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What is a color wheel? Use indirect complementary colors and create fantastic designs

If you’ve ever wondered what a color wheel is and didn’t find a clear answer, don’t worry, in this article we explain it point by point. You may have already heard this name when you first immersed yourself in the world of design, but it never hurts to refresh your knowledge.

Sometimes you don’t know which colors can go well with others? It is a problem that usually happens when we are making a post, retouching a photo, or creating an advertising piece. Therefore, we will help you understand the function of a color wheel so that your designs are the best. 

The importance of knowing how to use the color wheel is that you can fight with arguments against the typical customer phrases such as “I like this color”, even though you know that it is not correct. Refuting with arguments is relevant to raising your professional status.

Definition of the color wheel

The chromatic circle or color wheel is a graphic instrument represented in a roulette wheel, in which colors are organized and segmented based on their tone or hue. In summary, if they ask you what the chromatic circle is, you can answer that it is a tool that helps us to visualize the combinations of colors.

In theory, it exposes the main colors that are reflected when light breaks down. Yes, those that come out of a prism, like the Pink Floyd album cover, “The Dark Side of the Moon.”

Mainly, a color wheel segments the following colors:

  • Purple
  • Red
  • Yellow
  • Green
  • Cyan blue
  • Dark blue

The colors in a color wheel can be classified into families, each having many varieties, of different intensity and hues. In fact, there are color circles that can be made up of 6, 12, 48, or more colors perfectly arranged in gradient.

Now, to have a more complete picture of what the color wheel is, let’s review its importance in the following paragraphs. Make yourself comfortable that there is much to know!

How are the colors on the color wheel divided?

Now, perhaps at this point, you are wondering how the colors of the color wheel are divided. We will unravel the mystery now.

  • Primary colors: these are the main colors of the chromatic circle. What they depend on the type of circle; on this point, in the next section, we will deepen.
  • Secondary colors: these colors are the product of the mixture of two that are primary. For example orange.
  • Tertiary colors: they are the product of the mixture between a primary and a secondary color. Thus, for example, when mixing yellow and green, a particular shade of green is obtained, which is yellow-green.

But, keep in mind that not all colors are primary or secondary regardless of the type of circle in question. Instead, there are three color circles to consider (RYB, CMYK, RGB) that I will tell you about below. Thus, while red is a primary color in RYB, it is a secondary color in the subtractive (CMYK) model.

What is the importance of the color wheel?

We can use a color wheel to find the correct combinations based on a very easy-to-use visual model. And, although it makes it easier for us to find the perfect combinations, it never hurts to learn with online graphic design courses, so you will be able to make A-1 designs.

How a color wheel works are very easy to understand because it is based on the following points:

  • Identify warm and cool colors. If we “go to the circle”, they are divided between warm colors (yellow, red, orange, among others) and cold colors (blue, purple, green, among others).
  • The difference between which colors can be combined and who cannot.
  • Allows you to display the maximum saturation of colors.
  • It shows what colors we should use to make a transition or color change.
  • It exposes the harmony that all colors have and their coexistence.
  • Mix the colors that are opposite in order to turn off the color tone.

Likewise, it is important to know what a color wheel is since its relevance is remarkable for, for example, creating the visual identity of a new brand that you want to launch on the market.

This can be quite a challenge. But, to be successful in this project, the brand’s color palette must be correctly diagrammed, a key aspect that will be replicated in all the content published about it.

As Cástor Vera Carbajal, professor of our online course Branding from scratch points out: Create the visual identity of a brand, ” Brands are not just commercial tools. They are part of people’s lives. And Branding is the tool that it allows to give them a spirit, to create a soul. In addition to being able to make them more orderly and more consistent “.

What are the color combinations on the color wheel?

The language of a designer starts from colors because they are the strongest elements that capture the attention of all people, emotions and feelings are reflected in them. The meaning we give to each color will be very important to impact the public.

That is why you must be clear about how a color wheel is used in your designs and what strategies we must apply to create unforgettable graphics.

