Color Wheel Theory

A simple understanding of color wheel theory can help artists. Specifically, knowing about the basic color wheel for picking paint colors properly is a vital part of establishing the tone/mood in your ditial art painting.

Color, in the natural world, is often something we take for granted. It's always there until we have to use it for artistic purposes. Then it becomes something of a challenge to use it in a way that is harmonious to the human senses.

However, as long as we study basic properties of color, we should be able to use the color wheel theory in a way that communicates our artistic thoughts to our audiences.

First, let's discuss how we plan color in design and painting applications. How we see color is different than how a printing press will output these colors.

Color Wheel Theory: Basic Color Wheel x2

In most digital art, you deal with a range of color formats to work from. A popular choice would be the RGB (red, green, and blue) format.

CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and key [black]) is another valid mode of painting and is one that is used by many printing presses.

The difference is that CMYK is generally less intense than RBG and has fewer color contrasts visually. So if you want to see what it will look like on print, swapping over to CYMK mode on your computer will give you a fairly good idea.

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For visual designs that require a lot of color, RBG should be the default. Most programs can swap to CMYK easily so you can see the output.

Having said that, there are some documentations like guidebooks and pamphlets that require you to work in CMYK mode only. Just be prepared for the color differences when you are swapping over.

Other than that, intensity is just one of the things that makes learning about color special. You will also be addressing other color properties as an artist.

Color Wheel Theory: the Primary Color Wheel

Any color wheel theory will deal with primary and secondary colors. Primary colors are colors that exist without the mixing of any other colors. Secondary colors need to be mixed with two primary colors to be produced.

The primary colors are blue, red, and yellow, while the secondary colors are purple, green, and orange respectively. This basic color color wheel can help reference many different color schemes.

For color contrasts, any colors on the opposite side of the basic color wheel you want to use are called complementary colors. For example, the complementary color of blue is orange; of red is green; and yellow is purple.

color wheel theory: primary color wheel from

If you want to use colors that have a little bit more unity, you can try analogous colors or monochromatic colors. In print, these paint color schemes are often used for cost savings purposes.

There is a fourth level of use from the primary color wheel: tetradic. If your composition requires a lot of rich colors but are not sure which ones goes well with one another, use these paint color schemes to help you out.

So long as you have a clear goal as to how you want to frame your composition, using this primary color wheel is straight forward. Just rotate the wheel as use the corresponding colors that each scheme suggests.

Color Wheel Theory: Color Modes

Color modes are hue, temperature, values, and intensity. Any time that we talk about a color, we are actually referring to the term, 'hue.' For example, if we are talking about the color blue, we are actually referring to the hue of blue.

For creating mood, there is a property called temperature which dictates how color hues will be divided into. Normally there are two types of temperatures: warm and cool colors.

You can also use color temperature for depth. Warm colors are excellent for pushing elements to the foreground while cool colors pushes everything to the background. Colors like purple, blue, and green are colors used to fade elements away from the viewer.

color wheel theory: picking paint colors from

Color values are just as important as temperature. Values are the instances of how dark or how light one particular color hue is. For example, light yellow and dark yellow are both instances of the yellow hue.

The last color property involve the use of intensity or saturation. Basically, there are two instances of color manipulation: dulling of the color and brightening of the color.

In terms of the color wheel theory, Munsell's color system is a 3D representation of these color modes and properties. You can find this tool in most art stores. It is quite handy to have around if you are looking for color ideas.

Picking Paint Colors Through a Color Palette

Sometimes, the color palette that you are currently using may not have the right colors for your particular project. Depending on what it is, you may need to create your own palette color charts.

The actual process of creating one is straight forward as all you really need to do is apply a filter to an image that has the colors you need.

For this example, I will be using Photoshop. The filter is located at Filter > Pixelate > Mosaic. Other digital art programs will have this filter (may be named differently) as it's a standardized filter in the graphics industry.

color wheel theory: palette color from

Limiting the size of the palette can be easily adjusted by increasing the cell size. From there, just save the file into a picture file to be used via the eyedropper tool (this tool will give you the color codes and properties) to sample the color at a later date.

You may need to create multiple palettes if the default ones do not meet your requirements. This where having a few stock images are handy in case one or two images have the color contents that presents the mood you are going for.

Otherwise, most drawing programs have a set number of palette presets you can work from. You just have to play around with it. The rest is just applying what you know about the color wheel theory going forward.