What Is Color Theory?

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Put simply, color theory is the art and science of utilizing color. Not just how we perceive certain colors, but how we perceive colors mixing, matching, and communicating. Color theory is also about ways you can replicate color. And if you’re wondering why color theory is important, it’s for many reasons.

For one, there’s the psychological aspect of color. Specifically, the way that color can elicit emotion in people. For example, the color blue might convey masculinity while the color pink might convey femininity. Either way, we all resonate with color emotionally, subconsciously. Color has a physiological effect that has the power to not just influence our behavior, but also form new behaviors and perceptions.

For example, color theory can play a big role in building a brand. Using the right colors could help pull in more sales and better your marketing strategies. “People decide whether or not they like a product in 90 seconds or less. 90% of that decision is based solely on color.” — 99designs

But then there’s the contextual aspect of color. Depending on how you use color, or how colors resonate with you, you form certain opinions of what colors certain things should be. For example, when you think Valentine’s day, you think red. When you think about your wedding dress, you think white because that is how color resonates with you. Culture can help explain why certain colors resonate with certain holidays, celebrations, important days, etc. Colors mean different things for everyone.

Understanding Color

Colors are organized on a wheel and grouped into three categories: Primary, secondary, and tertiary. But what you must not forget is that color is a perception and I may perceive the same color differently than you.

The Color Wheel

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Fun fact: the first color wheel was created by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666.

The color wheel consists of 3 primary colors, 3 secondary colors, and 6 tertiary colors.

Primary colors are the source of all other colors.

Secondary colors are colors created from mixed primary colors.

Tertiary colors are colors made from both primary and secondary colors.

Primary colors: red, yellow, blue.

Secondary colors: green, orange, purple

Tertiary colors: blue-green, red-violet

Tints, Tones, & Shades

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Tints, tones, & shades are variations of colors that fall on the color wheel.

Tints: hues that have white added

Tones: hues that have grey (black + white) added

Shades: hues that have black added

Color Schemes: Complementary, Analogous, Triadic

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Complementary colors: two colors that are opposite. (For example, orange and blue)

Analogous colors: three colors that are side-by-side. (For example, red, orange, & yellow or monochromatic color schemes)

Triadic colors: three colors that are equally spaced around the color wheel. (For example, red, blue and orange)

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