Basic Color Theory

Basic color theory involves naming the primary and secondary colors and identifying them on the color wheel. The wheel is the basis of color harmony. Here are some facts about color theory, including a few basic color terms.

  1. Primary and Secondary Colors

    • Red, yellow and blue are the three primary colors. These colors are used in combination to create all other colors. The secondary colors are green, orange and purple. The primary and secondary colors make up the color wheel.

    Tertiary Colors

    • The tertiary colors are the colors that lie between the primary and secondary colors. These include yellow-green, blue-green, red-violet and others.

    Complementary and Analogous Colors

    • The color wheel is used to determine color harmony. Colors that are directly across from each other on the color wheel are complementary colors--for example, blue and yellow. Analogous colors are a series of three colors/shades that appear side-by-side on the color wheel, such as red, red-orange and orange, for example.

    Warm and Cool Colors

    • Colors are often further divided into warm and cool categories. Warm colors occupy roughly the right side of the color wheel, from red to yellow-green; cool colors are those on the left side, from reddish purple to green.

    Neutral Colors

    • Colors like white, black, gray and brown are considered neutral colors.

    Basic Terms

    • Value Scale

      The term "hue" simply refers to the color (blue, red, green, etc.). "Saturation" is the intensity level of the color, so a very pronounced color is said to have high saturation, and a dull or muted color has low saturation. "Value" refers to the color's brightness and is measured on a scale from one to 10, with the blackest beginning at one.

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