Color theory: A beginner's guide for designers

Color is one of the fundamentals that design is built of. It can be a powerful tool in the expert’s hands affecting numerous factors that are vital for the compelling visual perception. Color has a significant impact on our minds. It changes the way we feel about an object within a few seconds as well as makes people react and even take certain actions. Bakery Shop Signage Mockup

The Vocabulary of Color


1. Primary colors
Primary colors are the “original” colors, consisting of red, yellow, and blue. You can’t mix any colors together to get these colors. These three pigments are the building blocks of an extensive color range, or gamut. When combined, they create secondary and tertiary colors along with all hues in between.


2. Secondary Colors
Secondary colors are the colors that are formed by combining any two of the three primary colors. There are three secondary colors: orange, purple, and green. Here are the general rules of secondary color creation:

Red + Yellow = Orange
Blue + Red = Purple
Yellow + Blue = Green


3. Tertiary Colors
Tertiary colors are created when you mix a primary color with secondary color. The most important component of tertiary colors is that not every primary color can match with a secondary color to create a tertiary color.
Tertiary colors are created when a primary color mixes with a secondary color that comes next to it on the color wheel. There are six tertiary colors that fit this requirement:

Red + Purple = Red-Purple (magenta)
Red + Orange = Red-Orange (vermillion)
Blue + Purple = Blue-Purple (violet)
Blue + Green = Blue-Green (teal)
Yellow + Orange = Yellow-Orange (amber)
Yellow + Green = Yellow-Green (chartreuse)

Color Properties


1. Hue
Hue relates to the traditional color wheel from grade school which measures actual color like blue, red, or yellow.

2. Saturation
Saturation describes the intensity of a color. Increasing saturation makes the color richer and darker, while reducing saturation makes it look faded and lighter. When we say “light blue” or “dark green,” we’re describing changes in saturation.

3. Value
Value refers to the lightness, brightness or darkness of a color. Value in the art will refer to the shadows and highlights and will give your work more dimension. It is especially important in black and white photos, design and illustration as it will separate objects from each other and their background.

4. Lightness
Lightness, also known as value or tone, defines the perceived brightness of a color compared to pure white.

Color Wheel

The color circle was created in 1666 by Isaac Newton in a schematic way and since then it has gone through many transformations but still remains the main tool for color combination. The idea is that the color wheel must be made that way so colors would be mixed appropriately.

A basic color wheel contains the 12 standard colors used to create color schemes. Each slice of the pie represents a family of colors that can be achieved with different saturations, hues, tints, shades, and mixes of neighboring colors. The color combinations (e.g., yellow-orange, red-orange) result from mixing equal amounts of the base hues (yellow and orange, or red and orange).

Red, yellow, and blue are the primary colors. Violet, orange, and green are the secondary colors. Everything else is a tertiary color, a mix of primary and secondary colors.  Elegant Menu Design Templates


Color is something so simple, that some people may take it for granted, but in reality, there’s a whole science to color and why we use it! Luckily for us, however, color doesn’t need to be hard and there are countless tools out there to help you match colors and find your perfect color scheme. The color wheel is one of the most simple yet most powerful! Remember there are no best color combinations for graphic design, so experiment and be creative!