Definition of a Split Complementary Color Scheme

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Definition of a Split Complementary Color Scheme
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Decorating and using colors isn't just about what looks good to the naked eye. There is science behind which colors match and complement each other, determined by the color wheel and the scientific way light creates color. One way to determine which colors to use, especially when trying to accessorize, is by using split complementary colors.

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What Are Split Complementary Colors?

To understand split complementary colors, you first need to understand the color wheel. The color wheel, which you might recall from art class, is a circular diagram of the 12 main colors that exist. They are arranged in relationship to one another, and these arrangements are not random. Colors are formed by wavelengths of light that are in part determined by how fast the light moves. The color wheel is scientifically determined.

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Secondary colors on the color wheel are located between the colors that mix to form them. For example, orange is located between red and yellow. Colors that are arranged directly opposite from each other are called complementary colors. Orange is across from blue, so orange and blue are complementary colors.

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Split complementary colors, though, are combinations of three colors. In this example, the split complementary colors of orange are the two shades on either side of the first color's complementary color. So, orange's two complementary colors are blue-violet and blue-green.

What Is a Split Complementary Color Scheme?

A split complementary color scheme uses the base or original color and its two split complementary colors. In total, there are 12 split complementary color schemes: red, yellow-green and blue-green; yellow, red-violet and blue-violet; blue, yellow-orange and red-orange; green, red-orange and red-violet; orange, blue-violet and blue-green; violet, yellow-green and yellow-orange; yellow-orange, blue and violet; red-orange, blue and green; red-violet, green and yellow; blue-violet, yellow and orange; blue-green, orange and red; and yellow-green, red and violet.

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Primary colors and secondary colors have tertiary colors as their split complements. In contrast, tertiary colors have primary and secondary colors as their split complements. It is important to note that complementary colors are not interchangeable, and just because one color is a complementary one doesn't mean the others will match. For example, orange's split complementary colors are blue-violet and blue-green, but blue-green's split complementary colors do not include blue-violet. Instead, they are orange and red.

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Designing a Split Complementary Color Scheme

You can use split complementary colors in design in many ways. It is an easy, simple way to determine which colors match and complement each other and which do not. The best way that you can utilize split complementary colors in decorating and design is to use your main color as the base and then accessorize with the split complementary colors. For example, if you have a blue couch and wonder which color throw pillows to buy to decorate it, you can use blue's split complementary colors, yellow-orange and red-orange, to guide your selections.

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This complementary color scheme is a handy trick to use when choosing outfits and accessories. If you plan to wear white pants and a violet sweater, you can complement them by wearing a scarf that has yellow-green and yellow-orange in it, which are violet's split complementary colors. Referring to the color wheel is a terrific way to match colors in any situation. Whether you're getting dressed, decorating your home, creating art or doing some other activity that involves using colors, using split complementary colors can help you make sure the scheme matches well.

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