What is Color Theory?


Believe it or not, the study of color theory and how it affects humans has only been a studied topic since about the 18th century. Color is an important part of everyday life, from it’s importance to health and healing, to design and artistic uses. It tells us to stop, to go, to wait, to calm down. Color is a valuable part of human life, and employing that in our designs and branding is only part of that.

So, What Is It?

Color Theory is specifically the group of rules and guidelines with which we choose colors for designing a website, an art piece, or even a waiting room. It defines what colors go together. Color theory also tells us what colors clash and seem garish. According to Study.com, color theory “provides us with a common ground for understanding how colors can be used, arranged, coordinated, blended, and related to one another.” 

That being said, employing color to evoke an emotional reaction from a customer is an incredibly common practice. It is important to take color into account when you are looking to develop your brand. This theory is not something we could cover in a single blog post, but we can at least cover some important tidbits that will be useful in your design work.

Some Colorful Key Terms 

We won’t be able to cover everything, but there are a set of keywords that help to understand just the basics of Color Theory. These keywords should help you visualize colors in a new way and apply them to your project. Keep in mind that jarring, or even muted, colors can negatively impact a project. It all depends on the audience and the medium.


We have heard the term Primary Color since grade school, and many of us define Red, Blue, and Yellow as primary colors. However, primary colors all depends on the medium you choose. 

Primary Color is essentially a root color. You can mix these colors together to get new colors, but you cannot mix other colors to get a primary color. There are several primary color combinations, but the most significant for art and design are the Red Blue Yellow (RBY), and Cyan Yellow Magenta (CYM). 



Secondary Colors are the product of a primary color combo. For example, you can get Green from mixing the primary colors of Yellow and Blue together on the RBY color wheel. You can also get Green from a Cyan and Yellow combination on the CYM wheel. Below we have the colors blue and red. The colors in between would be considered secondary.



Tertiary Color is the product of secondary and primary color mixing. Below, we mixed the primary color yellow with the secondary color green.

Yes, this all seems fairly simple, but it’s about to get a tad bit complicated.



Analogous Colors are a set of three separate colors that sit beside one another on a traditional color wheel. For example, Red, Yellow, and Orange are all analogous colors in relation to each other.



Complementary Colors are colors that sit across from one another on a color wheel. When placed directly next to one another, a higher contrast is created. For example, red and green are complementary colors that create high contrast.



Triadic Colors are colors that are evenly spaced on a color wheel. You could use Purple, Yellow, and Green together as a triadic group of colors.



A Hue is the dominant color in the wavelength. Pure royal blue colored light is considered a Hue, or even an untouched red-pigmented paint. You can often look at a painting or image and recognize that the artist used a base color and built from that. The base color is a hue.



The Value of a color is defined as the lightness or darkness of a color on a scale of white to black. The lighter a color is, the more energizing it can be. The darker a color is, the more calming it can be. Choosing a color value can be important when conveying mood.



Chroma is the range at which a color lands between a full hue (full chroma) or grey. The more grey a color becomes, the less the base hue shows through.


These are only a few keywords to help you get off the ground. Fully understanding color theory and how colors work together is a complicated process and takes a lot of work and practice. These terms should help you grasp these concepts so that you may apply them to your website, branding, art, or whatever project you may be working on.

Stay tuned for more color-related content in the future!