Color Theory – The Right Use of Colors in Design

The use of the right colors or combinations of colors influences a users overall perception, interaction and understanding of a brand. This is why designers and product owners need to understand the meaning of different colors. There is no doubt that colors can stimulate our brain chemistry and generate feelings accordingly. As a designer, one must be familiar with the basics of “Color Theory” to get to know colors and the visual impact of mixing them.  

Color Theory:  

In color theory, colors are organized into three categories: 

Primary Colors:  

They’re three basic colors (Red, Blue, Yellow) on the color wheel, all the other colors are derived from these colors.  

Secondary Colors: 

These are the colors that are formed when you mix two primary colors. (Green, Orange, Purple)

Tertiary Colors: 

Tertiary colors are created by mixing primary and secondary colors. (Red-Orange, Blue-Green, Yellow-Green etc.)  

(Desktop Publishing) 

Now that we have an understanding of basic color theory, we now need to understand these colors better. Let’s focus on how to create different color schemes using the color wheel.  


In color theory, hue is one of the main properties of color, it is based on color appearance parameters. 


It is also referred to as saturation or chroma of a color. It refers to the degree of purity of a color. In terms of light, it measures the quantity of white light reflected to a color. 

Shades and Tints:  

When referring to pigments, dark values with black added are called “shades”. 

Light values with white pigment added are called “tints” of the hue name. 

(Desktop Publishing) 

Warm Colors: 

As the name indicates, they tend to make you think of warmth and livelihood. They are derived from high energy sources such as sunlight and heat.These colors represent hunger, anger, happiness and all other positive emotions. These colors are mostly used in food, fashion, art and related brands. 

Cool Colors  

They represent calmness and mellow emotions. Cool colors remind you of cold energy resources like water and sky, even ice and snow. These colors represent all the deep emotions like trust, sadness and seriousness. These colors are mostly used in business, education and social media websites etc. 

Creating a color Scheme:  

As a designer, it is important to know how to create a color scheme in an informed manner. One must know the right way and mechanics to create a color scheme that creates an affective mood or theme. There are different ways to combine colors and create different kind of color Schemes.  


Contrasting colors:  

Contrasting colors are ones that lie opposite to each other on the color wheelTheir level of contrast vary from high to low, depending on their position on the color wheel. 

Triadic Color Scheme: 

Choose a base color from the color wheel, draw an Equilateral Triangle from this point to other two points on the color wheel. The three colors in these points of the triangle will form your tri-color scheme to use in your design. 

Compound Color Scheme (Split Complementary): 

The Compound color scheme is based on providing a range of Complementary Colors: two colors are chosen from opposite ends of the color spectrum of color wheel. 

Analogous Color Scheme:  

It is based on a careful selection of colors in the same area of the color spectrum. Usually, the colors are differentiated by their vibrancy, and their contrast when compared to each other.  

(Desktop Publishing


RBG – Additive Color Mixing:  

Humans see colors in light waves. The additive color mixing model allows you to create colors by mixing red, green and blue light sources of various intensities. The more light you add, the brighter the color mix becomes. If you mix all three colors of light, you get pure, white light ( 

TVs, screens and projectors use red, green and blue (RGB) as their primary colors, and then mix them together to create other colors. 


 These colors are ideally used to create screen based designs, especially for social media, website design, video editing, animation and other digital media. 

CMYK – Subtractive Color Mixing 

Any color you see on a physical surface (paper, signage, packaging, etc.) uses the subtractive color mixing model. Most people are more familiar with this color model because it’s what we learned in kindergarten when mixing finger paints. In this case, “subtractive” simply refers to the fact that you subtract the light from the paper by adding more color. 

Traditionally, the primary colors used in subtractive process were red, yellow and blue, as these were the colors painters mixed to get all other hues. As color printing emerged, they were subsequently replaced with cyan, magenta, yellow and key/black (CMYK), as this color combo enables printers to produce a wider variety of colors on paper. 



This color mixing model is mostly used in printed design materials. The ideal result this mixing model gives is in piment and ink. Designers use this color scheme to create printed media like Newspaper, Printed billboards, Visiting cards etc.  

A useful tip to creating your design in any software is to change the color mode of file to RGB while designing for the screens and keeping the color mode to CMYK while designing the print material (unless you have an RGB printer).  

These are some basic useful tips and color mixing schemes according to humans perception in color psychology. The art if designing doesn’t come only with a good sense, it is rather a combination of good sense and knowing the rules. Colors play an important role in aesthetics as well as the tone setting for any design. It is as important as any other element of design. Being well aware of these rules and techniques is what makes a common design extraordinary. 


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