The Colour Wheel
The Colour Wheel is a tool for exploring colour relationships and helping to build more informed and effective palettes. This post is intended to be a quick primer in the concepts involved.
The Colour Wheel is made up of 12 segments.
During his work on optics, Sir Isaac Newton (1643–1727) is believed to be the first person to create a colour wheel — mapping the colours of the visible spectrum and joining the ends.
The Primary Colours are Red, Blue, and Yellow. These are the only colours on the wheel that are not formed by mixing others together.
Secondary Colours are positioned halfway between the primaries, and are made up of equal amounts of the closest hues.
Tertiary Colours make up the remainder of the wheel. These are formed by mixing primary and secondary colours equally.
All around the wheel, each colour makes up a part of its neighbour. We can also see that each primary colour has an influence in every hue before the next primary appears.
Tints and Shades
We can also break the wheel down further to include colour value. Value refers to a colour with a shade (added black) or a tint (added white). As you can see, this greatly multiplies the number of colours that we can build a palette from.
Finding related colours
Using various values of the same base colour will result in a Monochromatic palette. Monochromatic palettes can achieve a beautiful restrained feel.
Analogous palettes are made by using the two neighbouring hues to any single colour. Because they are closely related, the resulting combination is a harmonious blend. Try giving one colour prominence over the other.
Complementary colours are those facing each other on the wheel. Together, these make a vibrant, striking combination. While they might not always be visually pleasing, Complements amplify the characteristics of each other. An effective technique is to give one colour prominence, and use the other sparingly to call attention.
Split Complementary Colours
A Split Complementary palette is made using the two neighbouring hues to your chosen colour’s complement. Split complements have the characteristics of a Complementary palette but with a more subtle effect.
Triadic colours are spaced apart equally on the colour wheel. These palettes give strong contrast and create tension.
A Mutual Complementary palette is formed using a triadic palette, and then adding the complement of one of the three initial hues.
Finally, Double Complements are any two neighbouring colours and their respective complements.