Learn everything you need to know about color schemes and how to apply them to your next interior design, graphic design, or web design project.
A color scheme consists of a combination of colors used in a range of design projects, from fine art to interior design to graphic design. Each color scheme consists of one or more of the 12 colors present on the color wheel.
By pairing different colors with each other, you can create endless color palettes to use in any composition. Different color combinations can also evoke different moods or tones through clever use of color theory and color psychology.
Looking for instant color scheme inspiration? Try our Color Palette Generator to pull beautiful color schemes from photographs in an instant!
Thinking up a color palette for your work can be overwhelming and time-consuming. Luckily, you don’t have to sit for hours trying out every color combination to find one that looks good.
You can turn to tried-and-tested color schemes to find a combination that works, or you can use a color scheme tool, which enables you to select from a vast range of hues and find its monochromatic, complementary, analogous, or triadic counterparts.
Read on to learn about the main types of color scheme below, plus discover tips on how to make the most of each color scheme to bring your projects to colorful life.
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What Are the Different Types of Color Scheme?
Color schemes can include any variety of colors you wish, but to avoid color clashing or unwanted psychological effects (yes, that’s right, the wrong color scheme can even make you feel ill or anxious), there are tried-and-tested types of color scheme to help you create the right color palette every time.
The main types of color schemes are:
- Monochromatic color scheme
- Complementary color scheme
- Analogous color scheme
- Triadic color scheme
- Neutral color scheme
Each of these color scheme types are built on rules of how different colors relate to each other on a color wheel, a format of categorizing the color of light first formulated by Isaac Newton.
The color wheel is a scientific way of observing how white light splits into a spectrum of light, allowing us to see exactly how colors are ordered in the world around us.
With this in mind, we can use these color scheme types as a scientifically proven method for judging which colors sit alongside each other harmoniously when we build color schemes for design projects.
Below, explore each type of color scheme in more detail, and pick up tips and inspiration for using these schemes in your projects.
1. Monochromatic Color Scheme
Monochromatic color schemes focus on a single color, often using variations of that hue by incorporating its tints, tones, and shades. By adding touches of white, gray, or black, that single color can be expanded into a comprehensive color palette.
Those tints, tones, and shades also provide highlights and shadows to bring depth to an otherwise flat color palette.
A monochromatic color scheme is extremely versatile and easy on the eye. Using many hues in a design can often lead to a clash in colors and obstruct the design’s appearance, while simply using the color variations of one hue helps to simplify a design.
Indeed, monochromatic color schemes are increasing in popularity due to the rise of minimalism in all aspects of design, from interior design to packaging and website design. This type of color scheme also allows for greater clarity of content or important information on websites or advertisements.
A monochromatic palette certainly doesn’t mean the color choice has to be dull—these simple, striking color schemes can make a strong statement on brand designs and websites.
When using a monochromatic color scheme, make sure to look into the psychological associations of the chosen color and how these could impact the mood of the design.
As there is typically only one hue to focus on, it’s also crucial to incorporate elements of contrast to guide the eye throughout. Try bringing in darker or lighter hues, closely related colors or neutral “companion” colors—such as buff, ivory, or beige—to create a well-rounded scheme with plenty of depth and interest.
2. Complementary Color Scheme
Complementary colors sit opposite to each other on a color wheel. One color is usually a primary color and the other a secondary color. The main complementary color pairings are typically blue and orange, red and green, and yellow and purple.
Colors sitting opposite to each other on the color wheel provide high contrast when paired together, bringing interest and intensity to a design. At full saturation, complementary hues can be extremely vibrant, so moderate the intensity by incorporating tints, tones, and shades to extend the palette and make it more palatable for a wide range of projects.
Alternatively, you can embrace the high contrast and intensity of this type of color palette by using a complementary scheme for attention-grabbing designs, such as website landing pages, app designs, or sales promotions.
At first, using complementary schemes can be overwhelming but, with a little experimentation, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results. For color guidance, use this practical color picker tool to build your next color palette.
3. Analogous Color Scheme
Analogous colors consist of a group of three colors that border each other within the color wheel. This type of color scheme starts off with a base hue and is extended using two neighboring colors.
The word “analogous” means closely related, so the combination of these hues has a harmonious appeal similar to that of monochromatic color schemes.
Enabling designers to create a gently graduating color palette, analogous color schemes are often used for their easy-going, calming nature. There’s nothing jolting or unexpected about an analogous color scheme, making them a perfect choice for projects that require a soothing scheme.
If you need analogous color inspiration, take a look around you. Analogous palettes are often found in nature, from warm sunsets and oceanic waves to the jewel hues of peacock feathers.
4. Triadic Color Scheme
A triadic color scheme consists of three colors that are placed equidistant from each other on the color wheel, forming a triangle, as seen below. Triadic color schemes can include three primary, secondary, or tertiary colors.
Common triadic palettes consist of blue, red, and yellow or violet, green, and orange.
Most triadic palettes are vibrant, contrasting, and can be difficult to balance. A good place to start is to assign one base hue, then use the remaining two hues as accent colors.
When all colors in a triadic scheme are being used equally, each hue often fights for the spotlight, so a good way to prevent a clash of colors is to establish color hierarchy within the composition.
For example, in an interior design project, one of the triadic colors can be used as a dominant color in a larger area of the room, such as a painted wall or sofa. The other two colors can then be used to bring in pops of color on smaller items, such as lamps or artwork.
As with the other types of color scheme, try to avoid using all three colors in their fully saturated state if you still want to maintain a sense of calm and balance. Bring in hints of white, gray, or black to tone down the vibrancy and extend the palette.
Alternatively, lean into the fun and playfulness that a triadic color scheme can offer, using neon or acid pastel colors to create a multi-colored, high-energy effect.
5. Neutral Color Scheme
Neutral color schemes have recently gained momentum across many design disciplines, including interior design, fashion, and product packaging. This popular color scheme typically consists of achromatic hues (white, gray, and black) along with near neutrals (beige, tan, brown, and other dark hues).
All neutral colors have one thing in common—they’re typically desaturated with the help of tints, tones, and shades.
The great thing about this type of color scheme is that it’s hard to go overboard with colors but, as a rule of thumb, try sticking to four hues or less. You can boost the visual power of neutral colors by focusing on bringing in texture to your designs.
While other color schemes use the strength of a color to draw interest from a viewer, neutral schemes allow more visual space for other elements to shine, such as tactile background texture, detailed illustration, or a strikingly simple font.
Much like monochromatic color schemes, neutral color palettes evoke a sense of calm and serenity. Desaturated tones are easy on the eye and don’t fit within a specific trend, making them a versatile and timeless choice for a wide range of projects.
Try a neutral color palette on breezy beauty packaging or as part of a minimal interior design scheme to create a mood of freshness and simplicity.
A Color Scheme for Every Project
Color schemes are not intended to restrict your use of color, but rather guide designers in making color choices that look fantastic every time! Whether you opt for the vibrancy of a complementary color palette or the calm, tonal hues of a neutral color palette, there’s a type of color scheme to suit every mood.
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