Color wheel


    The color wheel, a cornerstone of color theory developed over centuries, is an indispensable tool not only for graphic designers, artists, and individuals connected to fashion but also for anyone keen on mastering the art of visual appeal. From the creation of a website's color palette to the formulation of a corporate identity or the nuances of an illustration, the color wheel facilitates a deep understanding of color harmony, blending additional funds of knowledge into the realms of RGB and CMYK color models, and hex codes.

    The color wheel will help you understand how tones interact with each other: their construction; and simple, effective schemes of color combinations.

    Although the tool was developed a long time ago, its practical application is still relevant today. It not only gives an idea of color and shade construction but also teaches how to combine them effectively.

    The History

    Historically, the study of color has been pursued by scientists from various fields of science, artists, architects, and philosophers. Therefore, the teachings and theories of color have differed from each other - both in their goals and methods of application.

    Ancient philosophers tried to connect colors with theories about the origin of the world and nature. Scientists-physicists and opticians were interested in where color comes from and how the human eye perceives the variety of colors. Artists and architects studied colors to find harmonious pleasant combinations. Psychologists were interested in the psychological impact of colors on people.

    The first known theory of color is associated with the name of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. He believed that all colors come from white and black - light and darkness, and associated them with four elements: water, air, earth, and fire. Fire corresponds to white, earth-black, and water and air do not have their colors and receive different shades depending on their state. The other colors come from a mixture of primary colors and light.

    Tracing back to the origins of the color wheel, the contributions of Sir Isaac Newton are foundational. Newton's division of the color circle into seven parts, mirroring a musical scale, introduced the concept of primary colors—red, blue, and yellow—laying the groundwork for further exploration into secondary colors (green, orange, and purple) and tertiary colors (yellow-orange, red-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet). This historic perspective enriches our understanding of color relationships, including complementary colors (opposites on the wheel), analogous colors (neighbors on the wheel), and the dynamics of color schemes such as monochromatic, analogous, triadic, tetradic, and split-complementary.

    Itten's Color Theory

    Johannes Itten was a Swiss artist and art theorist. Since 1919, his place of work has been the Brauhaus. It is a legendary school of design and construction that gave the world many architectural and design innovations. In particular, the course on color, form, and texture of materials, which Itten created.

    According to Itten's theory, color is a subjectively perceived property. Simply put, the same color can evoke different associations, emotions, and thoughts in different people. The perception of color is unique to the extent that each person is unique.

    The theorist believed that the best way to perceive colors is through comparison. However, the same color will create a different effect depending on what we compare it to. For example, yellow on a white background is perceived as a soft and dark shade, while on a black background, it will be perceived as brighter and more saturated.

    In other words, colors interact with each other. For this reason, you should consider the palette as a whole.

    The Essence

    Color is a sensation that occurs in the human organ of vision when light strikes it. In color science, light is usually considered as an electromagnetic wave motion. A person can see a relatively small range of this radiation - the visible spectrum of white sunlight. It is it that Newton decomposed into simple spectral colors. These colors and all their intermediate shades are called chromatic colors. Achromatic colors are white, black, and all shades of gray.

    At the core of the color wheel are the primary colors, positioned to form an equilateral triangle, the basis for generating secondary and tertiary colors through blending. This interplay of colors results in a rich spectrum, including shades, tints, and varying levels of saturation, essential for crafting cohesive color palettes. The principles of color harmony are further explored through the juxtaposition of warm colors against cool colors, enhancing the visual impact of designs through contrast and complementarity.

    According to color theory, harmonious color combinations are obtained:

    From any two colors placed opposite each other on the color wheel.

    When using any three colors, evenly distributed on the color wheel, forming a triangle.

    When using any four colors, form a rectangle.

    Harmonious combinations of colors are called color schemes. Color schemes remain harmonious regardless of the angle of rotation.

    The color wheel is a basic tool for combining colors. The color wheel is designed so that combinations of any colors selected from it will look good together. The main thing is to learn how to use this tool.

    The Use

    The practical application of the color wheel is vast and varied. Designers utilize it to achieve high contrast or subtle harmony within their projects, selecting complementary colors for vibrancy, or analogous colors for a more subdued effect.

