Understanding Color Theory

Understanding color theory is the first module in the 'A Study of Color for the Card Designer' course.

color theory/Color Chart

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According to Isaac Newton (1642 - 1727), color originates in light. When light is refracted through a prism, it gives out the seven colors of the rainbow; red, orange, yellow, green, cyan, indigo, and violet.

Since Newton's discovery, other color theories have been presented by scientists as well as artists.

Primary Colors

Based on Newton's color theory, the three primary colors are:

red, yellow and blue.

These are pure hues that cannot be formed by mixing any colors. All other colors are derived from these three primary colors.

Secondary Colors

When we mixed two primary colors together, another color is formed.


  • red + blue = purple
  • blue + yellow = green
  • yellow + red = orange

These colors; purple, green and orange are called secondary colors because they are formed by mixing two of the primary colors together.

Tertiary Colors

When we mix a primary and a secondary color, we form another set of colors. These colors formed are called tertiary colors or intermediate colors.


  • red (primary) + orange (secondary) = red-orange (tertiary)

  • red (primary) + purple (secondary) = red-purple (tertiary)

  • blue (primary) + purple (secondary) = blue-purple (tertiary)

  • blue (primary) + green (secondary) = blue-green (tertiary)

  • yellow (primary) + orange (secondary) = yellow-orange (tertiary)

  • yellow (primary) + green (secondary) = yellow-green (tertiary)

Color Theory Recap

  • Primary Colors: red, blue, and yellow
  • Secondary Colors: purple, green, and orange
  • Tertiary Colors: red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green, yellow-orange, and yellow-green.

Complementary Colors

Complementary colors are colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. Example, red and green are complementary colors. They do not share common colors since green is derived from yellow and blue.

Complementary colors, when used together in a card, give contrast. Example, red and green used on Christmas cards give us a feel of festivities and excitment. There are vibration and excitement when complementary colors are placed side by side. So if you want to grab attention or create a focus point, use complementary colors.

For example, when you walk along the aisle of products in the shopping centre, just notice the labels on the packaging. You will see complementary colors used in most of the labels and packaging. Complementary colors demand attention and create visual energy.

Harmonious Colors

Harmonious colors are colors that sit next to one another.

Example, yellow, yellow-green and green.

› Colour Theory

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