A color wheel is a tool that arranges colors in a logical order around a circular pattern. Color wheels can be basic or more complicated and may include some combination of primary colors (red, blue, and yellow), secondary colors (green, orange, and violet), and tertiary colors (red-orange, red-violet, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-violet, and blue-green). This may sound complicated, but it really isn't.
Color wheels have a variety of uses, but many choose to use a color wheel to help them combine colors in aesthetically pleasing ways. Whether your project involves painting a piece of furniture, designing a web page, or accessorizing an outfit for an evening out, you can probably benefit from using a color wheel.
The three simplest color relationships are complementary colors, analogous colors, and monochromatic colors.
- Complementary colors are located opposite one another on the color wheel and tend to make each other really "pop." Complementary color combinations are very popular for this reason. It's no coincidence that Christmas colors are red and green! However, mixing large areas of complementary colors can be overwhelming to the eye. For example, instead of mixing a blue top with an orange skirt, it might be preferable to accessorize a blue outfit with an orange bracelet.
- Analogous colors are located adjacent to one another on a color wheel. An example is the combination of red, orange, and yellow. These colors mix well together and do not jump out in the way that complementary colors do. However, it is still best to choose one color as the dominant color and use the other colors in smaller amounts.
- Monochromatic color palates are created by combining several shades of a single color. This type of combination is less dramatic than the previous groups, but is usually a safe bet. You will also require a more sophisticated color wheel to create monochromatic color palates, as more basic color wheels may not include multiple shades or tints of one color.
Although a color wheel is not a necessity for successfully creating attractive color combinations, using one will simplify the process and make mistakes far less likely. It is always a good idea for the novice painter, graphic designer, or home decorator to refer to a color wheel when coming up with ideas; for more inspiration, you can also take online design classes which focus on color composition.