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Tip 4: The Color Wheel Is Your Friend

Most of us know what the color wheel is. Never mind for now that there are different kinds of color wheels, and focus instead on the one in Figure 3-a standard model of the sort that's in use by about 98% of art schools and artists. Despite their familiarity with the color wheel, many art professionals seem unsure of its significance and function.

Figure 3

Figure 3

A standard color wheel.

What is the purpose of this color wheel and how can you use it? The color wheel is a schematic of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors used to define palettes according to their geometric relationship on the wheel. For example, complementary colors are hues that sit directly across from each other, and triadic palettes are made from a triangular association between any three equally spaced hues.

One important principle about the color wheel: The slices of the wheel should be seen as mere placeholders for all other possible incarnations of the hues they represent. For example, if you decide to color an illustration by using a triadic palette (see Figure 4), dark, light, muted, and bright versions of each color should be considered en route to finalizing the overall color scheme.

Figure 4

Figure 4

An image colored with an expanded palette built from a triadic color scheme.

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