How to use a Color Wheel

A color wheel is a circular chart that organizes colors based on their relationships to each other. Learn how to use a color wheel, and what it can help you with in your art & design

Color theory is an important and vital part of art and design. A color wheel is an attractive chart that you can use to understand different colors, how they work together and more.

Learn all about color wheels here – and how they can help you!

Color wheel.

What is a Color Wheel?

A color wheel is a circular chart that organizes colors based on their relationships to one another.

It typically displays the primary colors (red, blue, and yellow), secondary colors (green, orange, and purple), and tertiary colors (mixtures of primary and secondary colors).

The color wheel helps to illustrate concepts such as color harmony, complementary colors, analogous colors, and color contrast. 

A color wheel is a fundamental tool used in various fields such as art, design, and color theory to understand how different colors interact and work together aesthetically.

Related: The Secret Lives of Color Book Review

How to use a Color Wheel

Using a color wheel involves understanding the relationships between different colors and applying that knowledge to create harmonious color schemes.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to use a color wheel:

Familiarize Yourself with the Color Wheel

Understand the basic layout of the color wheel, including primary, secondary, and tertiary colors.

Primary colors (red, blue, and yellow) are at equidistant points on the wheel.

Secondary colors (green, orange, and purple) are located between the primary colors they’re mixed from. Tertiary colors are the result of mixing primary and secondary colors.

Identify Color Relationships

Complementary Colors: These are colors opposite each other on the color wheel (e.g., red and green, blue and orange, yellow and purple). Complementary colors create strong contrast and can be used to make elements stand out.

Analogous Colors: These are colors next to each other on the color wheel (e.g., blue, blue-green, green). Analogous colors create harmonious color schemes and are pleasing to the eye.

Triadic Colors: These are three colors spaced equally apart on the color wheel, forming a triangle (e.g., red, blue, and yellow). Triadic colors create vibrant and balanced color schemes.

Split-Complementary Colors: This scheme involves selecting a base color and then using the two colors adjacent to its complementary color. For example, if the base color is red, the split-complementary scheme would involve green and blue-green.

Tetradic (Double Complementary) Colors: This scheme involves selecting two complementary color pairs, creating a rectangle on the color wheel (e.g., red and green, blue and orange). This scheme offers a lot of variety but requires careful balancing.

Choose a Color Scheme

Based on your project or design needs, select a color scheme that best suits the mood or message you want to convey. Consider the context and audience as well.

Apply the Colors

Once you’ve chosen a color scheme, apply it to your design or project. Use the main colors as dominant elements and accent colors sparingly to create balance and visual interest.

Experiment and Iterate

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different color combinations and variations. If something doesn’t look right, adjust the colors until you achieve the desired result.

By following these steps, you can effectively use a color wheel to create visually appealing and harmonious color schemes for your projects.



How to Design your own Color Wheel

Designing your own color wheel can be both a fun and educational exercise.

Here is a step-by-step guide to creating your own color wheel:

Gather Your Materials

Paper or cardstock
Drawing tools (pencils, pens, markers, etc.)
Compass (optional)
Ruler (optional)
Protractor (optional)

Prepare the Base:

Start with a blank piece of paper or cardstock. You can use a ruler to draw a large circle as the base of your color wheel. Alternatively, you can use a compass to draw a precise circle.

Divide the Circle:

Divide the circle into 12 equal sections. You can use a protractor to measure and mark the divisions, or you can eyeball it if you prefer a more organic approach.

Outline Primary Colors:

At three equidistant points around the circle, draw the primary colors: red, blue, and yellow. These will be your anchor points.

Fill in Secondary Colors:

In between each pair of primary colors, draw the secondary colors: orange (between red and yellow), green (between yellow and blue), and purple (between blue and red). These are created by mixing equal parts of adjacent primary colors.

Add Tertiary Colors:

Between each primary and secondary color, draw the tertiary colors. These are created by mixing unequal parts of adjacent primary and secondary colors. For example, between red and orange, you could add a shade of red-orange.

Label Colors:

Label each section with the name of the color it represents to create a clear reference for yourself.

Optional: Add Color Theory Concepts:

You can enhance your color wheel by adding lines or annotations to represent color theory concepts like complementary colors, analogous colors, triadic colors, etc.

Decorate (Optional):

Get creative and decorate your color wheel! You can add designs, patterns, or illustrations to make it visually appealing.

Use and Explore:

Once your color wheel is complete, use it as a reference tool for exploring color relationships, mixing colors, and creating color schemes for your projects.

By following these steps, you can design your own color wheel to deepen your understanding of color theory and enhance your creative projects.

How a Color Wheel can Help you

A color wheel is a really valuable tool in various fields and activities, including helping with the following:

Color Selection: It assists in choosing colors that work well together for design projects, artwork, interior decorating, fashion design, and more.

Color Harmony: It helps create harmonious color schemes by identifying complementary, analogous, triadic, and other color relationships.

Visual Impact: It aids in understanding the visual impact of different color combinations and how they affect the overall mood or message of a design.

Color Mixing: It provides a guide for mixing paints, dyes, or digital colors to achieve desired hues and shades.

Color Contrast: It helps identify colors with high contrast for emphasizing certain elements or creating visual interest in designs.

Color Theory Education: It serves as a visual aid for teaching and learning color theory concepts such as hue, saturation, value, and color relationships.

Problem Solving: It assists in solving color-related problems, such as finding alternatives when a specific color is unavailable or adjusting colors to accommodate accessibility needs.

Professional Practice: It supports professionals in fields like graphic design, web design, illustration, and photography by providing a reference for creating visually appealing and effective designs.

Artistic Expression: It encourages experimentation and creativity by providing a framework for exploring different color combinations and expressing artistic ideas.

Overall, a color wheel is a versatile tool that facilitates color-related decision-making, enhances visual communication, and enriches creative processes across various disciplines.


A color wheel is a circular chart that organizes colors based on their relationships to each other. Learn how to use a color wheel, and what it can help you with in your art & design


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