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The Color Wheel Explained

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

A color wheel is a great way to learn about colors and understand how they relate to each other. Have you ever wondered what the color wheel is, or how it works?

What Is a Color Wheel?

The color wheel is a visual representation of the relationships between colors, combining both primary and secondary colors. It allows us to see how different shades of color can be used together to create truly stunning works of art.

In this article, we will be discussing the basics of the color wheel and how understanding it can help enhance your artwork.

A color wheel is simply a circle divided into sections with different hues of a particular color. You can think of it as a visual representation of the rainbow.

Each section represents one hue of a color, such as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, etc.

Why Do We Need One?

It is a fundamental tool used by designers to create aesthetically pleasing works of art. Without it, the world of graphic design would be vastly different. At its most basic level, the color wheel is a circle divided into 12 sections representing the 12 main colors. Each section has its own unique hue and saturation levels which can be used in combination with other colors to create new shades and effects. By understanding how these hues interact with each other, designers are able to construct visually appealing images that appear balanced and harmonious. The color wheel is essential for accurately communicating ideas through visuals such as logos, advertisements or posters. Colors convey powerful emotions and messages which can be easily interpreted if they are correctly placed on the wheel before using in a design project

How Does a Color Wheel Work?

To begin with, let's take a look at a simple color wheel. This one shows the primary colors (red, yellow, blue) and secondary colors (orange, green, purple). You can see that red and orange are opposites, while blue and yellow are complementary colors.

Using a Color Wheel

The color wheel is an essential element in creating successful visual designs. With its help, you can create striking compositions that make an emotional impact on viewers. But how do you use the color wheel in graphic design?

The first step to using the color wheel effectively is to understand its basic structure.

The traditional color wheel contains 12 colors:

  • Three primary colors (red, yellow, blue),

  • Three secondary colors (orange, green, and purple) were created by combining two primary colors together,

  • Six tertiary or intermediate hues are made from combinations of primary and secondary hues.

Each hue has a unique emotional connotation that can be used strategically in graphic design for maximum effect.

Primary Colors: Red, Blue, and Yellow

Red, Blue, and Yellow are the building blocks of all other colors.

The primary colors - red, blue and yellow - form the foundation for all other colors that exist on the wheel. Primary Colors can be mixed to create an infinite number of shades, tints, and tones by adding black, white, or gray respectively. This process is known as color theory, which provides us with a useful set of rules for creating aesthetically pleasing combinations from a limited palette of hues.

Secondary Colors: Green, Orange, and Violet

Secondary colors are a combination of two primary colors and provide a vibrant range to the color wheel. Green, orange, and violet are three secondary colors that form an interesting part of any color palette.

Green is a combination of yellow and blue, forming a cool shade that evokes nature. Orange is created by mixing red with yellow, creating an eye-catching hue that adds energy to any project.

Violet is the result of blending blue and red together – its rich tone can be used to make subtle statements in art or fashion designs.

All three of these secondary colors are versatile enough for use in both professional works and DIY projects at home.

Tertiary Colors: Combinations of Primary/Secondary Colors

Tertiary colors are a combination of primary and secondary colors found on the color wheel. This article will explain how each tertiary color is made, and provide examples of how to use them in design.

By understanding the principles behind the color wheel, designers can create unique and unexpected combinations that add visual interest to any composition.

The primary colors on a standard color wheel are red, blue, and yellow. When these three colors are mixed together in equal proportions, they produce secondary colors: orange, green, and purple.

To create tertiary colors, artists combine different levels of primary and secondary hues together; for example, combining both reds (primary) with oranges (secondary) yields reddish-orange or combining blues (primary) with purples (secondary) produces bluish-purple as a result.

Complementary Colors: Opposite on Color Wheel

When it comes to color theory, there is no better way to understand it than by examining the color wheel. A color wheel is an effective tool for visualizing how different colors interact with each other and can help you create beautiful color palettes that will make your design stand out.

Complementary colors are opposite on the color wheel, and when used together can create bold contrasts that draw attention to your design.

Complementary colors are two shades or hues directly across from each other on the wheel. By pairing these opposites together, complementary colors provide maximum contrast, which creates a vibrant look in any palette.

For example, if you pair yellow and purple together they'll bring out their individual strengths within a composition, creating a dynamic and exciting look.

Conclusion: Understanding the Color Wheel

The Color Wheel is a powerful tool for understanding the various colors and relationships between them. In this article, we have taken a deep dive into the color wheel to better understand its vast potential. With a basic knowledge of the color wheel, you can now use it to your advantage in designing your own art and graphic projects.

At its most basic level, the Color Wheel consists of 12 hues arranged in an orderly fashion that creates a visual representation of how colors interact with each other. When combined with additional elements such as tints and shades, these hues can create an endless array of unique combinations that make up any given piece of artwork. x

By understanding the fundamentals behind the Color Wheel, you are now equipped with all the necessary tools to successfully utilize it for any creative project.


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Shaheer Malik

UX Designer/ Writer

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