Monochromatic colors

First, a brief summary of what a monochromatic harmony is. It is one that uses a single color in different shades. It is a very easy and fast practice in case you want to apply it to your designs.

In addition, it is very minimalist and elegant without having to explode someone’s head using so many colors. Being the same color, the variations will give a good contrast to your work.

Indirect complimentary colors

It is one of the most complex color wheel color combinations because a base color is mixed with two adjacent colors of its opposite. For example, orange, blue and green are opposites, but they look great when they come together.

  • Red and green.
  • Yellow and purple.

Analogous colors

Graphs or images with analogous colors are a very easy and quick way out to use in case you don’t have time or need to deliver your earring in the shortest time possible.

You just need to find a suitable color and combine them with their adjacent variables. That is, if you choose red, you can use red, orange, and orange, or red-violet and purple.

Opposite colors

Have you ever seen examples of complementary colors? They are very easy to identify, for example: blue with orange, red-violet with yellow-green, or blue-green with red-orange.

They are all colors that are in opposition but, for some strange reason, hopefully not because of cupid, they complement each other and create visual harmony. Some brands joined this trend and applied it to their logos.

But what are the opposite colors on the color wheel? Find out below:

  • Red and cyan.
  • Green and magenta.
  • Blue and yellow.
  • Purple and yellow-green.
  • Crimson and blue-green.
  • Ultramarine and orange.

With these tips, you can improve your designs and make them captivating and engaging. It is important to know what a color wheel is because it is a base tool for all kinds of creations (not only for graphic design, it can also be used in photography or artistic painting).

Would you like to continue learning more about the color wheel and the combinations that will make your senses explode? In this other article, you will learn all about the main combinations of this colorful wheel.

Triadic colors

Triad combinations are formed by drawing an imaginary triangle inside a color wheel and pointing to three equidistant colors. For example, blue-purple, red-orange, and greenish-yellow.

These combinations express a sense of balance and also transmit strength through their contrasts.

Are you one of those who make the most of CorelDRAW to make designs but don’t know how to work with harmonies? You can create them from scratch or from the colors that are part of an existing object in your project.

Online tools to combine colors on the chromatic wheel

Do you want to make color combinations quickly, easily, and easily? Do you want to avoid the slightest mistake when designing the visual identity of a brand and that all the colors combine perfectly with each other?

Adobe Color is a free online tool that allows you to navigate its color wheel to create the perfect color palette for your brand. Even if you have a Creative Cloud account you can save it and use it as a color theme in all Adobe products (like Photoshop and Illustrator).

You just have to apply the desired color harmony rule (analogs, monochromatic, triad, complementary, complementary separation, double complementary separation, square, compound, tone, or custom) and move the circles or lines within the chromatic wheel to find the ideal combination.

Another great tool is CorelDRAW. You can work with color harmonies right there. Thus, you can create different color combinations, by modifying the color composition in one step or modifying the colors together. Also, these harmonies can be created from scratch or from an existing object.

If you have come this far, it is because you surely got excited about this whole topic about what a color wheel is and how to enhance your designs so that they are even more fantastic.

So we have a gift for you: download this free graphic design quote. If you are taking your first steps as a freelancer, you probably have questions about how to make a quote. Now, you have that solved with this template! You are welcome.

Types of color circles

There are also two types of color circles:

Traditional color wheel

A traditional color wheel is also known as an RYB for Red, Yellow, and Blue. Because it is made up of the basic colors: red, yellow, and blue; and by the secondary colors: orange, green and purple.

There are cases where a traditional model color wheel can combine the basic and secondary colors as follows.

  • Yellow-orange
  • Oranged Red
  • Red violet
  • Blue-violet
  • Greenish blue
  • Greenish-yellow

Natural color wheel

The natural chromatic circle is formed by the colors visible in the spectrum of light, a principle that derives from Newton’s studies and which was later deepened with the appearance of color photography. Ever wanted to know the differences between RGB and CMYK? Here you will find the answer.

The colors of a natural color wheel have two models:

Additive model

This model is popularly known as RGB for Red, Green, and Blue, and it is made up of the primary colors: red, green, and blue; along with the secondary ones: cyan, magenta, yellow.

