of 4 colored triangles on the left side of the pyramid.
  • Melancholic: The set of 4 colored triangles on the right side of the pyramid.
  • Reflective: The set of 5 color triangles in the bottom two rows of the pyramid.
  • Lucid: The set of 5 color triangles that are in two rows on the left side of the pyramid.
  • Serious: The set of 5 color triangles in two rows on the right side of the pyramid.

Six Categories of Goethe’s Triangle:

Tone, Overtone & Undertone

The skin of each of us has a distinct tone, undertone and overtone. The temperature of our skin is called the undertone, which can be warm, cool, warm-neutral or cool-neutral. In fact, the undertone can not be neutral because the yellow part, which is related to the warm color, or the blue part, which is related to the cool color, is always more prominent.

The superficial layer of skin that we perceive and see at first glance is called overtone. In most cases, overtone and undertone match. Overtone can include yellow, pink, brown, peach, amber, gold, olive, beige, alabaster and ivory.

Skin tone is determined by a number of factors. Factors such as melanin, which causes the natural color of the skin. Hemoglobin and carotene, which play a role in determining skin color, with the difference that they change throughout life. But the undertone does not change at all and is always fixed.

Gender and Colors

According to research, different colors not only evoke different emotions in all human beings, but also evoke different emotions in men and women. Studies by Joe Hallock have shown that:

Although there is a general belief that women like pink, blue, orange, brown and yellow are very popular for men and women. Also, men usually prefer bright and contrasting colors, while women prefer softer tones.

Even color is related to people’s age. According to research, young people prefer colors with lower wavelengths such as red, orange, etc. But older people prefer colors with longer wavelengths such as blue and purple.


All this information helps you know colors and connect with them more deeply, and it also helps to make better choices when it’s about colors.

If you knew all of these already, then it was just a review for you, but if you didn’t, you have a lot of information about colors and expressions about them, and this makes me deeply happy and satisfied to be the one to give you this information.

If your job or your hobby involves working with colors, and you haven’t found the right tools yet, then check out our website and create your color pallets. You can make your color wheel by Dopely color wheel here!

Dopely is there to make your life colorful! HOPE YOU ENJOY IT

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It's Nazanin. For me who loves the rainbow after the rain. What could be more beautiful than writing about colors ?! Well, I'm here now, in Dopely, to share my writings about colors with you and take you with me to the world of colors!

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