The Basics of Color Theory

From painters to graphic designers, all sorts of creators use color theory for their work. It’s how we determine how colors match, blend, and complement one another. The entire field of color theory could fill several books, but it’s always best to start with the basics in order to truly understand the concept.

The Color WheelThe Basics of Color Theory

Chances are that you learned at least a bit about the color wheel while you were attending art classes in elementary and middle school. First created by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666, the color wheel has gone through several variations but nevertheless accomplishes the same goal—informing us how colors relate to one another.

The Types of Color

The color wheel is a representation of the three main types of color—primary, secondary, and tertiary.

Primary colors

Red, yellow, and blue. These are the basis of which all other colors are derived. As such, they cannot be created by any combination of other colors.

Secondary colors

Green, orange, and purple. These colors are formed by mixing primary colors.

Tertiary colors

Yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green, and yellow-green. These are formed by mixing primary colors with secondary colors.

Color Harmony

The color wheel can also help is determine how colors harmonize with one another to create a color scheme. There are many color schemes that can be created, but these are the basic ones:


Analogous colors are three colors that are side by side on a color wheel.


Complementary colors are two colors that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel, such as red and green.


A triadic color scheme is formed by three colors that are equidistant (of equal distance) from one another on the color wheel.


Tetradic is similar to triadic, except it includes four colors that are equidistant from one another rather than just three.

While this blog post covers the basics of color theory, there is certainly much more to learn. At Creative Ventures Gallery, we offer color theory workshops where you can learn everything there is to know about color theory. Give us a call today at 603-672-2500 to learn more.