Color Theory

Checkout the basics of color wheel and know how it works. Study the relationship between primary, secondary and tertiary colors. Learn about color schemes.

Color brings life to almost everything under the sun! The language of colors is the most common language used without realizing it. We use color codes every day in our life and each color plays an important role.

The most powerful tool for visual communication is colors. They have the power to express thoughts, influence mood, and influence decision-making.

When you start painting, you realize choosing the right color scheme is one of the most important steps of the process. The chosen color scheme will express your ideas and give life to the artwork by adding vibrant pigments and completing the look and feel of your painting.

Whether you are selecting colors for painting a wall, furniture, a house, or creating a brand or logo, understanding color theory is essential. It enables you to create harmonious color schemes that convey the desired mood or message, and make your design stand out.

Several color choices are available, whether you are selecting a color for painting a wall, furniture, house, brand, logo, or anything similar, understanding color theory is essential.  It enables you to create harmonious color schemes that convey the desired mood or message, and make your design stand out. The basics of understanding color is `Color Theory`. Let us see understand it.

What is Color Theory?

Color theory is the basis for primary rules around the colors to create aesthetically appealing visuals. It can also be considered a practical guide on choosing a color scheme. It helps to understand how colors work together, how they can be combined to create new colors, and how they can affect emotions, moods, and perceptions.

A color scheme is a combination of colors used in a painting, design, or illustration. There are various color palettes already available. Each palette makes us feel different due to the combination of colors used.

Colors express feelings that are primarily the same for all humans in any given location. Understanding the science behind the color theory also helps us learn how color evokes a certain vibe or emotion.

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary  

Let us understand the first chapter of color theory. You would have heard of Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary colors. What are they? Let's check out.

Primary Secondary Tertiary Colors

Primary Colors -  They cannot be created by mixing any colors. Hence they are primary. These three primary colors create other colors.

  • Red
  • Yellow
  • Blue

Secondary Colors - When any two primary colors are combined, it creates a secondary color.  We can create three secondary colors by combining any two of the primary colors at a time.

  • Yellow + Blue = Green
  • Red + Yellow = Orange
  • Blue + Red = Purple

Tertiary Colors - When you mix one primary with the nearest secondary color, it will produce a tertiary color. Remember, only the nearest secondary will work.

  •  Red-Orange
  • Yellow-Orange
  • Yellow-Green
  • Blue-Green
  • Blue-Violet
  • Red-Violet

The Color Wheel: A Visual Tool

color wheel showing primary seconary tertiary colors

The color wheel is a diagram of colors placed in a sequence where colors are placed with some relation to each other. Broadly the colors in the color wheel are divided into three categories Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary, as described above. For any artist, this is the starting point of color theory.

The primary color wheel represents the elemental 12 colors and their extended range of shades, tints, and tones. This representation makes it easy to select the colors because you see how colors relate to each other when placed together.

Warm and Cool Colors
Have you ever noticed how certain colors can make a room feel warm and inviting, while others have a calming and cooling effect? This is because colors have a temperature, and are categorized into two broader categories - warm and cool.

When you draw a line through the center of the color wheel, most colors on the left side fall under cool colors (blues, greens, purples), while colors on the right side are considered warm (reds, oranges, yellows). Understanding warm and cool colors is essential in creating a balanced and harmonious color scheme for any artwork or design.

Understanding warm and cool colors can give you confidence in choosing a balanced color scheme for any artwork or in general. This knowledge will help to create color harmony in your composition.

However, the terms "warm" and "cool" can be relative and dependent on the context in which they are used. For instance, a color may appear warm when placed beside one color, but the same color may seem cool when placed beside a different color. Therefore, the decision to classify a color as warm or cool is based on the temperature of the colors used alongside it.

By learning to identify color temperature, you can become better at mixing colors and creating harmonious color schemes. The color theory wheel is an excellent tool for comparing colors and understanding their temperature. With this knowledge, you can confidently choose the right colors to create the desired mood or effect in your artwork or design.

How to use warm and cool colors in art? 

When we think of summer or warm days, images of the sun, fire, and heat come to mind, which are all represented by warm colors. In contrast, images of water, ice, snow, and the sky are associated with cool colors.

Each color has a temperature that can evoke different moods and emotions, with warm colors often conveying intensity and passion, while cool colors bring about feelings of calmness and relaxation.

It's important to keep warm and cool colors in mind when choosing colors for an artwork or design, as they can create a sense of balance and harmony. Warm colors tend to make objects appear closer, while cool colors can make them appear farther away.

In landscape paintings, artists often use cool colors for far-off objects like the sky and mountains, while warm colors are used for foreground objects like greenery and figures. Some iconic acrylic painting artists have created beautiful paintings keeping warm and cool color schemes in mind.

By understanding the use of warm and cool colors in art, you can create breathtaking compositions that evoke the desired emotions and moods in your viewers.

Let us look at the popular types of color schemes in a color theory wheel:

Color Scheme


Monochromatic color schemes have a single color with variations of the color's tints, shades, and tones. This color scheme is straightforward and pleasing to the eyes as the colors are of the same shade and tone, which creates a soothing effect. 

An artist can give the picture a consistent look and feel by playing with the shades and tone.


Analogous color schemes use three related colors(placed side by side on the color wheel), where one color is the dominant color, and others support it. The supporting colors make the color scheme look more appealing. 

This is the color scheme when you want little to no contrast yet add some life to the design.


Color wheel complementary colors are on the opposites sides. For example, opposite of red on color wheel is green. This color scheme grabs attention and attracts the viewer's eye as they create maximum contrast.

Use this color scheme carefully. Otherwise, they look unappealing. To get maximum from this scheme, dominate with one color and use another color as a highlighter.

Hue, shade, tint, and tone

Color, Shade Tint and Tone

By definition, Hue is a color. The degree of lightness, darkness, or strength of  color doesn't change by external factors. For example, a blue ball is blue irrespective of which time of day it is.

Variations of hues on the color wheel are tint, shade, and tone.

A tint is a hue to which white has been added. For example, orange + white = coral. They are mostly pastel shade colors and look softer.

A tone is a color to which grey has been added. This will lighten or darken the original hue, which means the hue's intensity will change. The color appears subtle or less intense as grey is a neutral color that makes the hue dull when added.

A shade is a color to which black is added. In layman's terms, we refer to shade as a lighter or darker version of any color. But technically, shade is a color in which you have added only black and not white. For example, white + black = grey, a shade of white.

There are hundreds of graphic apps, painting apps, and illustrator software available for digital art. Use the paintbrush tool to create different brush strokes using tint, tone, and shades of colors.


As an artist, you have the freedom to decide whether or not to use the color theory wheel. However, it is highly recommended to experiment with color combinations from the color wheel and keep a record of your swatches and notes for future reference. This will help you in developing your own unique style.

If you have ever tried Acrylic Pouring, you will know the color selection is crucial,  In techniques such as Acrylic Pouring, color selection plays a crucial role. Randomly picking colors may result in undesired muddy colors, rather than a stunning artwork.

Having knowledge of color schemes and the color wheel can help you make the right color choices in your artwork and any other situation where you need to choose colors. Creating color harmony and balance can make your artwork more appealing to viewers.

Happy Coloring!