When a picture is worth a thousand words!

A 'color wheel' is a very good way of understanding color. It's an excellent way of explaining how colors are related to one another.

A color wheel can seem quite complex, but here we're only interested in color used in home decorating. So we'll be using a very simple version which has enough information for our purposes.


Color wheel


Primary Colors

All colors are made up from three Primary Colors - Red, Blue and Yellow. All colors are derived from these. You can see them labeled on the diagram.

(In case you're wondering, these are the same colors used in ink for color printers, although the exact shades and names are slightly different. They are often called Magenta, Cyan and Yellow.)

Secondary Colors

Secondary colors are made by mixing two Primary colors. Orange is from Red and Yellow, Green is from Yellow and Blue, and Violet is from Blue and Red.

Tertiary Colors

These are made by mixing a Primary color with an adjacent Secondary color. Turquoise is a mixture of blue and green, lime-green a mixture of green and yellow, and crimson is a mixture of violet and red.

The other three tertiary colors (red-orange, yellow-orange and blue-violet) don't have any recognized names.


If you want to get straight into ideas for home colors, go to the decorating with color page for more information.


How colors relate to one another

Complimentary Colors

These are the colors which are opposite each other on the wheel - Red and Green, Blue and Orange, etc. They are least like one another. They contrast with each other, and when paired together produce visually stimulating effects. They give a sense of activity and movement to a room.

Harmonizing Colors

On the wheel you can see colors which lie between two primary colors. For example, crimson, violet, and violet/blue. Colors like this seem to belong together, to be part of a harmonious family.

When a group of colors spans a Primary color, they still have a degree of harmony, but there is also a slight discord. You can still use such colors, but you need to handle them with extra care.


So far, so good. But where, you ask, are all the blacks, whites, browns and neutrals? These don't figure in the diagram. We'll come to them in the next section.

Do remember that color is also dependent on things like surface texture, reflection, a flat finish as opposed to gloss - all these can affect how you see color.


  • Primary colors, Red, Blue, Yellow.
  • Secondary colors, made by mixing Primary colors.
  • Tertiary colors, made by mixing a Primary and a Secondary color.
  • Complimentary colors, opposite each other which create a vibrant effect when used together.
  • Harmonizing colors, lie between Primary colors, and seem to belong together.


Go to the next page to learn about tints and shades in Color Theory


(If you're looking for other information on color such as color charts, go to the Color Schemes page, where you'll find lots more information on color and how to use it in home decorating.)




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