Skip to content

The Colour Wheel and Colour Harmonies – Understanding Colour Theory, Part 4

Understanding the Colour Theory, Part 1
Understanding the Colour Theory, Part 2
Understanding the Colour Theory, Part 3

Every talk about the colour theory, in some way or the other, refers to the colour wheel and the relationships of the colours depicted in it. In this article, I try to explain the various colour schemes that are commonly referenced in graphic design.

The Colour Wheel

Colour Harmonies
Claude Boutet’s 7-colour and 12-colour colour circles, 1708

A colour wheel can be a continuous or a well-segregated representation of the hues that are defined based on a system, such as the HSL or HSV. In most graphic design suites, the colour wheels encountered are continuous and can be used to access any colour in the RGB space. Both segmented and continuous colour wheels allow for the representation of secondary and tertiary colours.

Wherever you interact with or reference a colour wheel, you’ll notice that the hues have the same neighbours. This brings us to a commonly used harmony, analogous colours.


Colour Harmonies
Violet and red are adjacent colours. Image by THOR, CC BY 2.0, via Flikr
Colour Harmonies
The fire breathed by man shows colours analogous to orange. Image by Luc Viator, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Analogous colours are those that are spatially adjacent on the colour wheel. Generally, when we say that a set of colours are analogous, we reference to a set of three colours. By this harmony, blue, blue-green, and green are analogous. In modern designs, analogous colour schemes are often used for creating gradients.

Complementary Colours

Colour Harmonies
African violet by Michael Arrighi, CC BY 2.0, via Flikr

Complementary colours are the colours that are absolutely opposite of each other on the colour wheel. This means that they have the highest contrast ratio, cancelling each other’s hue when mixed. Red-green and yellow-purple are some examples.


Monochromatic harmony is created by variation in value, shade, or lightness of the same hue. Examples of this can be a dark red that leans towards black, and a washed out shade of red.

Split complements

Split-complementary scheme references to the relationship between a complementary and the two adjacent colours of the second complementary. This scheme is used in compositions demanding contrast that is strong, but not as strong as the complementaries. An example is the set of red-violet, yellow, and green.

Triadic and Tetradic

The triadic scheme uses three colours that are evenly spaced around the wheel, while tetradic is essentially a set of two complementary pairs.

Practicality of the colour schemes

Colour Harmonies
Google’s logo

In 2014, Google introduced the material design paradigm that has since changed the way user interfaces are designed. An important part of the whole design language is how colours are used. In essence, with other design elements, material design is an effort to standardize the way colours are used throughout a UI, in order to enhance user experience and promote accessibility.

Functionally, the monochromatic colour schemes are used to describe hierarchy, enhance text legibility. On the other hand, call-to-action buttons or key interactions are highlighted using complementary or split-complementary relations. The material design framework is a great example of the practicality of the colour theory and the various schemes defined in it.

This series of posts on “colour theory” was written to help self-taught artists, designers, and people who may commission their work, to better utilize the science behind how the human eye interpret colours and how colour interact with light, helping them move from ‘instinct’ to ‘intellect’, ultimately making and using better visual designs.

Laksh is a professional writer with more than 10 years of experience in visual design. He loves to write about brand design and colors.

Give Your Brand The Right Identity

We, at The Design Love, understand that you love your company, you nurture it like your child. We know that you aspire to take your start-up to new heights, that you want to change the game. We also understand that to achieve this, you need to communicate your brand well. And your company’s logo has to play a pivotal role in that. That’s what we’re all about.

Our Ready Made Logo Package?

Our pre designed logos are of the highest professional quality. They are designed by our dedicated team of industry-accomplished designers. All that logo-making experience means that your brand achieves the optimum communication of your vision. The best part? You get the lowest prices and Free Business Card design included with every purchase.

What Our Clients Say About Us!

All payments are made securely through PayPal and Instamojo (India) and have SSL encryption.


Back To Top
Kick Start Your Business at
Just $30!
Get A Logo & Business Card Design
Free Text and Color Changes Included in the Order
15% OFF, Use Coupon Code - TDL15
 Browse Logos!
No Thanks!