color-wheelWhen it comes to professional graphic design, one of the most basic skills is often the most overlooked.  Whether it is due to negligence or lack of vision, the fact remains that choosing the right color scheme for websites and other design elements is a crucial part of the overall success of both the designer, and the design.  That’s because color is one of the first things that people notice when they look at a design, whether it be a logo, a product design or a website.

Making matters even worse is that choosing the right color scheme isn’t difficult to do at all.  In fact, by simply using the color wheel—something we all learned about in 3rd grade but extensively studied in graphic design school—you can choose the right color scheme each and every time.

Developing the Right Color Scheme

Here are a few simple tricks that can help you develop the right color scheme for your project, no matter what it entails.  Of course, nothing is as great a substitute for the skills you learn in graphic design courses, but these should help just about anyone scrape by.

For most projects, starting off with two colors is going to be your first step.  This is the most basic of color schemes and it’s pretty hard to screw this one up.  Simply choose two colors that look good together.  If you can’t do this, chances are design is not your calling!  Now, keep in mind that this is extremely basic so don’t expect to make it very far with this type of color scheme.  But as a starting point or for your most rudimentary projects, this should suffice.

Using the Color Wheel to Expand Your Color Scheme

After you’ve chosen two colors, you can get started with the color wheel.  Keep in mind that the two colors you’ve chosen might not be your final colors or they might just wind up as accentuation—keep an open mind here and don’t get too tied down to your first color scheme.

For the uninitiated, the color wheel is simply a wheel that is based on the color spectrum originally put together by Sir Isaac Newton back in 1666.  This color wheel represents the relationships between colors, essentially giving you the perfect guide to every possible color scheme in the world.  It is used by every designer out there, regardless of whether they actively refer to it or have it memorized (or internalized).

How Does the Color Wheel Work?

The wheel is based around the hues and is connected by lines and shapes, forming various color schemes around the circle.

  1. Primary Colors: Red, Yellow and Blue
  2. Secondary Colors: Orange, Green and Violet
  3. Tertiary Colors: Yellow-Green, Blue-Green, Blue-Violet, Red-Violet, Red-Orange and Yellow-Orange.

 The secondary colors are formed by mixing together two primary colors:

  • Orange is made by mixing yellow and red
  • Green is made by mixing blue and yellow
  • Violet is made by mixing blue and red

After this level comes tertiary colors, which are made by mixing primary colors with secondary colors (Yellow-Green, Blue-Green, Blue-Violet, Red-Violet, Red-Orange and Yellow-Orange are all aptly named).

Using the Color Wheel for Harmony in Your Color Scheme

In order to simplify the process of choosing your color scheme, knowing the geographic calculations that form perfect color schemes will help you eliminate the guess work.  This is called finding “color harmonies” on the color wheel.  When you have an actual color wheel in front of you (or an interactive virtual color wheel), you will be able to move the following geometric shapes around the wheel to create unlimited combinations of color schemes.

  • Complementary color scheme symbol.  A complementary color scheme uses two opposite colors on the color wheel.
  • Monochromatic color scheme symbol.  A monochromatic color scheme uses three different values of the same color.
  • Analogous color scheme symbol.  An analogous color scheme uses three adjacent colors on the color wheel.
  • Split complements color scheme symbol.  Split complements use a color and the two adjacent tertiary colors of its complement.
  • Triadic color scheme symbol.  A triadic color scheme uses three evenly spaced colors on the color wheel.
  • Tetradic color scheme symbol.  A tetradic color scheme uses two complementary pairs.

Choosing the Right Colors Scheme

Of course, the more experience and knowledge you have with color schemes and color wheels, the easier it is going to be for you to learn how color psychologically and physiologically affects your design choices.