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Understanding the Importance of Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Colors in Design

Updated: Feb 8


Color theory is a practical combination of art and science that’s used to determine what colors look good together. The color wheel was invented in 1666 by Isaac Newton, who mapped the color spectrum onto a circle. The color wheel is the basis of color theory because it shows the relationship between colors. Color is also one of the element of graphic designing.


Colors are the basic fundamental of designing, video editing, drawing, or you can say almost everything we see on a daily basis. Color grading including LUTs, Color adjustments such as Hue or saturation, and color modes like CMYK and RGB, all are part of the color system.




Primary, Secondary, Tertiary And Complementary Colors In Design | Complete Color Guide Color wheel

Before we talk about Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary colors, let's talk about color wheel and color theory to better understand the concept of colors.


There are 12 main colors on the color wheel. In the color wheel, these are Red, Blue, Yellow, Green, Orange, Purple, Amber, Vermillion, Magenta, Violet, Teal, and Chartreuse.


The color wheel is divided into primary colors, secondary colors, and tertiary colors.

The process of mixing two colors to form a new color is what we call Color theory.

 

PRIMARY COLORS


PRIMARY COLORS - Primary, Secondary, Tertiary And Complementary Colors In Design | Complete Color Guide

What are Primary Colors?

Primary colors are the basic colors in the color wheel. Primary colors in the RYB color wheel are a group of colors that cannot be made by mixing colors together.

  • Primary colors are sets of colors that can be combined to produce a gamut of colors and make all the other colors in the color wheel. They are the source of all other colors.

  • Primary colors can't be made or formed by any combination of other colors.


Types of Primary Colors

There are three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue.


Concept of Primary Colors

The thought of primary colors has a history. The selection of primary colors has transformed over measure in different domains that study color. Descriptions of primary colors come from areas including philosophy, color order systems, art history, and scientific work involving the physics of light and perception of color.





Why use Primary Colors?

Primary colors are the perfect starting point for any painting and can mix all colors. When mixed, these colors allow you to make any color. Primary colors are used in basically everything.

This is the essential method used to create the perception of a broad range of colors in, e.g., color printing, electronic displays, and paintings. Mixing two primary colors creates a Secondary color.

 

SECONDARY COLORS


SECONDARY COLORS - Primary, Secondary, Tertiary And Complementary Colors In Design | Complete Color Guide

What are Secondary Colors?

Secondary colors are colors that result from mixing two primary colors. A secondary color is a color made by mixing of two primary colors in a given color space. There are three secondary colors.



Types of Secondary Colors

In the RYB color wheel, the secondary colors are purple (red mixed with blue), orange (red mixed with yellow), and green (yellow mixed with blue).


SECONDARY COLORS Mixture - Primary, Secondary, Tertiary And Complementary Colors In Design | Complete Color Guide

Concept of Secondary Colors

On the color wheel, secondary colors are located between primary colors. The ratio of primary colors you use when you mix will determine the final hue of the secondary colors. The concept of secondary color is nothing but simply a mixture of any two primary colors to form a new color.





Why use Secondary Colors?

A secondary color can be featured with a primary color as an accent color. The primary color is still the dominant color in design but the secondary color is used in combination to draw attention. Mixing a primary color with a secondary color creates a Tertiary color.

 

TERTIARY COLORS


TERTIARY COLORS - Primary, Secondary, Tertiary And Complementary Colors In Design | Complete Color Guide

What are Tertiary Colors?

Tertiary colors or intermediate colors are colors made by combining a secondary color with a primary color. Tertiary color is a color made by mixing full saturation of one primary color with half saturation of another primary color and none of a third primary color.

When the secondary colors such as green, purple, and orange are mixed in unequal amounts, Tertiary colors are produced. There are six tertiary colors.


Types of Tertiary Colors?

The tertiary colors are Amber, Vermillion, Magenta, Violet, Teal, and Chartreuse.


Concept of Tertiary Colors

The tertiary color is always in between the primary color and secondary color on the color wheel. Tertiary colors have general names, one set of names for the RGB color wheel and a different set for the RYB color wheel. Tertiary colors can also be made by combining all three primary colors in varying amounts.



Why use Tertiary Colors?

In design, tertiary colors are often used complementary colors to accent and make the main color stand out. Tertiary colors are a useful part of the color wheel that help painters better mix the colors they want.

 

COMPLEMENTARY COLORS


COMPLEMENTARY COLORS - Primary, Secondary, Tertiary And Complementary Colors In Design | Complete Color Guide

What are Complementary Colors?

Complementary colors are the colors that lie opposite to each other on the color wheel. These are the colors where one color often appears brighter when placed adjacent to its complementary.

Below are the example of inner squares appear more vivid in the column on the left when compared to the squares on the right.


Complementary Colors Vs Analogous Colors - Primary, Secondary, Tertiary And Complementary Colors In Design | Complete Color Guide

Types of Complementary Colors?

Red-Green: Green is the complementary of Red

Purple-Yellow: Purple is complementary of Yellow

Orange-Blue: Orange is the complementary of Blue


Concept of Complementary Colors

If a color is Warm, its complementary color will be Cool. Same, if a color is Cool, then its complementary color will be Warm.





Why use Complementary Colors?

Complementary colors is particularly contrasting of all color schemes which attracts the most attention. Complementary color schemes can be used to great advantage in designs because all three primary colors are present in complementary combinations. The use of complementary colors is an important aspect of aesthetically pleasing art and graphic design.

 
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