Creating a color scheme can seem daunting when you are faced with thousands of colors on swatches, in photos, and in stores. Most color professionals learn the basics of color theory, and how to use those theories to easily create color schemes. You can learn how to quickly and easily create your own color schemes, by learning a few simple color concepts.
If you read about color schemes and color palettes, they seem to be used interchangeably. When I’m working with color, or writing about it, I use the term color scheme to describe the framework of how the colors are chosen and put together. A color scheme is based on color theory, like a monochromatic scheme.
A color palette is how I refer to the actual colors that you’ve chosen, based on your color scheme. So if you chose a complementary color scheme, the color palette would include colors by name, or by paint color. It’s more specific to your project. Once you learn a few basic color scheme techniques, you can choose color that expresses your personal taste and vision.
The Color Wheel
If you want to dive into creating color schemes easily, then buying a small and inexpensive color wheel is going to be your best ally. Look for a color wheel that shows color relationships on the back. Being able to reference how the colors relate to one another makes choosing color simpler.
Color Relationships - Your Key to Color Schemes
You don’t need an extensive color education to create a gorgeous color scheme, but you will need to know about color relationships. Creating a color scheme that is based on color relationships is going to feel and look more harmonious than a scheme created without planning.
Color Relationships and Schemes - the Quick Version
As you just learned, successful color schemes are based on color relationships. Here are the basic color relationships that will be the foundation for your color scheme.
- Monochromatic Color Scheme is a color scheme of only one color. By using variations of lightness and saturation, you can easily create a stylish scheme that looks professionally designed. Neutral colors are an elegant choice for monochromatic color schemes.
- Complementary Color Scheme is a color scheme with two colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. This color scheme can be vibrant with high contrast if colors are used in the same saturation. This scheme will naturally include a warm and a cool color, as they're on opposite sides of the wheel.
- Analogous Color Scheme is a scheme using three colors that are adjacent to each other. An analogous scheme can be very harmonious and relaxing. A scheme of blue-green, green, and green yellow, is an example of an analogous color scheme. This scheme benefits from having one dominant color, with the two remaining colors as accents. Analogous schemes work well with accent walls, and other large scale accents, because the colors are naturally harmonious together.
- Triad Color Scheme is a scheme with three colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel. A triad color scheme could include green, violet, and orange, so care must be taken with saturation of the colors you choose. This is another scheme that benefits from choosing one color to dominate, with the other two as accents.
- Split-Complementary is a color scheme that uses three colors. One color is chosen, then the color on either side of its complementary color are included. Less dramatic than the complementary color scheme, the split-complementary is an easy color scheme to create and live with.
- Tetradic Color Scheme is a scheme using two sets of complementary colors. Having four colors to work with can be more challenging, but it can also produce a full and rich color scheme. Using a dominant color with three accent colors is one way to harmonize a tetradic color scheme. The other way to create a pleasant tetradic scheme is using muted tones of the four colors. Any complementary scheme will contain warm and cool colors and requires special care balancing the two.
If you find a color wheel that illustrates color relationships, you can easily experiment with all of these color schemes to find the perfect one. Once your color scheme is decided, the fun begins as you create a palette of your desired colors.