Definition of a Split Complementary Color Scheme

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A split-complementary color scheme uses three colors -- a base color and the two colors on the left and right of the base’s complementary color, which are opposite the base on a standard color wheel. Split-complementary color schemes can be used to help you choose and create attractive home decor, artwork, flower arrangements, outfits, quilts and other crafts.

An overhead view of a designer working with a computer and color wheel at her desk
(DmitriyTitov/iStock/Getty Images)

The color wheel is a visual diagram of the twelve main colors arranged in a circle, according to their relationship to each other. For example, orange can be found between red and yellow, as it is made by mixing the colors red and yellow together. Colors directly opposite each other on the color wheel are called complementary colors. Split-complementary colors are three colors consisting of a base and the two colors next to its complementary color.

There are twelve split-complementary color options, each using one of the twelve colors on the wheel as its base color. These split-complementary color schemes are:

  • Red + Yellow-Green + Blue-Green
  • Yellow + Red-Violet + Blue-Violet
  • Blue + Yellow-Orange + Red-Orange
  • Green + Red-Orange + Red Violet
  • Orange + Blue-Violet + Blue-Green
  • Violet + Yellow-Green + Yellow-Orange
  • Yellow-Orange + Blue + Violet
  • Red-Orange + Blue + Green
  • Red-Violet + Green + Yellow
  • Blue-Violet + Yellow + Orange
  • Blue-Green + Orange + Red
  • Yellow-Green + Red + Violet

When deciding on a split-complementary color scheme to use in your home or design, always begin by choosing a base color. The base becomes the dominant color. This may take the form of a paint color in home decor, the largest number of flowers in floral arrangements, or the main color in a quilt. The two split-complementary colors should be used as accents. Throw pillows, curtains or artwork could all be used to incorporate split-complementary colors into a room. Split-complementary colors also could be used as subtle accents in flower arrangements or fabric crafts.

Split-complementary color schemes can help beginning crafters make visually pleasing items, as they look attractive without being too bold. A children’s play-room painted in a bright blue looks upbeat and cheery with yellow-orange and red-orange accents. Red-violet colored flowers are beautiful when combined with yellow blooms and green ferns, while muted orange, blue-violet, and blue-green fabrics would make an eye-catching quilt.

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