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A colour wheel gives you a visual representation of colours arranged by their relationship with each other.

The wheel is used to show you how harmoniously colours will blend together.

  • Primary colours are your foundation. They are colours that cannot be created by mixing others.
  • Secondary colours are made by mixing two primaries.
  • Tertiary colours are created by a mixture of primary and secondary shades.
  • Complementary colours are positions opposite each other on the wheel.
  • Analogous colours are located close together on the wheel.

Choosing warm or cool colours

The wheel can also be divided into active or passive or warm and cool colours.

Active or warm colours such as reds, oranges, and yellows will visually appear to advance when placed against passive or cool colours. Warm colours are vivid and vibrant, bringing energy and dynamism to a design.

Passive or cool colours such as blues, purples and greens will visually seem to recede when placed against active or warm colours. Cool colours can be used to create a tranquil atmosphere and give a calm impression. They’re most often found in rooms that will be used for relaxing.

Advancing colours are considered to hold less visual weight than receding ones while some colours are visually neutral or indifferent. White, black and grey are all labelled as neutral.

Creating tints, shades and tones

The concept of tints, shades and tones is simple.

If you make a colour lighter by adding white it’s called a tint. If you make it darker with the addition of black, then it is a shade. And if you slightly darken a colour with grey, you create a tone.

By experimentation you can mix paints until you achieve the exact tint, shade or tone you desire.

Test a complementary colour scheme

When experimenting with colour schemes, a complementary scheme is a straightforward choice as it takes two colours that fall opposite each other on the wheel. One colour is dominant while the other accents it.

Examples of this are purple and yellow, green and red, and blue and orange. These highly contrasting colours can be used to make an eye-catching design feature; however, they can be overpowering if used in abundance.

Alternatively, you can tone down the overall effect by introducing neutrals to bring some tranquillity to your complementary design.

Try an analogous design

If a complimentary colour scheme is a little too bold for your tastes, try an analogous plan.

Analogous colour schemes use colours that sit next to each other on the wheel and are used to form harmonious and relaxing designs that are pleasing to the eye.

When creating an analogous colour scheme, start with one colour that will be your dominant shade. Then choose a second similar colour to support it and a third colour as an accent.

You can fashion a similar plan from neutrals, so place black, white and grey in place of brighter colours. The trick is to ensure you have enough contrast when putting together your analogous scheme.

Enjoy experimenting with colour

The colour wheel offers a structured approach to colour experimentation. It gives you some basic rules to follow when you start blending colours together.

Armed with the information the colour wheel provides, you can begin to combine colours to see for yourself the visual impact they will have. Whether it’s warm and active or cool and passive, you can make a statement with the colours you use and the order in which you use them.