Join Deke McClelland for an in-depth discussion in this video The 23 color harmony rules, diagrammed, part of Illustrator CS6 One-on-One: Advanced.
In this movie, I'll explain the 23 harmony rules that are available to you from the Color Guide panel. Now as opposed to explaining every single one, I am going to show them to you in ten groups, and I am going to show them to you as color diagrams, as you're about to see. So here's the Color Guide panel. If I click on this down-pointing arrowhead, you can see that we've got a list of harmony rules right there and they just happen to be 23 in all. I am going to diagram how they work--not inside Illustrator, but rather inside Photoshop, because Photoshop offers Layer Comps, which are great for creating slideshows.
So here are the 23 harmony rules listed in the order that they appear in the Color Guide panel. Now I will keep those up on screen as I explain what's going on. In order to understand the harmony rules-- really understand them--we need to take on a little bit of color theory. It's not hard stuff, in fact it's pretty fun. Now one way to think of color is as if it's organized on a wheel. So here's your standard everyday average RGB wheel with the hues organized around the outside, and as we go toward the center, we have reduced saturation values.
So we end up with a bright Red out here at the very edge of the circle and a low saturation Red ultimately going to gray toward the center of the circle. You can see we've got Red over on the right, Yellow's up right; we've got Green up left, Cyan over on the left-hand side--meaning that it is the color complement to Red. We've got Blue down in lower-left-- it's the color complement to Yellow. Then we've got Magenta down right-- it's the color complement to Green. Just to satisfy your potential curiosity, here is the CMYK wheel.
Notice that the colors are organized exactly as they are for RGB. The difference is that we end up with less vibrant colors all the way around, and that's just because it's easier to produce bright vivid colors on a screen than it is on the printed page, at least where process color printing is concerned. Now Illustrator does use a color wheel in order to map out its color harmonies, but it doesn't use either of these wheels. Instead it uses the Lab Color Wheel. The L in Lab stands for luminance, and then A and B are color axes.
The A axis cuts horizontally across the circle and the B axes cuts vertically across the circle. As a result we get a different range of colors, as you can see here, that is more analogous to the way that we actually perceive colors in the real world. So we still have Red over here on the right, but we've got this huge range of warm colors, which is where of course our flesh tones reside. So we've got Yellow up here at the top. Instead of being located at 60 degrees, the way it is with RGB and CMYK, it's located at more like 100 degrees.
So beyond 90 degrees at the top, we've got orange as a primary color, so a rich array of oranges. We've got a diminished Green to Cyan range, which is a good thing, because we can't see a lot of those colors that we can invent using RGB values. Then we've got Blue all the way down at the bottom here. We've got Violet--a rich range of violets as you can see--and then Magenta would be right about there. But Magenta isn't really a primary where the Lab color space is concerned. As the colors descend in saturation, they descend toward White as opposed to Gray.
Now you can't really represent color just in a wheel, because color is a three-dimensional thing in order to calculate it properly. What we're not seeing is any luminance variations. In order to see luminance variations, we would have to create cross-sections like so, with different wheels--a very bright wheel on top and increasingly darker wheels going down the stack. What we're looking at right here is the brightest of the wheels. So this is the top slice of that cylinder of color, and I say that because I am going to be demonstrating the harmony rules using this top slice.
So what Illustrator does is it takes your color and it goes ahead and maps it onto the wheel. So this is where the t-shirt falls inside of the Lab Color Wheel. When you click on that color swatch inside the Color Guide panel, Illustrator goes ahead and makes that the base color for its color harmony calculations. Now let's take a look at the harmony rules. We will start off with the default which is Tetrad 2. By Tetrad, Illustrator means four. So the colors are branching off in four different directions. So it starts with the base color. In the case of Tetrad 2, it goes ahead and adds a darker, slightly more saturated version of that base color, and then it goes ahead and snags three other colors in three different directions on the wheel.
So if I were to move his base color to a new location, for example if the base color were green, then the other colors would rotate inside the wheel as well. So you're always going to get different colors out of this calculation, but it's going to be calculated at the same angles given Tetrad 2. Tetrad 1 and 3 are giving you different numbers of colors and the angles are slightly different, but you're still getting four different directions of color. Now let's check out Triad 2 which is very much like the Tetrad group, so you can see you've got Triad, Triad 2, and Triad 3; and the one difference is that it's branching the colors out in three directions.
In this case it's still giving us five colors, because it's creating two variations along a couple of the axes here, but we are still going in three directions. Now let's go to top of the list to Complementary. And Complementary colors are going to be on the opposite side of the color wheel. So we start with the base color. The base color is always appearing big in these diagrams, and then we have a couple of base color variations that are slightly different saturation values and very different luminance levels. Then we've got a couple of true complements.
That is to say they are on the opposite side of the wheel, although they have different saturation and luminance levels; and then we have this slightly off-kilter complementary color, at least where Complementary 2 is concerned. Now let's take a look at the next group here, Split Complementary through Right Complement. I will go ahead and advance to this guy, which is Left Complement. Notice that Illustrator is rotating the Complementary colors to the right. So why in the world is it called Left complement? Well, there is no left and right when you're traveling around a circle; there is only clockwise and counterclockwise.
By left, Illustrator really means clockwise. So it might be a left rotation. If I start with a color up here, then it would rotate around to the left; but as often as not, you are going to be rotating to the right. So it's just clockwise. By contrast a Right Complement is a counterclockwise rotation. Split Complementary is going in both directions. So it gives you the base color and then it gives you one color counterclockwise and another color clockwise. All right! Next is Analogous. This is Analogous and then there's also Analogous 2, and in this case, all the colors are going off in similar hue directions.
In the case of Analogous, you are not seeing any luminance or saturation variations, so we are getting some greenish blues and some purplish blues. Then we've got Monochromatic. This is the first of the Monochromatic group right here, and as you can see, all of the colors are in lockstep where the hue is concerned. There are some saturation and luminance variations. With shades, by the way, you only get luminance variations. Next in the list, we've got Compound. Compound finds a few Analogous colors as you can see here, and then it finds some Complementary colors.
The diagram that we are seeing here is specifically Compound 1; but just remember that Compound is Analogous plus Complementary, hence Compound-- that is, more than one thing going on at the same time. The High Contrast bunch is all Triads, as you can see here. They go off in all sorts of different directions, and the Illustrator goes ahead and picks very highly saturated colors toward the outside of the circle. This diagram is specifically for High Contrast 4, by the way. Then finally we have Pentagram, very easy to understand.
The colors branch out in five different directions. They vary little in terms of saturation and I believe not at all in terms of luminance. So there you have it. I hope that helped, because this diagram took me forever to put together; but those are the 23 different harmony rules that are available from the Color Guide panel inside Illustrator.
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