Color Palettes and Color Harmony
Warm vs. Cool Colors
The contrast of the warm and cool colors can be traced back to their respective hues observed in landscape light. Warm colors being associated with sunrise, daylight, sunset, and all light associated with the feeling of warmth. In contrast cool colors are associated with cold, gray, overcast light. Intrinsically these hues ‘feel’ either warm or cold and we intuitively associate colors with warm or cool.
Warm colors tend to pop out and appear more forward in space. They also appear to be more stimulating and eye catching. Warm colors are described as hues from red through yellow, including brown.
Cool colors appear the opposite as they look like they recede back into space and appear more subdue and relaxed. Cool colors consist of hues from blue green through blue violet, including most gray colors.
Complimentary colors describe pairs of colors that create the strongest contrast between one another. Combining or mixing complementary colors in the right proportions produces white or black.
The most popular color compliments within the subtractive color model are red-green, yellow-purple and orange-blue. If you remember from our definition of warm and cool colors these complimentary colors are also either warm or cold, giving even more balance and harmony to color palettes that embrace these complimentary colors.
The most popular color compliments within the more accurate additive color model, or RGB model are red and cyan, green and magenta, and blue and yellow. You may have also noticed that these colors when viewed on the color wheel happen to be separated by exactly 180 degrees. Is this just a coincidence? I think not. Remember that mixing these two colors yields either black or white depending on the color model being used. Observe the color found between these two colors on the color wheel and you will find either black or white depending on the model being used.
Achromatic colors lack any sort of hue or saturation. Achromatic colors and color palettes can include white, black, and all shades of gray in between. There are also color palettes that are nearly achromatic, which are called “near-neutral” palettes. You can remember this by noting that the prefix ‘a’ denotes ‘without’ and ‘chromatic’ is defined as the branch of colorimetry that deals with hue and saturation. Therefore when combined the word achromatic literally translates to ‘without hue or saturation.’
Achromatic colors and color palettes have the ability to enhance other colors and aide in navigating a viewers eye towards other colors containing hues. Designers often utilize this trick to grab a users eye or attention to direct them towards a specific action, or more aptly, a call to action.
Monochromatic colors and color palettes are a set of colors that are derived from the same hue using a mixture of saturation and light. The prefix ‘mono’ denotes ‘single’ and again ‘chromatic’ is defined as the branch of colorimetry that deals with hue and saturation. When combined the word monochromatic translates to ‘single hue or saturation.’
Limiting the number of hues in a design or color palette creates a sense of stability, and is often used in conjunction with ‘professional’ design. Designs that use an abundance of hues can often create visual complexity and a sense of chaos for users. Viewers become overwhelmed with all the hues competing for attention and aren’t sure where to fixate their attention or what is being requested of them.
Analogous color schemes describe colors that appear near one another on a color wheel. For example an analogous color scheme may include red, pink and magenta. Analogous colors tend to feel very stable when used together while still offering enough variety to retain viewer interest. When used appropriately analogous colors create professional palettes that hold interest and limit confusion.
Color Scheme and Color Palette Selection Tools
Time to begin experimenting with color palettes using the lessons we have learned throughout the [color theory](#) series. Utilizing [mixing colors](#), the science and math of [color schemes](#), and color harmony we can begin creating cohesive color palettes with far greater ease.
Adobe’s Kuler, is an awesome interactive app developed by Adobe that lets you experiment with color hues while utilizing a variety of color rules. Kuler offers many filters or rules that we have covered here such as complementary colors, analogous colors, and monochromatic colors. Kuler also provides many other color filters or rules including triad colors, compound colors, color shades and the ability to define your own custom rules.
Kuler is free to use and features palettes created by other users. This is incredibly handy when you are browsing for color palette ideas or need a base color palette to begin experimenting with. I highly recommend Kuler as a tool to experiment with as you begin to explore color.
ColourLovers is another great tool I have used through the years to glean inspiration and assist me in creating palettes. Colourlovers differs a bit from Kuler in that it is less about exploring color and more about sharing and generating ideas and inspiration from palettes created by others. I really enjoy colourlovers patterns section that marries palettes with patterns to create even more ideas when tackling web, home, or print projects.
Color Theory Series
This concludes the color theory series. We have reviewed color mixing, the science and math behind color schemes, and finally color palettes and color harmony. Hopefully this color theory series has rounded out your understanding of color and given you inspiration or at the very least ideas on where to begin exploring color in more depth. Return to the first post in this color theory series and read up on any of the posts you may have missed.