Join Justin Seeley for an in-depth discussion in this video Understanding the rules of color , part of Introduction to Graphic Design.
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- [Narrator] Now that we know how individual colors influence us and our state of mind, it's time to explore how and why we pair certain colors together and what makes up the color swatch. In order to understand how to pair colors together, you must first understand how the color spectrum is created in the first place. The three basic color models are primary, secondary, and tertiary. Red, yellow, and blue make up the primary colors, and according to traditional color theory, they can't be formed by mixing any of the other colors in the spectrum, which makes them primary colors that exist in nature.
Secondary colors, orange, green, and purple, on the other hand, are only created by mixing two of the primary colors. Red and yellow make orange, for instance; yellow and blue make green; and blue and red make purple. The final color model is known as tertiary, and they are a combination of both the primary and secondary colors. There are six total tertiary colors. Yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, red-violet, and red-orange. There are certain color combinations that just seem to go naturally together.
But why? What makes them more compatible and others not so much? Well, it based on the color wheel, really, and the various rules of color harmony. The three most basic rules are complementary, analogous, and triadic. Complementary colors sit directly across from one another on the color wheel. That means if you choose red, for instance, you would follow a straight line across the wheel and hit green, in order to find its complementary color. Many designers will use complementary colors when they want to exaggerate contrast because of the polar opposite nature that complementary colors provide.
That's why white on black or black on white is so effective. The analogous color harmonies are achieved by selecting a color and then pairing it with the two colors on either side of it right next to each other on the color wheel. In the example I've chosen here, purple is my main color, and the analogous rule then gives me red-violet and blue-violet to create a harmonious trio. Analogous color schemes are often found in nature and are considered to be very pleasing to the human eye. They almost always match well with each other, and they tend to create a sense of serenity in a design.
The final rule is known as triadic. The triadic rule pairs three colors which are exactly 120 degrees apart from each other on the color wheel. Basically what that means is that if you drew an equilateral triangle from your base color, you would hit the other two colors on the wheel to form this harmony. This is considered to be one of the best methods for developing a color harmony, and triadic color schemes often generate colors which can be used as a primary background with the other two colors lending themselves to the content and highlighting of different areas.
While these aren't all of the methods for creating color harmonies, they are the most basic and widely used amongst designers. And knowing them and how they work will be very beneficial to you as you continue to develop your knowledge of colors. One final thing that you'll need to understand before we move on is the anatomy of a color swatch. This is something that really eluded me for the longest time, but once I heard this explanation that I'm about to give you, it all made sense. You'll hear quite a few terms thrown around when people are talking about color. Those include hue, tint, tone, and shade.
However, at first, it's really not obvious as to what each one of those terms is referring to. Let me break it down for you like this. Hues: they represent the 12 purest colors on the color wheel. That means the three primary, secondary, and tertiary colors that we mentioned earlier. Together they form the full spectrum of colors, which progress around the outside of the most basic color wheel. With these 12 hues, you can literally mix any color imaginable. Tinting, shading, and toning are all methods of modifying or altering those 12 original hues.
Tinting, for instance, refers to a method for lightening a color or making it lighter. Tints are often called pastels, and they can be created simply by mixing any of the 12 basic hues with white. You can add as much as white as you like to create a different tint of a color. Shades, on the other hand, darken a color by mixing in black with one of the pure hues. You can lightly darken a hue or go nearly completely black and every shade in between. Shading can oftentimes muddy the main color, so most designers steer clear of using it in excess.
Now finally, there's toning. If you think of the primary hues as having a volume slider, then adding tone allows you to turn that volume down a bit. All the main hues start off at full blast. They are at 100% volume. They're at 100% of their original mixed color. So red is 100% red. Yellow, it's really yellow. In order to mute that color, you simply add in a bit of gray to neutralize some of its intensity.
That's called toning. There are literally no limits to the colors that you can create. Using methods like tinting, toning, and shading are just extra tools that help you achieve the look that you're going for. Hopefully now you have a better understanding of the models used to generate color and the rules that create color harmonies and the way that we construct individual swatches for our designs. In the next movie, we'll be exploring an online tool that will help you use what you've learned here and apply it when it comes to creating your own color schemes.
Note: These tutorials were revised in 2016 to make sure they are current with the latest version of Adobe Creative Cloud. Mini Bridge was retired this year, so Justin uses alternate methods to open and organize assets.
- Understanding the impact of color
- Sketching your ideas
- Removing unwanted objects from images
- Cropping and editing photos in Photoshop
- Resizing and saving images for print
- Drawing basic shapes in Illustrator
- Creating a custom color theme with swatches
- Setting type
- Building wireframes
- Creating tables in InDesign
- Preflighting documents
- Packaging files for print