The Colour Wheel is a tool for helping us explore how colours relate to each other, and – in turn – build more informed palettes. This post is intended to be quick primer in the concepts involved.
The Colour Wheel is made up of 12 hues.
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 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 from 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.
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.
Using various values of the same base colour will result in a Monochromatic palette. Producing a document with a palette like this would potentially make for a cheaper print run (if using the litho process). It could also result in a beautiful restrained feel, if you use this method correctly.
Analogous palettes are made up using the two neighbouring hues to any single colour. Because they are closely related, the resulting palette is a harmonious and natural blend of hues. Try giving one colour prominence over the other.
Complementary colours are those facing each other on the wheel. These provide a strong contrast and result in a vibrant, striking palette. Complementary colours can be visually pleasing as they amplify the characteristics of each other. An effective technique is to let one of the two colours dominate by way of having a larger area, and using the other as an accent.
A Split Complementary palette is made using the two neighbouring colours of your chosen hue’s complement. Split complements have the benefits of a Complementary palette but with a slightly subtler effect.
Triadic colours are spaced equally apart on the colour wheel — like the primary and secondary colours at the beginning of the post. Triadic palettes give strong contrast and create tension.
A Mutual Complementary palette is formed using a triadic palette and adding the complement of one of the three initial hues.
Double Complements are any two neighbouring colours and their respective complementary hues.