Colour swatches arranged in a colour wheel.

Colour theory made easy

Put together perfect colour schemes with our simple guide to colour basics.

Know your colour wheel

Use the colour wheel to create decorating colour schemes.

The traditional colour wheel is a useful way of organising key colours and can help you to put together decorating schemes for any space or project.

There are three main colour categories:

PRIMARY COLOURS consist of red, yellow and blue. These are the three base ingredients from which all other colours are made.

SECONDARY COLOURS consist of orange, violet and green. Each of these colours is made by combining two of the primary colours. So, red and yellow create orange, blue and red create violet, and blue and yellow create green.

TERTIARY COLOURS are made by mixing a primary colour with a secondary colour, or by mixing two secondary colours together. Examples include chartreuse (yellow and green) and magenta (purple and red).

Create your colour scheme

Once you have a wheel with these basic colours arranged on it, there are three main types of decorating scheme that you can create using three fail-safe colour combinations:

MONOCHROMATIC schemes use tones of the same colour in varying hues. This scheme works wonderfully in rooms where you want to create a calm, tranquil setting. Try painting your ceiling a very pale blue, your walls a mid-blue and your woodwork a rich, navy blue.

HARMONIOUS schemes feature colours that sit directly next to one another on the colour wheel. These work beautifully together in a room scheme. Mix blues with purples, or oranges with reds.

COMPLEMENTARY OR CONTRASTING COLOUR schemes use hues that are directly opposite one another on the colour wheel. These always look good together, despite the fact that they contrast. This scheme delivers an exciting interplay of colour and, depending on the strength of the colours you select, the look you create can range from playful to dynamic. For example, blue looks brilliant with orange, and yellow works wonderfully with purple.

Once you understand the colour wheel and have mastered these basic rules, you can experiment with a wide variety of colour combinations and put together stunning colour schemes with confidence.

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