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Creating color harmonies

Creating beautiful color schemes is easy if you rely on any of the tried and true color harmonies. Whether you are working on a printed piece, a website or any other communication, the color wheel can be your best friend when it comes to an attractive palette. Here are the basics of color harmonies.


complementary colors

Complementary colors are easy to identify: they are always opposite each other on the color wheel. By their very nature, complementary colors create a high degree of contrast, which can make them difficult to work with. When used in large doses, they can overwhelm your design. One trick: mute one of the colors by choosing a lighter or darker shade of the hue.

Use complementary colors to:

  • Convey youthfulness or vibrancy.
  • Draw attention to a point of focus.
  • Create a bold look.
  • Inspire action.

Split complementary

split complementary colors

Split complementary harmonies create a three color palette with one primary color and two colors adjacent to its opposite on the color wheel. This harmony has the benefit of creating contrast while reducing the chance of the contrast overwhelming your design.

Use split complementary colors to:

  • Make a strong impact that doesn't overwhelm the eye.


analagous colors

Analogous colors are adjacent on the color wheel. It's a low contrast combination that creates a calming effect on your design. Choose a base color and then add two or three analogous colors as accents. Use only warm or cool selections to avoid complicating the harmony. Mix it by selecting shades and tints.

Use analogous colors to:

  • Make a monochrome color scheme a bit more dynamic.
  • Create a calming design.
  • Unify a look that won't distract.
  • Connect with nature.


triadic colors

A triadic color harmony employs three evenly spaced colors at 120° from each other on the color wheel. Triadic color schemes are more vibrant yet tend to lack the intensity of a complementary color harmony. Consider letting one color dominate, and using the other two as accents. You can calm it down by using a darker primary shade and lighter versions of the two others in the triad.

Use triadic colors to:

  • Create drama and contrast.
  • Avoid over-the-top looks.
  • Design with more than two colors.
  • To grab the reader's attention.
  • To evoke a youthful, bright message.


monochromatic colors

Monochromatic colors create a palette of shades of a single color for a clean and simple aesthetic and a sense of unity. It's the safest and easiest color scheme option and is inherently forgiving for inexperienced designers.

Use a monochromatic color scheme to:

  • Achieve a serene design.
  • Create a sense of calm.
  • Convey reliability.


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