Simple Colour Theory

The three primary colours are red, yellow & blue.

Primary colours - colour theory

Mix two of them together and you get orange, purple & green, often called the secondary colours. Try it if you’ve never ventured into the fascinating world of colour – kids love this because it feels like magic!

Here is a very simple colour wheel –

Simple colour wheel - colour theory

Each primary has a complementary colour – the one opposite on the colour wheel.

To remember, think about some of these associations:

  • Blue & Orange: sunsets, fall leaves on a sunny day, goldfish in the water….
  • Red & Green : holly, roses, tulips, poppies, Christmas, apples, peppers ….
  • Yellow & Purple: royalty, pansies, Easter, irises…

If you didn’t now about complementary colours, you will start to see them everywhere in nature, fashion, design and of course art.

“There is no blue without yellow and without orange.”
Vincent Van Gogh


Analogous colours are close together on the wheel like family – think about blue & purples and when you add orange & yellow for example, you create a complementary palette.  Easy.

Tertiary colors are combinations of primary and secondary colours. There are six tertiary colors; red-orange (vermilion), yellow-orange (amber), yellow-green (chartreuse), blue-green (teal), blue-purple (violet), and red-purple (magenta).

To make a shade you add black, to create a tint add white and tones are made by adding grey.

If you are working with colour in the world of light or printing, many of the names of the colour change but the basic principles remain the same.