According to the artist and theorist Josef Albers (188 – 1976) ” Color is one of the most relative concepts in art ” and we could extend this definition to any other aspect of life. Color is a complex sensation that is the result of several physical phenomena that occur simultaneously.

Technically, when the light emitted by a light source (such as the sun or a light bulb) reaches a surface, matter absorbs part of the wavelengths of the light spectrum and bounces others. The bouncing lengths are what add color to things. This bounced light reaches our eye, stimulating our cones and causing our brain to interpret color.

Light colors and pigment colors

In our eye, we have three types of cones that determine the so-called primary colors of light. They are red, green, and blue (RGB model). The combination of all these colors gives us the complete chromatic range and, if we mix them all three, the result is white and the absence of all three generates black.


Color is one of the most important elements in the design. In addition, it is among the first choices made when you decide to reform homes. The design of a room can revolve around a specific color or palette.

They also influence the perception of space. Light colors give the feeling of larger rooms, while dark colors reduce it.

The colors and the chromatic circle

Before continuing, let’s stop for a second to analyze the characteristics of the colors that surround us. We can assign three basic attributes to each color.

  • The hue: It determines whether it is one color or another, that is, we say that it has a green hue, an orange hue, a yellow hue …
  • The luminosity: When we talk about this concept we refer to the lightness or darkness of the color. That is, the light intensity. The dark colors have towards the black and the light ones towards the white. We usually refer to it when we speak of “it’s a dark green” or “it’s a light blue.”
  • Saturation: This is the purity of a color. That is, the amount of gray that color contains. The higher the percentage of gray, the lower the saturation and vice versa.

Now that we know the properties of color, we are going to delve into a new concept, the chromatic circle. This circle is a very clear graphical representation of different color palettes. You must bear in mind that this chromatic circle takes as reference the pigment colors that we indicated above. In it, we see the hue reflected through the primary colors Yellow, cyan (blue), and magenta (Red), the secondary and tertiary colors. In turn, saturation and luminosity are represented.

On the color wheel, complementary colors are placed in pairs, opposite each other. These pairs of colors are the ones that provide the greatest contrast and will have the greatest aesthetic harmony. Design schools teach color theory through theoretical and practical experience to the students so they can understand the theory well.

Let’s start with the basics. Do you remember when you learned about primary and secondary colors in design school? Well, you already know something about color theory. The primaries are blue, red, and yellow; the secondary ones, orange, green, and purple.

The mixture of red and yellow creates orange; that of yellow and blue, green; or the one with blue and red, purple.

If we mix these colors, we get even more shades, such as orange-red and lime green.

Together, all the colors that we talked about earlier make up the chromatic circle or color wheel.

These words may not be familiar to you, but they are the key to understanding how color nuances work.

  • Tonality: it is the easiest of all. Basically, it is synonymous with color.
  • Saturation: refers to the intensity, that is, if the color is more subtle or stronger.
  • Brightness: tells you if the color is dark or light, in a range from black to white. This gives you lots of options, for example, you can go from a deep dull reddish to pastel pink.

Ways to combine colors.

Now the question is how to mix all of this together to create professional-looking color palettes.

There are formulas that can help you, based on something called color harmony, and all you need to do is use the color wheel.

Don’t be afraid to play with the palette and create your own interpretation. That is the purpose of these formulas: to give you a starting point with which you can guide and inspire.

The simplest formula is monochrome because only one color is used.

Pick a point on the circle and use your knowledge of saturation and brightness to create variations in hue. The best thing about this type of palette is that you have the guarantee that they will combine.

The analogous formula chooses the colors that follow each other on the wheel, such as red and orange, or blue and green.

Complementary colors are opposite each other on the wheel. For example blue and orange, or the classic red and green.  To avoid making the palette too simple, you can add lighter, darker, or low saturation tones.

With split complementary colors, you use the colors that are next to the complementary color. This gives you the same level of contrast, but more options for shades, and possibly more interesting results.

On the other hand, with the triad, a triangle is formed in the chromatic circle and the colors that are in each corner are used. These combinations tend to be quite striking, particularly with primary and secondary colors, so think carefully before choosing them.

A tetrahedral palette forms a rectangle on the circle, so it uses not one, but two pairs of complementary colors. This formula works best if you leave one color as dominant and the other three as auxiliaries.

This theory can help you on different occasions, such as choosing shades for a design or perfectly mixing what you are going to wear. By learning a little about it, you  will begin to see color in a different way.

Since you know how color theory works, you can start using it in all the designs you make.

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