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How To Use Color

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Color preferences are personal, similar to tastes in music and food. You can choose colors simply based on what you like. However, when you understand the basic building blocks of color, you can make more informed color choices for your home to achieve the effects you desire.

The Color Wheel

Colors on the color wheel are divided into three groups:

The 12-hue color wheel
  • Primary color wheel


    Red, Yellow and Blue

    Primary colors cannot be made by combining other colors, but all colors can be made from them.

  • Secondary color wheel


    Orange (red + yellow), Green (yellow + blue), Purple (blue + red)

    Secondary colors are made by combining two primary colors.

  • Tertiary color wheel


    Yellow-Orange, Yellow-Green, Blue-Green, Blue-Purple, Red-Purple, Red-Orange

    Tertiary colors are made by combining a primary color and a secondary color. The resulting color name lists the primary color first, followed by the secondary color.

Color Characteristics

Every color can be described as having 3 distinct characteristics:

Illustration of hue
  • Hue (also referred to as color)

    Hue ranges from warm to cool

    Hue is what we usually mean when we ask “what color is that?” The characteristic of color that we are actually asking about is “hue”. For example, when we talk about colors that are red, yellow, green and blue, we are talking about hue.

  • Shade (also referred to as lightness)

    Shade ranges from light to dark

    Shade describes the lightness or darkness of a color. Shade is controlled by adding white or black to any hue from the color wheel, making it lighter or darker. The amount of white or black added determines how light or dark the new color becomes.

    Hue from the color wheel plus white creates a lighter color. Hue from the color wheel plus black creates a darker color.
  • Intensity (also referred to as saturation)

    Intensity ranges from vivid to dull

    All hues on the color wheel are at their maximum intensity, or most vivid. You can dull any hue by adding gray. The amount of dulling is contolled by the strength of the gray added.

    Vivid hue plus light gray creates dull color. Vivd hue plus dark gray creates duller color.
  • Temperature

    Warm Colors: Red, Orange, and Yellow

    Warm colors advance and can create a cozy feeling. Passion & energy can be associated with warm colors and can be used to create a feeling within a space. Using warm accents will create a visual “pop” when used in a color scheme.

    Cool Colors: Green, Blue, and Purple

    Cool colors recede and will create a feeling of spaciousness and depth. Serenity and freshness are associated with cool colors, which is why they are often popular choices for bedrooms and bathrooms. Using darker shades of a cool color will help ground a space.

    Warm and cool colors

Combining Colors

Combining colors may seem to be a daunting task, so we’ve provided the following guidelines to take the mystery out of this crucial process. We also provide many color combinations on our color cards.

Like colors themselves, color combinations fall into distinct categories:

  • Combining same colors

    Monochromatic (or Same)

    One hue on the color wheel

    Since all colors in a monochromatic combination share the same hue, there is no discord and the results can be very beautiful when shade and intensity are varied.

  • Combining similar colors

    Analogous (or Similar)

    Adjacent hues on the color wheel

    Although these colors have much in common, there is slight tension between them that can be used to your advantage. Combinations from bright and summery to elegant and understated can be achieved by combining similar hues and adjusting shade and intensity.

  • Combining complementary colors


    Opposite hues on the color wheel

    Complementary colors contain all the colors in the spectrum, and as such their combinations can be harmonious. But complementary colors should be used with caution, because friction between the colors can create a disquieting mixture. Vary the shade and intensity between complementary colors for a pleasing outcome.

  • Combining split complementary colors

    Split Complementary (or Contrasting Hues)

    Two hues separated by 4 hues on the color wheel

    Although they use hues that are nearly opposite on the color wheel, split complementary combinations can blend well and be very pleasing.

  • Combining split triads


    3 hues separated on the color wheel

    There are thousands of ways to combine three colors on the color wheel. When carefully crafted, triads can create some of the most beautiful color combinations of all. You can achieve results from retro to natural to festive but remember to vary shade and intensity or your triads can easily become overwhelming.

By combining colors, you create interest and variety while maintaining your desired effect. When combining 2 or more colors, try to ensure that there is a reasonable difference between their characteristics. For example, if the colors you choose are similar in hue, they should be separated by saturation or lightness. As a rule, colors should be separated by at least one characteristic, but not more than two.

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