    The tetradic color scheme, with its basis in two complementary pairs, offers a balanced yet dynamic palette, while the triadic color scheme brings together three colors evenly spaced around the wheel, promoting color diversity. Accents and accent colors play a crucial role in this process, adding depth and interest to the dominant color scheme, whether it be a monochromatic or a complex tetradic composition.

    The art of color selection, guided by the color wheel and informed by centuries of color theory, remains a fundamental aspect of creative work. From the strategic use of color harmony to the implementation of specific color models like RGB and CMYK, designers and artists have a plethora of tools at their disposal.

    Whether through the deliberate choice of complementary colors to create high contrast, the sophisticated use of analogous colors for a cohesive look, or the bold application of tetradic color schemes for maximum impact, the color wheel continues to be a source of inspiration and innovation. Magenta, cyan, and amber; shades of purple and teal; the nuances of chartreuse and the vibrancy of amber—all find their place in the designer's toolkit, facilitated by an understanding of color theory and the practical applications of the color wheel.

    Now let’s talk of all the categories and combinations in more detail.

    Complementary Colors

    Complementary colors are any two colors opposite each other on the color wheel. For example, blue and orange, red and green. These colors create high contrast, so they are used when you want to highlight something. Ideally, you should use one color as a background and the other as an accent.

    Classic Triad

    The classic triad is a combination of three colors that are equally distant from each other on the color wheel. For example, red, yellow, and blue. The triad scheme also has high contrast but is more balanced than complementary colors. The principle here is that one color dominates and accents with the other two. Such a composition looks lively even when using pale and unsaturated colors.

    Analog Triad

    Analog triad is a combination of 2 to 5 (ideally 2 to 3) colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. Examples are combinations of muted colors: yellow-orange, yellow, yellow-green, green, and blue-green.

    Contrast Triad

    The use of a Contrast Triad, or split complementary colors, gives a high degree of contrast but is not as saturated as a complementary color. Split complementary colors give more harmony than using a direct complementary color.


    Tetrad is a combination of four colors. This scheme includes one main color and two complementary colors, plus a complementary color that accentuates the accents. Example: blue-green, blue-violet, orange-red, orange-yellow.

    This is the most complex scheme. It offers a greater variety of colors than any other scheme, but if all four colors are used in equal amounts, the scheme can look unbalanced, so you need to choose one color as the dominant color. One should avoid using pure color in equal amounts.


    A square is a combination of four colors equidistant from each other on the color wheel. These colors are different in tone but also complement each other. Example: purple, orange-red, yellow, blue-green.

    Six-Color Harmony

    Six-color harmony is created with the help of the figure of an equilateral hexagon. This is a complex combination that is very difficult to pick up on your own, so the usefulness of this tool is obvious.


    Crafting the perfect blend of colors is an art form, a task that even professionals deeply immersed in the nuances of hues find daunting. It's not just about envisioning the ideal harmony that resonates on all levels but also about bringing that vision to life. This is where the ingenuity of a simple, yet indispensable tool comes into play - the color wheel, a cornerstone for those navigating the complex terrain of color theory.

    At the heart of the Itten color wheel lies the essence of mastering color interaction. It serves as a beacon, guiding users through the intricate dance of hues, from the subtle nuances of monochromatic colors to the vibrant contrasts of a split-complementary color scheme. The wheel doesn't dictate the path to follow but rather illuminates the principles, leaving room for personal interpretation and creativity. Whether to adhere strictly to these guidelines or to venture beyond them into uncharted territories of color combinations is a choice that lies in the hands of the beholder.

    Choosing colors is an endeavor influenced by myriad factors, ranging from the context of the application to the thematic essence of the project at hand. Delving deeper, the Itten wheel empowers you to manipulate saturation and brightness, tools that can morph a simple color into an array of monochromatic shades or blend into a harmonious analogous color scheme. This manipulation extends to the digital realm through the RGB color model, allowing for the precise creation of shades like blue-purple or red-purple, each carrying its own weight and significance.

    The utility of the Itten color wheel transcends the boundaries of medium and expertise. Whether you're sketching on a canvas or designing on a screen, whether you're taking your first steps in the world of design or you're a seasoned artist, the color wheel stands as a beacon of simplicity and efficiency. It demystifies the complexities of color theory, making it accessible and actionable. With this tool at your disposal, the exploration of colors becomes not just a task, but a journey of discovery, filled with endless possibilities and the freedom to define your own unique palette.