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Color theory in a nutshell

In the visual arts, color theory is a body of practical guidance to color mixing and the visual effects of a specific color combination. Let’s figure our how is the main theory works.

Primary, secondary and tertiary colors

There are 12 main colors on the color wheel. In the RGB color wheel, these hues are red, orange, yellow, chartreuse green, green, spring green, cyan, azure, blue, violet, magenta and rose.

The color wheel can be divided into primary, secondary and tertiary colors.

Primary colors in the RGB color wheel are the colors that, added together, create pure white light. These colors are red, green and blue.

In the RYB color wheel, primary colors are colors that can’t be mixed from other colors. There are three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue.

Secondary colors are colors that result from mixing two primary colors. There are three secondary colors. In the RGB color wheel, these are cyan, magenta and yellow. When you mix light, red and green make yellow, green and blue make cyan, and blue and red make magenta.

In the RYB color wheel, the secondary colors are purple (red mixed with blue), orange (red mixed with yellow), and green (yellow mixed with blue).

Tertiary colors are colors made by combining a secondary color with a primary color. There are six tertiary colors. In the RGB color wheel these are orange, chartreuse green, spring green, azure, violet and rose.

In the RYB color wheel, the tertiary colors are red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet.


Color combinations



Three colors that are side by side on the color wheel. This color combination is versatile, but can be overwhelming. To balance an analogous color scheme, choose one dominant color, and use the others as accents.


Two colors that are on opposite sides of the color wheel. This combination provides a high contrast and high impact color combination – together, these colors will appear brighter and more prominent.


Three shades, tones and tints of one base color. Provides a subtle and conservative color combination. This is a versatile color combination that is easy to apply to design projects for a harmonious look.

Split complementary

A split complementary color scheme is one where a primary color is used with the two analogous colors to its complement. In this case, blue is matched up with yellow and orange red. Orange is the direct complement to blue and orange red and yellow are the analogs to orange.


Three colors that are evenly spaced on the color wheel. This provides a high contrast color scheme, but less so than the complementary color combination — making it more versatile. This combination creates bold, vibrant color palettes.

Warm and cool colors


The color wheel can also be divided into warm and cool colors. The warmth or coolness of a color is also known as its color temperature. The color combinations found on a color wheel often have a balance of warm and cool colors. According to color psychology, different color temperatures evoke different feelings. For example, warm colors are said to bring to mind coziness and energy, while cool colors are associated with serenity and isolation.

Warm colors are the colors from red through to yellow. These colors are said to bring to mind warmth, like the sun.

Cool colors are the colors from blue to green and purple. These colors are said to bring to mind coolness, like water.

Shades, tints and tones


You can create shades, tints and tones of a color by adding black, grey and white to a base hue.


A shade is created by adding black to a base hue, darkening the color. This creates a deeper, richer color. Shades can be quite dramatic and can be overpowering.



A tint is created by adding white to a base hue, lightening the color. This can make a color less intense, and is useful when balancing more vivid color combinations.



A tone is created by combining black and white or grey with a base hue. Like tints, tones are subtler versions of the original color. Tones are less likely to look pastel, and can reveal complexities not apparent in the base color.

Saturation and Luminance


A hue is basically any color on the color wheel. When you are using a color wheel or a color picker, you can adjust the saturation and luminance of a hue.

Saturation is the intensity or purity of the color.

Luminance is the amount of brightness or light in a color.

How to combine colors

Using the 60-30-10 rule can make choosing color simple, and help you achieve balance in decorating. To choose the three colors for your space, a color scheme based on the color wheel is the simplest method. Another quick trick used by decorators is to pull the colors from a fabric print because the fabric designer has already done the matching for you. 


Your 60 percent is the main color for your room. Most likely the 60 percent in a living room would be most of your walls, large accent pieces like area rugs, and perhaps a sofa. The idea is that the 60 percent color anchors the space and also serves as a backdrop for what comes next. 


Your 30 percent is the secondary color. You’ll be using half as much of this color as your main color. So this could be draperies, accent chairs, bed linens, painted furniture, or even creating an accent wall. The idea is that the secondary color supports the main color, but is different enough to set them apart and give the room interest. The real fun comes with the accent color you’ll be adding next. 


Your 10 percent is your accent color. For a living room, this is your throw pillows, decorative accessories, and artwork. For a bedroom, this could be accent pillows on the bed, lamps on the bedside table, and candles on the nightstand. Your accent color can be pulled from artwork in the room, or from a printed fabric on larger items.


Explore helpful services and create some nice color palettes.



Color wheel


Room Planner Colors

Pick colors in Room Planner using RAL code, HEX code or color wheel.

RAL is a color matching system used in Europe to standardize colors for various applications such as paints, coatings, and plastics. Each color in the RAL system is identified by a four-digit code. The RAL Classic system, which is the most widely used, consists of over 200 colors. The codes typically start with "RAL" followed by four digits. For example, RAL 900-3.

Color wheel

A HEX code, also known as a hexadecimal code, is a six-digit alphanumeric code used to represent colors on digital platforms. The hex code is composed of a combination of numbers (0-9) and letters (A-F) and is preceded by a hash (#) symbol.

The six-digit hex code represents the intensity of red, green, and blue (RGB) channels of a color. Each pair of digits (two digits) represents one channel, ranging from 00 (minimum intensity) to FF (maximum intensity). By combining different intensities of the RGB channels, a wide range of colors can be created. For example, #FEFEFE represents white color.

On the color wheel you can pick a color on a ring and set shades, tints and tones on a square.

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