Complementary Colours

Before we look at how the colours go together, we need to understand the terminology.

Hue: the colour

Saturation: how bright or dull the colour is

Value: measurement of lightness of colour

Tint: the hue + white

Shade: the hue + black

Tone: the hue + grey

Monochromatic: hue extended through tints, shades and tones.

The colour system we as designers work with is RGB, being red, green and blue. Printers work with CYMK; cyan, yellow, magenta and key (black); so that they can achieve the precise colour we see on the screen

Now in terms of how the colours work, we begin with the primary colours. We can’t get anywhere without them. They’re spaced evenly on the colour wheel, and all of the shades in between them are essentially just a combination of the 3. If you mixed even quantities of all 3 of the colours you’d end up with black. From the primary colours we get the secondary colours. These are the colours made up from mixing two primary colours together (in even quantities), hence the name. Orange is made up of red and yellow, green by blue and yellow, and purple by red and blue. Then from the secondary colours we get the the tertiaries. The tertiaries are the colours we get from mixing secondary colours together. As you can see from the pictures, you can achieve different shades of the colours by adding more or less of the secondary colours to the mix.

Then we come onto colour combinations. Complementary colours sit directly opposite each other on the colour wheel. The examples I’ve created are the primary colours and their complementary colours. Split complementary colour schemes work by taking the two colours either side of the original colour’s complimentary. So, in the example: blue is the complementary colour of orange, meaning the split uses the blue-purple and blue-green alongside the orange. And then we have double complementary colour schemes. They work by the taking the adjacent colours from both of the complimentary colours. Analogous colour schemes work by using several colours side by side of the colour wheel. And finally, the triadic complementary colour scheme works by taking 3 colours evenly spaced on the colour scheme. So the primary colours themselves are actually a triadic complementary colour scheme, I didn’t feel the need to include an example for that one, as the primary colours example counts for both.

I know it’s confusing, and I’ll honestly have forgotten all of the names in a few weeks, but it’s useful to consider the colour schemes for design work.


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