How to Use Color Theory in Graphic Design?

Mrignayni Pandey

Content strategist, and copywriter.
August 1, 2022

Want to know the real secret behind the designs that elicit positive emotions from consumers and encourage them to purchase your product? Read on to find out!

Designers work with a variety of elements on a daily basis but what’s the secret to creating designs that elicit positive emotions from consumers and encourage them to purchase the product?

A huge part of the answer lies in choosing the right colors. So, in this article we’ll learn everything about color theory and how you can use different color schemes to choose color combinations that create balanced designs. 

Here’s what’s covered in this article:

What is color theory?

Color theory is the process of selecting color combinations that are balanced and effective. It's the basis for primary rules and guidelines that help us create visuals that garner attention.

Traditional color theory: The color wheel

This scientific process behind choosing colors was first identified and created by Sir Isaac Newton to mix different colors appropriately. It provides you with complementary colors–two colors that cancel each other out to give a grayish hue— which stand out from one another in your design and raise the final quality of the artwork. 

There have been multiple transformations to the process since then, but it remains the most commonly studied topic in color theory. 

Another important aspect of color theory is ensuring harmony in design to create stunning visual experiences that are pleasing to the eye. This is where a color scheme comes in. 

What is a color scheme?

Designers play around with different color schemes for hours before settling for one. A color scheme is the group of colors chosen by the designer - graphic or otherwise - after ensuring that the selections are visually appealing and aesthetically pleasing in combination with each other.

Most people confuse color schemes with color palettes and use them interchangeably. But they're different.

So what is a color palette?

A color palette is the set of colors you've picked depending on your color scheme. If you select a complementary scheme, the color palette will include colors that are complementary to one another. 

Also, the names of the color palettes will correspond to the color scheme, and a palette picked from a complementary color scheme will be called a complementary color palette. 

Now that we've got the color palette description out of the way let's look at the most common types of color schemes.

1. Monochromatic color scheme

A monochromatic color scheme comprises variations of one hue by adjusting the shades, tones, and tints. Hue refers to the color of an object. And tints are made by adding white color to the hue, while shades and tones are created by adding darker colors to the hue.

Source: Hubspot 

The advantage of creating a monochromatic color scheme is that they are nearly impossible to mess up. This scheme is straightforward on the eyes. Since colors naturally go well together, they create a soothing effect on the visuals. The design often ends up looking very clean and polished.

Source: Hubspot

2. Analogous color scheme

Analogous color schemes are created by combining one primary color with two complementary hues on the color wheel.

Source: Hubspot

These color schemes are great for creating images and texts where content needs focus and attention. This color scheme is excellent for creating warmer(includes red, orange, and yellow) and more relaxed (purple, blue, and green) color palettes.

Here, one color is the dominant color, and another supports it. The supporting colors in this scheme make the combination more appealing.

Source: Hubspot

3. Complementary color scheme

A complementary color scheme is created by choosing two colors as well as relevant shades of those hues exactly across from one other on the color wheel. 

The complementary color scheme creates the most color contrast. As a result, you should use caution when incorporating complementary hues into a design plan.

Source: Hubspot

Okay, so how does it help? 

This color scheme helps you get the viewer's attention right away, making it easier for the eyes to catch. As it creates more contrast and appeal, businesses often employ it for product packaging or brand design.

The vibrancy of each color encourages eye movement, pulling viewers' attention from one part to the next.

Source: Hubspot

4. Triadic color scheme

The three colors in this scheme are equidistant from each other in the color wheel in the shape of a triangle. For example, red, yellow, and blue.

Source: Hubspot

Triadic color schemes offer you high contrasting color schemes without compromising on tone and help create high-contrast designs without disturbing the balance of the artwork.

Designers and marketers use triad color schemes in graphics like bars or pie charts because of the high contrast needed to create a comparison.

Source: Hubspot

5. Split-complementary color scheme

This color scheme achieves the same ability as complementary color schemes but provides designers with a few more experimental options. It uses two colors opposite one another on the color wheel and the colors right next to them.

Source: Hubspot

Plus, it reduces the weight of your eyes, even if it's highly contrasted. The advantage of this color scheme is that you can get high contrast using any two colors, but finding the perfect balance between colors can be tricky. You may play with colors for hours to find the right contrast combination.

Source: Hubspot

6. Square color scheme

The square color scheme employs four colors that are equidistant on the color wheel from one another to produce a square or diamond shape. 

Source: Color meanings

This color scheme is perfect for creating interest across your web pages or creating patterned illustrations for your creatives. 

Source: Hubspot

How to start with this?

When you're getting started, instead of wasting time attempting to balance four hues, choose one dominant color. And to obtain the greatest fit, always test a square scheme on both black and white backgrounds. You never know which color schemes your users prefer.

Another similar color scheme, the Rectangle color scheme, also called the Tetradic color scheme, follows a similar approach to square color schemes. It helps the bolder shades stand out.

Conclusion

Color is one of the most significant, if not the most important, design elements. Whether deliberate or not, it provides meaning to design. They elicit emotions and communicate values and help the viewer decide if they want to purchase the design or not. 

So, designers have to choose the right colors. You could always take inspiration from other sources and use a color extractor to get the codes, but to create a combination that speaks to your audience you will need to put in a lot more effort.  And this is where understanding color theory helps. It can make creating branded images and packaging labels simple and help you communicate your brand message more effectively.

Of course, settling on the right combination of colors is only the beginning. With a long project ahead and a number of people involved, your team is bound to go through a lot of planning and collaboration with multiple revisions on the road ahead. An online proofing tool would help you avoid errors, but for a project with a lot of variables, it would be best to look for a solution that helps you manage all aspects of the review process with ease. 

This is where an artwork management tool like Artwork Flow can help you streamline your processes and save precious time spent in revision. If you would like to know more about how Artwork Flow cuts through the clutter and helps you get your product to market faster, book a demo with us today!

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