Color Theory 101: Harmonious Color Schemes

You may sometimes look at a quilt and wonder, “Why did the quilter use THOSE colors?”

Granted, some color choices are personal preference, but with color wheel in hand, you are equipped to tackle harmonious color schemes. (You DO want your colors “pleasing to the eye,” don’t you?)

There are three basic color schemes: Achromatic, Monochromatic, and Polychromatic.

Achromatic Color Schemes

This is a color scheme without a color. Achromatic color schemes use only Black, White, and shades of Gray:

White, Black, and 3 shades of Gray
White, Black, and 3 shades of Gray

Monochromatic Color Schemes

A monochromatic color scheme uses a single color and its Tints, Tones, and Shades:

Blue, with Tints, Tones, and Shades
Blue, with Tints, Tones, and Shades

Polychromatic Color Schemes

Polychromatic  color schemes use multiple colors. They can be broken down as follows.

Complementary Color Schemes:

A Complementary color scheme uses two colors directly opposite each other on the color wheel:

Complementary Color Scheme
Complementary Color Scheme

There are six pairs of complementary colors on the color wheel (proceeding clockwise):

  1. Yellow/Violet
  2. Yellow-Orange/Blue-Violet
  3. Orange/Blue
  4. Red-Orange/Blue-Green
  5. Red/Green
  6. Red-Violet/Yellow-Green

Analogous Color Schemes:

An Analogous color scheme uses two or three colors that lie next to each other on the color wheel:

Analogous Color Scheme
Analogous Color Scheme

There are twelve three-color analogous schemes on the color wheel (proceeding clockwise):

  1. Yellow/Yellow-Orange/Orange
  2. Yellow-Orange/Orange/Red-Orange
  3. Orange/Red-Orange/Red
  4. Red-Orange/Red/Red-Violet
  5. Red/Red-Violet/Violet
  6. Red-Violet/Violet/Blue-Violet
  7. Violet/Blue-Violet/Blue
  8. Blue-Violet/Blue/Blue-Green
  9. Blue/Blue-Green/Green
  10. Blue-Green/Green/Yellow-Green
  11. Green/Yellow-Green/Yellow
  12. Yellow-Green/Yellow/Yellow-Orange

Triangular Color Schemes:

A Triangular color scheme uses three colors spaced equidistant from each other on the color wheel:

Triangular Color Scheme
Triangular Color Scheme

There are four triangular color schemes on the color wheel (proceeding clockwise):

  1. Yellow/Red/Blue
  2. Yellow-Orange/Red-Violet/Blue-Green
  3. Orange/Violet/Green
  4. Red-Orange/Blue-Violet/Yellow-Green

Split Complementary Color Schemes:

A Split Complementary color scheme combines the Complementary and Triangular color schemes. Instead of using the color directly opposite, it uses the two colors to either side of the complementary color:

Split Complementary Color Scheme
Split Complementary Color Scheme

There are twelve split complementary color schemes on the color wheel (proceeding clockwise):

  1. Yellow/Red-Violet/Blue-Violet
  2. Yellow-Orange/Violet/Blue
  3. Orange/Blue-Violet/Blue-Green
  4. Red-Orange/Blue/Green
  5. Red/Blue-Green/Yellow-Green
  6. Red-Violet/Green/Yellow
  7. Violet/Yellow-Green/Yellow-Orange
  8. Blue-Violet/Yellow/Orange
  9. Blue/Yellow-Orange/Red-Orange
  10. Blue-Green/Orange/Red
  11. Green/Red-Orange/Red-Violet
  12. Yellow-Green/Red/Violet

Analogous Complementary Color Schemes:

An Analogous Complementary color scheme combines the Analogous and Complementary color schemes. Think of it as adding the missing complementary color to the Split Complementary color scheme.

Analogous Complementary Color Scheme
Analogous Complementary Color Scheme

There are twelve analogous complementary color schemes on the color wheel (proceeding clockwise):

  1. Yellow/Red-Violet/Violet/Blue-Violet
  2. Yellow-Orange/Violet/Blue-Violet/Blue
  3. Orange/Blue-Violet/Blue/Blue-Green
  4. Red-Orange/Blue/Blue-Green/Green
  5. Red/Blue-Green/Green/Yellow-Green
  6. Red-Violet/Green/Yellow-Green/Yellow
  7. Violet/Yellow-Green/Yellow/Yellow-Orange
  8. Blue-Violet/Yellow/Yellow-Orange/Orange
  9. Blue/Yellow-Orange/Orange/Red-Orange
  10. Blue-Green/Orange/Red-Orange/Red
  11. Green/Red-Orange/Red/Red-Violet
  12. Yellow-Green/Red/Red-Violet/Violet

Square Color Schemes:

A Square color scheme uses four colors spaced equidistant from each other on the color wheel:

Square Color Scheme
Square Color Scheme

There are three square color schemes on the color wheel (proceeding clockwise):

  1. Yellow/Red-Orange/Violet/Blue-Green
  2. Yellow-Orange/Red/Blue-Violet/Green
  3. Orange/Red-Violet/Blue/Yellow-Green

Rectangular Color Schemes:

A Rectangular color scheme is similar to a Square color scheme, though the four colors are not spaced equidistant from each other on the color wheel:

Rectangular Color Scheme
Rectangular Color Scheme

There are six rectangular color schemes on the color wheel (proceeding clockwise):

  1. Yellow/Orange/Violet/Blue
  2. Yellow-Orange/Red-Orange/Blue-Violet/Blue-Green
  3. Orange/Red/Blue/Green
  4. Red-Orange/Red-Violet/Blue-Green/Yellow-Green
  5. Red/Violet/Green/Yellow
  6. Red-Violet/Blue-Violet/Yellow-Green/Yellow-Orange

Now it’s time to turn Color Theory into Color Practice. Choosing harmonious color schemes gets easier the more you do it.

Next up: a few more pointers.

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