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Computer Training: Learning about the Color Wheel and Color Theory

Written by Jonathan O'Brien

The principles of color theory have been around since the 1400s, when Leonardo da Vinci wrote about them in his notebooks. However, his ideas didn't really catch on in art until the 18th century. Since then, color theory has become an accepted part of art across the board, from paintings to graphic design elements found in advertisements and on websites. Colors can affect the way people feel or think about a company or brand. Because of its impact on viewers, color theory is an important part of computer training, especially for those working in graphic design or Web design. Learning the basics of color theory can help build a solid foundation as a person moves through all of the aspects of computer training.


Primary Colors


Primary colors are those colors that cannot be created by mixing any other colors. Conversely, all other colors can be created by mixing the primary colors. The traditional color wheel in art uses red, yellow, and blue as primary colors.


Secondary Colors


When two primary colors are mixed, the color they create is called a secondary color. For example, when red and blue are mixed, the resulting color is purple. Purple is a secondary color.


Tertiary Colors


Tertiary colors are those colors created by combining either two secondary colors or a secondary color and a primary color.


Complementary Colors


When looking at a color wheel, colors that are on opposite sides of the wheel from each other are complementary colors. If two complementary colors are mixed together, the result is a neutral color, such as gray or black. Complementary colors are often used to create visual contrast, but it is important not to use too many contrasting colors, as the result can be overwhelming and unappealing.


Analogous Colors


Analogous colors are next to each other on a color wheel. When used together, analogous colors create a sense of unity. Analogous color palettes can be either cool or warm depending on which colors are used.


The Color Wheel


The color wheel is a concept that most people learn about as children in an elementary art class. It is a representation of the relationships colors have with one another. The colors are arranged in a circle, hence the name "color wheel." The primary colors are placed at an equal distance from one another, and the remainder of the wheel is filled in with secondary and tertiary colors.


Color Relationships


Color relationships are represented by the color wheel or other visual models. They describe whether a color is analogous with or complementary to another color.


The Painter's Color Triangle


The painter's color triangle is a visual model arranged in a triangle with the primary colors at the points and an open or white center. The painter's color triangle uses the traditional primary colors of red, yellow, and blue that are taught in elementary school.



The Printers' Color Triangle


The printers' color triangle is arranged in the same fashion as the painters' color triangle but uses different primary colors. The primaries used here are those used in the printing process. They are magenta, cyan, and yellow.


Nine-Part Harmonic Triangle of Goethe


The nine-part harmonic triangle of Goethe is represented as a solid triangle. This color model uses the painter's primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) and shows that when they are combined, they form secondary colors (purple, green, and orange). The tertiary colors between these fill in the gaps in the triangle.


More Information on Color and Design


Studying color theory can be of great benefit to those who are pursuing computer training. Knowing which colors to use to achieve the desired effect can make a person a more effective designer.