Color in Practice: A Beginner’s Guide to Color Schemes

Color in Practice: A Beginner's Guide to Color Schemes

For creatives, color isn’t only pretty to look at. It’s a helpful tool that can be applied anywhere—from pulling off a daring #OOTD look, creating a successful brand identity, or giving your artwork some added sophistication. And nothing is more mesmerizing and inspiring than an amazing color scheme.

Color in Practice: A Beginner's Guide to Color Schemes

In this installment of my Color in Practice series, I’ll share how color theory helps us mix and match colors with confidence and share a few ideas for how to apply those color schemes to your work ASAP!

Previously:
Covered in This Post:
  1. How Do You Create a Color Scheme?
  2. Additional Resources
  3. Homework

How Do You Create a Color Scheme?

If the fear of clashing colors is keeping you from exploring your options, color schemes are sort of like a map of the color wheel. This makes choosing colors to combine in our work simple, because we know these pairings are universally tried and tested. Here are some of my favorites:

MONOCHROMATIC COLOR

Sometimes one good color is all you need. A monochromatic scheme lends itself well to anything from a minimalist design to intricate illustration. Don’t let the singular hue limit your creativity! By selecting tints and tones of the same hue you can end up with results that are anything but one-note.

Graphic features a color wheel. Twelve dots highlight different colors of the spectrum. A hand in the middle of the wheel points to the color blue, which has is labeled "HUE". Beneath it are three additional colored dots in variations of the blue color, labeled "TINT", "TONE", and "SHADE".

A monochromatic scheme is helpful when learning about value and contrast in art, and can be a smart route for brand identity or business-related graphics because having a signature color is one of the easiest ways to strengthen identity and visual association.

Graphic features a monochromatic palette of six colors using tints and tones of blue. Text reads: "Monochrome: a color scheme that uses variations of a single hue. Designed by @ElzaKinde. Learn more at ElzaKinde.com"
Pro Tip! When working with a monochromatic scheme, pay special attention to the contrast. Colors that are different from one another stand out. In monochrome, that means you’ll want to pair dark shades and light tints to create visual interest.

ANALOGOUS COLORS

The analogous palette is what would happen if monochrome had some siblings. Instead of playing with variations of one hue, use colors that sit directly next to your starter to add visual interest. For example: with purple as your starter, you can end up with a serene combo of eggplant, indigo, and teal OR something more fiery on the opposite side with orchid, scarlet, and tangerine.

Graphic features a color wheel. Twelve dots highlight different colors of the spectrum. Three hands in the middle of the wheel point to the colors red-orange, red, and magenta.

Don’t forget! With the limitless ways to mix color, a small adjustment to tone, hue, value, or saturation might lead to something clean and classic, super-subtle, or bold and highly contrasted.

Graphic features an analogous palette of six colors using colors ranging between red-orange, red, and magenta. Text reads: "Analogous: a color scheme that uses colors found directly next to each other on the color wheel. Designed by @ElzaKinde. Learn more at ElzaKinde.com"
Pro Tip! An analogous palette doesn’t have to spread across the color wheel like this one does. Try it in a more compact range—e.g. using warmer and cooler greens—for a more subtle result.

COMPLEMENTARY COLORS

Hues that sit across from each other on the color wheel are known as complementary. In other words, they’re opposites that totally attract! This is perhaps the easiest type of color scheme to use because it gets those memorable and beautiful results every time, guaranteed.

Complementary colors have the strongest contrast of all the hue combinations, which makes them appear more striking or nuanced. Because they naturally enhance each other, it’s an easy way to get dynamic results. Just be careful! Blending these colors can cancel out their hues entirely.

Pro Tip! Use one color more dominantly while your complementary hue highlights something important in your design. Our eye is always drawn to things that are different. If you want to learn more, research visual hierarchy once you’re done here.

SPLIT-COMPLIMENTARY COLORS

If the classic complementary palette isn’t keeping you interested, a split-complementary scheme is a fun variation. Instead of using the color directly across the wheel from your starting point, use the adjacent colors directly to the left and right.

I like using split-complementary because it’s less expected compared to a complementary or triadic scheme. Playing with the ratio is key! In equal measures, these combinations can look quite graphic, but adjusting how much of each color you use will change the visual impact of the colors within your palette.

Graphic features a split-complimentary palette of six colors using colors in purple, green, and yellow-gold. Text reads: "Split-Complementary: a variation of the complimentary color scheme that uses colors on either side of the complimentary hue. Designed by @ElzaKinde. Learn more at ElzaKinde.com"
Pro Tip! If using three very different colors is overwhelming. I recommend assigning a role for each hue. In painting, your foreground, background, and subject might use different hues. In graphic design, organize types of information by color (e.g. create a key for your pie chart).

There are many other ways to combine colors, so be sure and do your research to learn about more color schemes and combinations!

Additional Resources

Here are a few helpful tutorials and tools to help you learn more and combine colors like a pro!

Want to learn more? Here are some extra topics to research!

  • Types of Color Schemes
  • Color Harmony
  • Value, Saturation, and Contrast
  • Color Perception / Color Interaction
  • CMYK vs. RGB

Now You Try!

Download the worksheet and put your newfound knowledge to use! Feel free to share your results in the comments section.

Graphic features a gray box with text reading "For Example: Here's my attempt, using an analogous scheme as my starting point." To the right, three palettes using the worksheet above. The first features the a palette using eggplant, lavender, robin's egg blue, teal, and royal blue. The second ranges from spring green, green apple, sage, jade, blue-green, and pine. The third palette features magenta, grape, eggplant, midnight blue, navy, and prussian blue.

See you next week for the third and final installment of the Color in Practice blog series!


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