Learn & Apply Color Theory In 15 Minutes

Hi! My name is Celia, and today I’m challenging myself to learn and apply the basic tenants of color theory in fifteen minutes.

This is the first installment of a new series I’m starting called LEARN/APPLY. The basic structure is this: I set out to learn a subject in a relatively short span of time, take careful notes, and then challenge myself (and you!) to make something immediately afterwards based on that new knowledge. Voila, new skills and instant gratification!

So… Color Theory. What is it? Why should I care?

What’s a Color Theory?

Color theory is effectively a set of best practices for the art of combining colors. You should care about it because it is a critical part of what attracts people to products, websites, fashion, nature — basically anything that has visual appeal.

Let’s get started by defining a few terms. I’m sure you’ve heard of things like hue, tone, and shade before, but what do they actually mean? Let’s think.

A hue is a color, like blue, or red.

A tint is a hue to which we’ve added white. Like light blue.

A shade is the opposite — a hue plus some black. Dark blue.

That’s pretty easy, right? So what would we call this movement from light blue to dark blue? We call it saturation. Saturation is the journey that color goes on from 0 (white) to 1 (full color). Additionally, saturation’s sister concept, value, is simply the lightness or darkness of a color.

So, saturation is the strength of the color, and value is the shade or tint of the color, its lightness.

What Colors Are Friends?

Now that we’ve got the basics down, we have to ask a very important question: what colors look good together, and which do not? Different pairs of colors express very distinct relationships, and will engender varying emotions from someone looking at your art or graphic.

The way in which we pair colors is known as a color scheme. For our purposes today, we are going to look at three types of color schemes.

#1: Analogous Color Schemes:

Analogous color schemes are the colors who always sit next to each other in class. They’re best buddies. More specifically, they are side-by-side on the color wheel. Analogous color schemes tend to be relaxing, fluid. The mastercard logo above is an example of an analogous color scheme.

#2: Complementary Color Scheme:

If analogous colors were the type of best friends you could only tell apart because one had bangs and the other didn’t, the complementary color scheme is the complete opposite; complementary colors are frenemies, directly opposite each other on the color wheel. They are very distinct, but that distinctness makes them pop when paired. Just be careful not to give yourself eyestrain!

#3: Triadic Color Scheme:

For the sake of a final analogy, here we go: the triadic colors are that friend group, you know the one. That inseparable trio who really don’t seem like they should be friends, but for some reason, they just click. Triadic colors are three colors that are equally spaced away from each other on the color wheel. They create a harmonious yet asynchronous effect that really enhances logo design.

Your First Challenge: Make 3 Designs

Now that’s more than enough knowledge for you to get to work! For the challenge today, we’re going to create 3 distinct graphic designs that use the three discussed color schemes: complimentary, analogous, and triadic!

I’ll be making mine using the free image editing software, Gimp. If you’re unfamiliar with Gimp, any other alternative should work just fine, including real-life pens and markers!

Now, get making!

My Designs

#1: triadic

#2: analogous

#3: complimentary

+1: my new logo!

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Celia Lewis

Celia Lewis

Celia is a freelance writer and programmer. She specializes in technology, gaming, and business ethics.