Here we can find the first steps to determine what combinations of a color wheel we can do correctly since the first opposite colors come out.

For example, we can say which colors are opposite and do not combine :

  • Yellow is opposed to blue.
  • Magenta is opposed to green.
  • Cyan is opposed to the color red.

Subtractive model

Mostly known as CMYK whose meaning comes from the colors in English Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black.

It is made up of primary colors: cyan, magenta, and yellow – if we mix them, the black color comes out – and the secondary colors: red, green, and blue.

Here you can also see opposite colors of the chromatic circle:

  • Red is opposed to cyan.
  • Magenta is opposed to green.
  • Blue is opposed to yellow.

Take into account these different types of color circles as their differences can have great impacts on the final results of the projects in which you participate.

Feel like you still need more of a boost to unleash your creativity? We share 10 creativity techniques to generate the best ideas.

Because the willingness to be creative is important, but knowing and mastering these techniques is also important. Even if you are a lover of art in general and do not only do graphic design, this list of techniques will be more unmissable for you!

Other uses of the color wheel

How to use the color wheel in photography?

And there was light, but also colors. The importance of the color wheel in photography, and videos, is that, as in design, it conveys what you want to communicate.

But first of all, we must understand what each color wants to convey in order to apply it in our shots, and thus the scenes, costumes, and other elements of your shot work in harmony.

Generally, the magic formula for a good shot based on the colors in a color wheel is for one color to be dominant and the rest to be complementary to the main color.

With this, we want to tell you that before taking a shot you will be able to identify which is the predominant color and find those that will give harmony to your shot. This also happens when you make a graph and use an image bank, depending on what you want to convey, you must select the ideal photo.

Color filters for photos

As we wrote above, one function of the color wheel is to identify warm colors and cool colors. Therefore, we will analyze what color filters we can apply so that the editing of our photos is more professional.

As the knowledge is not absolute, we recommend that you review the handling of Photoshop for photos, or, if you prefer, you can become an expert in photo retouching and complement your knowledge with the information that we will provide below:

Blue filter for photography: It is used in black and white photographs to increase and give body to the appearance of the haze.

Red filter for photography: Helps absorb excess blue and green light giving better contrast to the photo.

Green filter for photography: It is used mainly for photos of plants, nature, and vegetation since they help to clarify and give more life to all the captured elements. It also helps make the photo look more natural.

What do you think of these color filters for photographs? Achieving more artistic or novel photos with the use of the chromatic circle is possible. All necessary color corrections can be made in Photoshop.

In addition, this program for photographers, designers, and creatives has its tools and functions designed based on the RGB color wheel. So, if you work with it, it will be very easy and fast for you to correct the colors in the image. Of course, do not forget to apply the rules of color harmony to achieve the results you want!

How do you use the color wheel for makeup?

Just as the color wheel is a key tool for designs and illustrations, in addition to photography, it is also a key tool in the world of makeup. In short, this resource is powerful for any artistic field that works with a combination of colors.

So how can you take advantage of the color wheel to make up? Basically, this roulette is like a guide to find the perfect combinations of colors and thus make them look like never before on people’s faces.

Therefore, you have to know in-depth what are the primary, secondary and tertiary colors, how to combine them, and how to handle the tones (from the most intense to the lightest).

Some colors are better combined with others. The important thing is that you find your own style when creating and that you even dare to defy the rules to set your own creative horizon.

Now, another important point when combining colors is skin tones. Depending on the tone, some colors and shades of them will be better than others. The secret is to discover what makes you feel best to enhance your beauty.

Knowing how to combine colors is very important to visually express what we want to communicate. For this reason, throughout this article, we highlight the importance of the color combinations of a chromatic circle.

Just as knowing what a color wheel is and how it is used is relevant to making the greatest creations at the graphic design level, mastering the different graphic design software is also important. Find the one that matches you the most and optimize your creative projects to take them to the next level!

Put this tool to good use in both visual and photographic compositions, and why not, when making some videos. We do not doubt your great capacity for creativity to make great products. Many successes in all your works!

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