Colour Theory for Graphic Designers

By Published On: April 4, 2022

Make Choosing Colors for Your Designs Easier: The Science and Art of Colour Theory for Graphic Designers

Colour Theory for Graphic Designers photo by Balazs Ketyi from Unsplash

A well-chosen color palette can make or break your design. Of course it’s important to choose colors that accurately represent your message and appeal to your target audience. In this ‘short article series’, we will discuss the science and art of color theory in graphic design. We will explore how to use a color wheel to create harmonious color schemes. Let’s get started!


When it comes to color theory, there are two main schools of thought: the artists’ view and the scientists’ view. The artists’ view is more concerned with the emotional response that colors evoke. The scientists’ view is more concerned with the physical properties of color and how our eyes and brain process them. As a designer, you need to be aware of both sides of the color theory coin as it heavily impacts on the secret messages colours communicate to our intended audience.

The color wheel is a tool that designers use to create harmonious color schemes. Sure, there are swatch books but what’s the point if we don’t know how the colour wheel works. There are three primary colors (red, yellow, and blue), three secondary colors (orange, green, and purple), and six tertiary colors (yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green, and yellow-green). To create a color scheme, you can start by choosing one of the three primary colors. Then, you can choose either the color directly opposite it on the color wheel (known as the complementary color) or one of the two colors next to it (known as analogous colors).

adgenix introduction to graphic design colour


The Seven Basic Colour Scemes

1. Monochromatic colour scheme is one colour using tints tones & shades (more on that later).

adgenix monochromatic colour scheme

2. Analogous colors sit next to each other on the color wheel.

adgenix analogous colour scheme

3. Complementary (two colors opposite each other on the color wheel).

adgenix complementary colour scheme

4. Split-complementary (a color and the two colors adjacent to its complement), and

adgenix split complementary colour scheme

5. Triadic (three colors evenly spaced around the color wheel).

adgenix triadic colour scheme

6. Square which uses four colours equidistant from each other on the colour wheel and provides contrast to your design, and

adgenix square colour scheme

7. Rectangle or Tetradic (two pairs of complementary colors) which offers a more subtle approach to colour selection.

adgenix rectangle tetradic colour scheme

Colour can go so much deeper than this quick write up but we just want you to get the basics so you can work with our templates and create the designs you need for your projects, let’s keep moving…


RGB Colour Scheme

Humans… that’s us, see colour in light waves. Mixing light is called the additive colour mixing model. This allows us to create colours by mixing red green and blue light sources of various intensities. The more light you add, the more brighter the colour becomes. When you mix all three colours of light you get pure white light. And this is what we use for all our screens we seem glued to all day everyday. When you’re making graphics for screens, for example prepping your logo for Instagram or your Youtube channel, use RGB colour process when you save out.

adgenix rgb colour scheme


CMYK Colour Scheme

Any color you see on a physical surface (paper, signage, packaging, etc.) uses the subtractive color mixing model. In this color model, color is created by absorbing some of the colors in white light and reflecting others. Another way to say this is we are subtracting the light from the paper by adding colour to it. The colors we see are actually the colors that are not being absorbed. Black is the combination of all colors, while white is the abscence of all colors leaving the paper untouched.

In the beginning when dinosaurus raomed the earth (kidding, it wasn’t that far back) we relied on the primary colours of red yellow and blue as painters mixed these three colours to get all other hues. However in colour printing these were replaced with Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key/Black. CMYK. This colour combination allows printers to print more varieties of colours. When you’re making graphics for print or to send to the printer, you’ll want to use CMYK. This will be important during the document setup and the output when you’re done.

adgenix cmyk colour scheme


Warm & Cool Colours

Warm and cool colours are used to describe how a hue makes us feel. Warm colours are those in the red, orange and yellow family and generally make us think of things like fire, sun and heat. They can also make a space feel more intimate as they advance towards us. Cool colours on the other hand include greens, blues and purples and give off a calming feeling. They recede into the background making a space feel larger.

adgenix warm cool colour scheme


Tint Tone & Shade

Hue and its tint, tone, and shade all describe different aspects of a color. A hue is the basic color family, like red, blue or yellow. A shade is a hue with black added to it, making it darker. A tint is a hue with white added to it, making it lighter. And finally, a tone is a hue with both black and white or grey is added to it. This darkens the hue making the colour more subtle and less intense.

Tint Tone Shade Colour Scheme at Adgenix


Winding Up

Why should you even care about Colour Theory?
Branding & Marketing… and selling.

Now that you know a little bit more about color theory, it’s time to start experimenting with color in your own designs. Remember to keep the following guidelines in mind:

  1. Use color to communicate your message
  2. Consider your audience when choosing colors
  3. Use the color wheel to create harmonious color schemes
  4. Experiment with different color combinations.

Thanks for reading and I hope this short article was helpful. Keep reading.

Here’s a bonus help video below.


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Written by : Adgenix

We're the designers at the Template Foundry banging out templates & design assets for your projects. Our goal is to get you working with our templates as quickly as possible and start making better designs for your business today.