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The Colour Wheel Explained

Primary Colours

  • The colour wheel starts with the three primary colours: red, blue and yellow. Primary colours are unique because you cannot make these three colours by mixing other colours.

  • By combining the primary colours you can make every single other colour

Secondary Colours

•Secondary Colours are made by mixing primary colours in equal proportions.

•Mixing the primary colours red and blue makes purple

•Mixing the primaries yellow and blue make green

•Mixing the primaries red and yellow make orange

Tertiary Colours

•There are 6 Tertiary Colours

•Tertiary Colours are the final section of the colour wheel.

•A tertiary colour is made by mixing a primary colour with an adjacent secondary colour

• Mixing red with orange will create red-orange,

•Mixing blue with green will create blue-green.

•The tertiary colours are called red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green, yellow-green and yellow-orange.

•In these names, the primary colour is always said first.

•You can make any combination of colours by mixing tertiary, primary and secondary colours in different quantities, and by adding black, white and grey.

Tints, Tones & Shades

Tints, tones and shades Using colours in their full saturation would be very jarring to the eye, black, white and grey are often added to colours to tone them down, darken them, or make them paler. These are called tints, tones and shades

Tint is a colour plus white.

•Tints give a pale, soft look to a room; they are created by adding white

•When a colour tint is made, a colour from the tertiary colour wheel has white added to it in differing amounts. The more white that is added, the paler the colour becomes until eventually, the colour turns back to white. This is how pastel colours are made; so pastel colours are tints of the main colour from the tertiary colour wheel.

Shade is a colour plus black.

•Shades produce deep, dramatic colours, and they are produced by adding black

•When a shade of a colour is made, a colour from the tertiary colour wheel has black added to it in differing amounts. The more black that is added, the darker the colour becomes until eventually, the colour turns to pure black. You can see that the colours look darker as more black is added.

Tone is a colour plus grey (a mix of black and white)

•Tones give a muted look and are often used in heritage paint palettes, created by adding grey

•Grey is a mix of black and white. The ratio of black to white determines how toned down the colour becomes. By adding grey, the colours become more muted and less vivid. The greys in the central circle of this colour wheel, are slightly different. This is because the greys are made from a starting point of different hues so the grey created from a starting colour of blue will look slightly different on your client’s walls than the grey which is created from a starting point of red.

•These undertones can be quite surprising and that's why it's so important to test paint colours out before you use them.

Warm & Cool Colours

Warm and Cool Colours Colour have ‘temperature’. Temperature is a measure of light temperature and is measured in degrees Kelvin, which is the same measure on light bulb packets. The higher the Kelvins, the cooler and bluer the light appears, and the lower the Kelvins the warmer and more yellow the light appears.

•These temperatures are shown by their arrangement on the colour wheel, there is a warm side and a cool side.

•On the right-hand side of the wheel, are warm colours (these include red, orange, yellow and all of the colours which are made by mixing them in different ratios or by adding black and white).

•On the left-hand side of the wheel are cool colours. These include blues, greens and lilacs

•Green and purple sit in the middle of the warm and the cool sides, and you can get warm and cool versions of each of these colours.

•Rooms decorated in cool colours exude calmness and relaxation

•Rooms decorated in warm colours exude excitement, friendliness and warmth

Saturation & Value

Saturation is the intensity or vibrancy of colour. As the saturation increases the colour will be very pure, vibrant and strong, whereas as the saturation decreases the colour will be closer to white, and therefore paler or lighter or more washed out

•A highly saturated image has vivid, rich and bright colours, while an image with low saturation will veer towards a scale of grey.

Value is the lightness or brightness of the colour as it moves between black and white.

•White has a value of 10, whereas black has a value of 0. This comes from the Munsell model

Combining Colours

Combining Colours There are several different ways that you can use the colour wheel to create different combinations.

monochromatic, where you just use one hue in your room, adding interest by using different tints, tones and shades of the hue.

•Secondly if you use two or three colours next to each other on the wheel, this is called harmonious, although you will also hear this called analogous too. This gives you a calm and gentle look at a room.

•If you use two colours which sit opposite each other on the colour wheel, this is called a complementary colour scheme, and it gives a high contrast.

Triadic colour schemes use three colours from the colour wheel, evenly spaced out. This creates quite a vibrant scheme, even if you soften them by choosing tints, tones or shades of the main colour. So if you want to impact, this is a good one to go for, but not if you want something more classic or subtle


•Monochromatic is using any tint, tone or shade of just one colour.

• Monochromatic doesn’t mean black and white (that’s called achromatic).

•Monochromatic means using just one hue in your scheme.

•It means using several different tints, tones and shades of one colour to create contrast and interest.

•In a monochromatic scheme, you: pick one colour, Use tints, tones and shades of the same hue, and layer textures to keep the look interesting


•Harmonious colours sit beside each other on the colour wheel

•A harmonious colour scheme uses three to five colours that are beside each other on the colour wheel

•Using two or three harmonious colours on the colour wheel gives you a calming look, and it brings balance to the scheme and is pleasing to the eye

•Using tinted or shaded tones of each colour rather than the fully saturated colours you see on the colour wheel makes a more pleasing combination.

•Using them in fairly equal proportions brings balance to the scheme

•Harmonious colours may also be referred to as analogous colours.

Complimentary Colours

•Complementary colours are any two colours which sit directly opposite each other on the colour wheel, for example: green and red

• If used in the same saturation (with no white, black or grey added) it can make a very bold statement

•By toning them down or using tints, tones or shades, it can work well.

•If you want to have a colour pop in your room, choosing a complementary colour is a great way to achieve this

•The key to making this colour scheme work is to allow one colour only to dominate, and make the other colour an accent

•If both are used in equal saturation and similar proportions, which gives a very impactful impression.

Split Complimentary

Split complementary is complimentary except for the fact that it chooses two colours on either side of the complement.

•In the complementary colour scheme, red and green are opposite each other. In a split complementary scheme, we've still got green, but instead of having the red opposite it, it's moved towards the red-orange and the red-purple.

•This creates less tension than a complementary scheme, so it is less high contrast and not as dramatic.


Tetrad scheme is the most colourful combination, where you choose four colours on the wheel that are two sets of complements, for exampleBlue and orange with red and green

•If you go for a tetrad scheme, make sure that you let one colour dominate, otherwise it gets incredibly busy!

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