Color wheel: instructions for the designer

The color wheel or color wheel is the foundation of color theory. Thanks to him, you can understand which colors create harmonious combinations. The first color wheel was invented by Isaac Newton in 1665.

How and why to use it

With the help of a circle, you can choose colors that go well together, choose safe options and find the most daring combinations. All this is easy to do online, on Canva’s color wheel page. The arrangement of colors in this circle differs from the usual Itten color wheel used by artists.

Itten’s color wheel The most successful combinations of colors, also called color schemes, are selected to make the design harmonious. There are five ways to combine colors, they are chosen depending on the purpose and the number of desired shades.

Monochromatic Combinations

A monochromatic combination is a combination of three shades of the same base color. For example, pink, light pink, and even lighter pink. That is one color of varying degrees of saturation, without admixture of other shades. This is a conservative and simple option that even beginners can safely use. A safe combination with which you can create a harmonious design.

Suitable for interior design, wedding invitations, paperwork, and checklists. Such combinations may seem boring, to make them more interesting, use them in different proportions – let one color be dominant, and the other two auxiliaries. And if a design with this combination seems too boring for you, add contrast with black and white elements.

To find such a combination:

  1. In the first window, enter the HTML code of the desired color. Or select it with the cursor on the color wheel.
  2. Select the Monochromatic color combination in the second window from the drop-down image.
  3. Move the dot on the circle’s outer rim to select darker or lighter shades of the color.

Similar combinations

Painting by Mark Rothko “Orange, Red and Yellow” A similar combination is from two to six colors that are located one after another on the color wheel. Such a combination cannot consist of the same color in different shades, it must be several different, but close colors.

Such combinations look more unusual and colorful than monochromatic ones, they are well suited for website design. To maintain harmony, you should choose one dominant, and use the other two in smaller quantities for accents. And to decide on the main color, we suggest reading an article on how to choose a color according to the psychology of colors.

Three similar colors can be matched on Canva’s color wheel. For example, the program offers the closest shades of yellow and red to orange.

To find such a combination:

  1. In the first window, enter the HTML code of the desired color. Or select it with the cursor on the color wheel.
  2. In the second window, select the Analogous color combination from the drop-down image.
  3. You can move any point on the color wheel if you want to change the hue. The remaining two colors will change accordingly, and you will have other options for a similar combination.

Complementary combinations

A complementary combination is a combination of two maximally contrasting colors that emphasize each other. Complementary pairs form two strictly opposite colors. Such combinations look bright, they attract attention in the first place, so they are best used to highlight something important.

Complementary pairs are needed in order to attract attention, they are good for posters and flyers. It is important to use them sparingly in design, because of the high contrast they can be tiring.

On the Canva color wheel, you can find a complimentary pair for any color. For example, if you select turquoise, the program will offer you the most contrasting red option. The hue can be selected on the circle itself or by entering its HTML code.

We used to think that the contrasting pair of red is green. That’s right, according to the Itten color wheel used by artists. The fact is that that circle is built on three primary colors: red, blue, and yellow, and in total there are 12 colors in it. The color wheel for online design is built around red, blue, and green and has over 16 million shades.

To find such a combination:

  1. In the first window, enter the HTML code of the desired color. Or select it with the cursor on the color wheel.
  2. In the second window, select the Complementary color combination from the drop-down image.
  3. You can move any point on the color wheel if you want to change the hue. The second color will also change to remain in contrast to the selected color.

Triad combinations

An example of a triadic color combination in a movie poster for Inherent Vice A triadic combination is three equally spaced colors on the color wheel that create contrasting combinations, but not as bright as complementary ones. These are the colors that can be connected by an equilateral triangle.

To find such a combination:

  1. In the first window, enter the HTML code of the desired color. Or select it with the cursor on the color wheel.
  2. In the second window, select the Triadic color combination from the drop-down image.
  3. You can move any point on the color wheel if you want to change the hue. The second color will also change to remain in contrast to the selected color.

Triad combinations

An example of a triadic color combination in a movie poster for Inherent Vice A triadic combination is three equally spaced colors on the color wheel that create contrasting combinations but are not as bright as complementary ones. These are the colors that can be connected by an equilateral triangle.

To find such a combination:

  1. In the first window, enter the HTML code of the desired color. Or select it with the cursor on the color wheel.
  2. In the second window, select the Triadic color combination from the drop-down image.
  3. You can move any point on the color wheel if you want to change the hue. The second color will also change to remain in contrast to the selected color.

They are also suitable for bold designs and attracting attention, but they are not as aggressive, they are easier to apply. Often such combinations are used for interior design so that it looks harmonious, but not as boring as when using only two colors. Triadic combinations can be used for posters, and bright logos, as, for example, Burger King did.

Tetrad or quadrangular combinations

Tetrad or quadrangular combinations are four colors that form a square or rectangle on the color wheel. Two of these four colors are complementary, that is, opposite. The most difficult option is suitable for experienced designers or bold beginners. This scheme has the largest number of possible combinations, so such combinations are well suited for a corporate color palette. If with three colors it is easy to be like someone else, then with four colors you are much more likely to stand out from the competition.

Be careful, the more colors you use, the more difficult it is to maintain balance and achieve their harmonious combination.

And for those who do not yet risk choosing four colors on their own using the color wheel, we have prepared a selection of 100 color combinations that will attract the right audience. Each example is a harmonious combination of four colors. We took all examples of palettes from our favorite photos. You can also choose colors from a photo using the palette generator.

The color wheel helps beginners to find safe combinations, and professionals experiment and find new color combinations for designs. You can easily choose colors according to these schemes on the Canva color wheel page. And remember, in order for the design to look harmonious, in any combination you should choose one dominant color.