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In color theory, a color scheme is the choice of colors used in design for a range of media. For example, the use of a white background with black text is an example of a basic and commonly default color scheme in web design.
Color schemes are used to create style and appeal. Colors that create an aesthetic feeling when used together will commonly accompany each other in color schemes. A basic color scheme will use two colors that look appealing together. More advanced color schemes involve several colors in combination, usually based around a single color; for example, text with such colors as red, yellow, orange and light blue arranged together on a black background in a magazine article.
Color schemes can also contain different shades of a single color; for example, a color scheme that mixes different shades of green, ranging from very light (almost white) to very dark.
Use of the phrase color scheme may also and commonly does refer to choice and use of colors used outside typical aesthetic media and context, although may still be used for purely aesthetic effect as well as for purely practical reasons. This most typically refers to color patterns and designs as seen on vehicles, particularly those used in the military when concerning color patterns and designs used for identification of friend or foe, identification of specific military units, or as camouflage.
On the color wheel
Monochromatic color scheme
A monochromatic color scheme consists of different values of one single color. These color schemes are easy to get right and can be very effective, soothing and authoritative. They do, however, lack the diversity of hues found in other color schemes and are less vibrant.
Primary, secondary, and tertiary color schemes
A primary color scheme consists of the three primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) and their tints, shades, and tones.
A secondary color scheme is the same as a primary scheme, but consists of the secondary colors: orange, green, and violet.
A tertiary color scheme is made up of tertiary colors. Tertiary colors are made of a primary color mixed with a secondary color that is next to it; for example, a color such as yellow-orange or blue-green.
Analogous color scheme
Analogous colors are colors that are adjacent to each other on the color wheel. Some examples are green, yellow green and yellow or red, red violet and violet. Analogous color schemes are often found in nature and are pleasing to the eye. The combination of these colors give a bright effect in the area, and are able to accommodate many changing moods. When using the analogous color scheme, one should make sure there is one hue as the main color.
Complementary color scheme
The high contrast between the colors creates a vibrant look, especially when used at full saturation. Complementary colors can be tricky to use in large doses.
Split-analogous color scheme
An analogous color scheme includes a main color and the two colors one space away from it on each side of the color wheel. An example is red, violet, and blue.
Split-complementary color scheme
A split complementary color scheme includes a main color and the two colors on each side of its complementary (opposite) color on the color wheel. These are the colors that are one hue and two equally spaced from its complement. To avoid fatigue and maintain high contrast, this color scheme should be used when giving powerpoint presentations, or when using a computer for an extended period of time. Additionally, certain colors should not be mixed, like red and green. Colors that should be used are red/violet and yellow/green.
Triadic color scheme
Triad color schemes are formed by three equally spaced colors on the wheel. An example is red, blue and green - spaced with two colors between.
Tetradic color scheme
The rectangle or tetradic color scheme uses four colors arranged into two complementary pairs. This rich color scheme offers plenty of possibilities for variation. Tetradic color schemes works best if you let one color be dominant. You should also pay attention to the balance between warm and cool colors in your design.
Neutral color scheme
A color scheme that includes only colors not found on the color wheel, called neutrals, such as beige, brown, gray, black, and white.
Accented neutral color scheme
A color scheme that includes neutral colors, like white, beige, brown, gray, light brown or black, and one or more small doses of other colors (e.g. brown and beige with blue, gray and black with red).
Warm and cool color schemes
Warm colors range from red to yellow. This includes red, red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, and yellow. Cool colors, however, range from green to violet, including green, blue-green, blue, blue-violet, and violet. Yellow-green and red-violet are considered neither cool nor warm, as they are in between the two - in the case of yellow-green, for example, yellow is a warm color and green is a cool color. The color yellow-green is composed of both a warm and cool color, so it cannot be classified as either one. The same applies for red-violet.
Examples of media where color schemes are used
- Graphic design
- Product packaging
- Logo design
- Graphical user interfaces
- The World Wide Web
- Modern magazines use a range of colors in text and imagery which tend not to conform to a specific set of colors throughout the magazine.
- Interior design
- Video Games
- Light-on-dark color scheme
- Dark-on-light color scheme
- Color tool
- Monochromatic color
- Complementary color
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