Color Wheel and Color Theory

The 1st color wheel was invented by Sir Isaac Newton. In 1666 he discovered that light refracted by a prism created the colors red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. He then arranged these colors in a circle creating a color wheel. This color wheel was the 1st to be used by artists.

About 100 years later Johann Wolfgang von Goethe studied how these colors made us feel. He then divided the color wheel in to 2 halves, a plus and minus side. On the minus side he placed green, violet and blue which we now call cool colors. On the plus side he placed red, orange, and yellow which we now call warm colors.

In the mid 1900’s Johannas Itten created our current color wheel. Taking both the subjective feelings associated with color and the emotional values of color he created current color theories. His color wheel consists of 3 primary colors, 3 secondary colors and 6 tertiary (intermediate) colors.

Our current color theory is a set of principles used to create harmonious color combinations. Harmonious color combinations use any 2 colors directly opposite each other on the color wheel, and 3 colors equally spaced around the color wheel forming a triangle or any 4 colors forming a rectangle.

Color Wheel


The color wheel starts with 3 colors that are equidistant from each other. These colors are red, yellow and blue and are called the Primary Colors. They are called primary colors because they cannot be mixed from other colors.

Primary Colors

When you mix two primary colors together you create secondary colors.

  • Red + Yellow = Orange
  • Yellow + Blue = Green
  • Blue + Red = Violet

Secondary Colors

Mixing a primary color with a secondary color creates a tertiary color. Tertiary colors are named after the colors used to create them.

  • Yellow-green
  • Blue-green
  • Blue-violet
  • Red-violet
  • Red-orange
  • Yellow-orange

Tertiary Colors

You can further lighten or darken these colors with white or black. Adding black to a color creates a shade. Adding white to color creates a tint.

Using the primary, secondary and tertiary colors on the color wheel you are able to create color combinations or schemes.


Monochromatic: Using a single color or lighter and darker tones of a single color creates a monochromatic scheme.

Monochromatic Color Scheme

A monochromatic scheme is visually pleasing and the easiest way to create a beautiful piece of jewelry.

Analogous: To create an analogous scheme use 3 to 5 colors that are adjacent to each other on the wheel. Pick a starting color and then 1 or 2 colors on either side of it.

Analogous Color Scheme

An analogous color scheme is similar to a monochromatic scheme but has more depth and richness to it.

Complementary: A complementary color scheme is created by using 2 colors that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel. Red and green is a well know complementary color scheme.

Complementary Color Scheme

This color scheme is high contrast and visually exciting. It’s best to use one as the dominate color and the other as an accent color.

Split-complementary: To create this color scheme you first determine your dominate color and then go across the color wheel and find its complement. We’ll use green and red again as an example. Instead of using the complement use the colors on either side of it. In this case, green, red-orange and red-violet.

Split Complementary Color Scheme

This scheme allows for high contrast in a design but doesn’t have the strong tension that the complementary scheme does.

Triadic: This color scheme uses 3 colors equally spaced around the color wheel. Red-Yellow-Blue, popular for kids items, is a triadic color scheme.

Triadic Color Scheme

A triadic color scheme creates strong visual contrast but is more balanced and harmonious than a complementary scheme.

Tetradic (Double Complementary): By using 2 complementary colors in pairs you get a Tetradic color scheme.

Tetradic Color Scheme

This scheme offers the most color variety but is the hardest one to balance.


A colors value refers to its relative lightness or darkness. Widely separated color values can be distracting when used all at once.

Use values that match, all pastels or all jewel tones, and the colors work well together and the eye moves easily across them. Pastel Colors

Jewel Tone Colors

If you’re using 2 complementary colors disproportionately mixing values can be very effective. Color values all the same

Color values all different

When combining three or more colors mixing color values can be more difficult. If two of your three colors are of the same value your combinations will be more harmonious than if you had used three different values. Color 2 values the same

Color values all different

To keep your designs more pleasing try to remember NOT to use your colors in equal proportions. A simple guideline to follow is the rule of thirds.

If you’re using 3 colors reserve about 10% for your accent color and then break the other two colors into 2/3 and 1/3.

Color Proportions