color theory…
breaking it down to basics

Color Theory

We’ve been talking about color a lot lately, and with good reason. Color plays a big part of our lives; understanding color terminology is key to working with everyone from the paint-mixing technician to an interior decorator.

Terms like hue, tint, shade and tone get thrown around in a seemingly arbitrary fashion and many people use them interchangeably. Someone talking paint colors may use them differently than someone talking digital colors; then there are neutrals, saturation, chroma, and other properties of color.

Keep it simple with the basics, when it comes to décor:

  • Hue – the basic color on the color wheel. There are 3 primary, 3 secondary, and 6 tertiary hues.
  • Tint – adding white to the hue to lighten it.
  • Shade – adding black to a hue to darken it.
  • Tones – adding gray to a hue to “tone it down”.

Terms like saturation, brightness, lightness, chroma, intensity, luminosity, value and others are primarily used in the digital world, and when it comes to décor, one person’s “saturation” is another’s “intensity”. The simplest approach is to use color samples, like paint chips, to illustrate color rather than relying on terms that can be misunderstood.

The color wheel

We all learned it back in kindergarten, our primary colors are red, blue and yellow. From them, plus white and black, we can make every color of the rainbow.

  • Primary colors – red, blue, yellow
  • Secondary colors – green, orange and purple
  • Tertiary colors – yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green, and yellow-green – they’re the result of mixing one primary, and one secondary color.

So what’s peacock green, tomato red or sky blue? There are some generally accepted terms thanks to consistent use (think Goldenrod) and companies like Pantone that put out regular color lists. For the most part, however, one person’s peacock green is another’s teal. This is where color swatches come in handy, so you can get the right color no matter what name it’s going by.

Color schemes

When it comes to creating a color palette, the most common schemes are:

  • Analogous – any three colors which are side-by-side.

    Pros: easy to create, rich appearance, more nuanced than monochromatic
    Cons: lacks contrast, can lack vibrancy
  • Complementary – any two colors which are directly opposite each other.

    Pros: strong contrast and maximum attention
    Cons: harder to balance, can be overwhelming in bright colors, or seem dull if colors are too toned down
  • Triadic – any three colors that are evenly spaced around the wheel.

    Pros: balanced harmony and contrast
    Cons: colors can be overwhelming or look gaudy and need to be subdued
  • Split Complementary – a base color and the two colors adjacent to its direct complement.

    Pros: more nuanced than complementary schemes with the same high contrast and attention
    Cons: can be very hard to balance, darker warm colors are especially difficult
  • Tetradic (rectangle or double split complementary) – two sets of complementary pairs.

    Pros: offers high color variety
    Cons: hardest scheme to balance, requires careful selection of dominant color
  • Square – similar to Triadic, but with four colors spaced evenly around the wheel.
  • Pros: offers high color variety
    Cons: hardest scheme to balance, requires careful selection of dominant color
  • Monochromatic – uses varying shades, tints and tones of one color.
    Pros: easy to manage, always looks balanced, soothing, elegant
    Cons: lacks contrast, can lack vibrancy
  • Nature – forget the color wheel and take inspiration from nature, which can be anything from soothing to incredibly vibrant.
Enhanced by Zemanta

One thought on “color theory…
breaking it down to basics

  1. Pingback: at home hotel bedroom?... oh yeah! | inspired habitat

Leave a Reply