How to use the color wheel to choose the perfect colors



Colors play a vital role in transmitting a message and setting an atmosphere. The choice of colors determines the mood of the creation, the level of energy that will be conveyed, and if it’s pleasant to the viewer or not.

When it comes to colors, there are no rigid rules, but flexible guidelines that will help you jumpstart your imagination. There are no color schemes that are better than others, but only those that are more suitable for the visual message you want to convey. You should first pick the mood you want for your image, then go from there.

Josef Albers compared good coloring to good cooking: they both demand repeated tasting.

What is color harmony?

Color harmony is achieved using colors that relate to one another in a specific way on the color wheel. A color wheel is a visual representation of colors arranged according to their chromatic relationship.

Red, blue and yellow, are primary colors.

When you mix red and yellow, you get orange; mix blue and yellow, you get green; mix red and blue, you get violet.

Orange, green and violet are called secondary colors.

Tertiary colors like red-violet and blue-violet are derived by mixing a primary color with a secondary color.

Tints, Shades, and Tones

These terms are often used incorrectly, although they describe fairly simple color concepts. If a color is made lighter by adding white, the result is called a tint. If black is added, the darker version is called a shade. And if gray is added, the result is a different tone.

An important aspect of the wheel is that it demonstrates that color is perceived as having a temperature. Red, orange and yellow radiate warmth as they are associated with the heat of fire and sun, while blue, green and purple cool things down. Physiologically, warm colors actually do advance to the eye. Cool colors recede, making them more distant and calm.

The classic color wheel renders some basic guidelines for color selection. There is no right or wrong here. The following color schemes are meant to help you find inspiration when you need a bit of direction.


Monochromatic color scheme uses one hue family in varying shades, tones, and tints. This color scheme gives the impression of simplicity and cleanliness. You can use variations in lightness and saturation of the same color, and it is possible to integrate with neutral colors, such as white, black or gray. The main advantage of using monochromatic scheme is that the image will look visually appealing and balanced. This scheme is not the appropriate choice if you are trying to express energy and vibrancy.


Analogous colors are among the most harmonious and foolproof of color schemes. It provides a richer, more colorful solution than the monochromatic scheme, and a vibrant composition, but still not as vibrant as a complementary scheme. The analogous color scheme employs colors that are close to one another on the color wheel. Typically you choose three colors, but you can use a minimum of two to a maximum of five adjacent colors. To guarantee harmony, try to keep the selection either of warm or cool colors.


Colors that are opposite to each other on the color wheel are considered to be complementary colors. This is the color scheme that offers the highest contrast and vitality. Colors coupled as complementaries exhibit a natural balance, every pair containing a warm and a cool hue. Complementary colors emphasize the qualities of their opposites. The selection of specific opposites should not be too restrictive as colors should be thought of as families.

Two sets of complimentary will form a tetrad scheme.


A scheme of triads utilizes three equidistant hues on the wheel, either primary or secondary tone. This scheme provides a nice contrast and an easier achievable color balance than the complementary scheme.

Psychology  of color

“Anyone who has ever felt blue, seen red, blacked out, or turned green knows we’re prone to make emotional associations with different shades”, wrote Winifred Gallagher. The connection between colors and feelings is probably the most simple and profound. Color has been known to have a powerful psychological impact on people’s behavior and emotions. It seems reasonable that color influences mood. Ask anyone how they feel watching a sunset, rainbow or snowstorm.

“An executive for a paint company received complaints from workers in a blue office that the office was too cold. When the offices were painted a warm peach, the sweaters came off even though the temperature had not changed.” – Pantone

Red – Creates a sense of urgency and physically stimulates the body, raising blood pressure and heart rate, associated with movement, excitement, and passion.

Blue – It’s associated with peace, water, tranquility, and reliability. Blue provides a sense of security and trust.

Green – Associated with health, power, and nature. Green stimulates harmony in your brain and encourages a balance leading to decisiveness.

Purple – Commonly associated with royalty, wisdom, and respect. Stimulates problem-solving as well as creativity.

Orange & Yellow – Cheerful colors that promote optimism. Orange can trigger a sense of caution. Used to create a sense of anxiety.

Black – Associated with authority, power, stability, and strength. Often a symbol of intelligence, but can become overwhelming if used too frequently.

Grey – Symbolizes feelings of practicality, old age, and solidarity. But too much grey can lead to feelings of nothingness and depression.

White – Associated with feelings of purity, cleanliness, and safety. Can be used to project an absence of color or neutrality.

Using Abobe Color CC

Here is a great tutorial on how to use Abobe Color CC for your images. I always use it as a guide when choosing the colors for my photos. You can find the Abobe Color CC here.