The seven major colour schemes are monochromatic, analogous, complementary, split complementary, triadic, square, and rectangle (or tetradic).
Let’s examine each in more detail.
Monochromatic colour schemes use a single colour with varying shades and tints to produce a consistent look and feel. Although it lacks colour contrast, it often ends up looking very clean and polished. It also allows you to easily change the darkness and lightness of your colours.
Monochromatic colour schemes are often used for charts and graphs when creating high contrast isn’t necessary.
Analogous colour schemes are formed by pairing one main colour with the two colours directly next to it on the colour wheel. You can also add two additional colours (which are found next to the two outside colours) if you want to use a five-colour scheme instead of just three colours.
Analogous structures do not create themes with high contrasting colours, so they’re typically used to create a softer, less contrasting design. For example, you could use an analogous structure to create a colour scheme with autumn or spring colours.
This colour scheme is great for creating warmer (red, oranges, and yellows) or cooler (purples, blues, and greens) colour palettes like the one below.
Analogous schemes are often used to design images rather than info graphics or bar charts as all of the element’s blend together nicely.
You may have guessed it, but a complementary colour scheme is based on the use of two colours directly across from each other on the colour wheel and relevant tints of those colours.
The complementary colour scheme provides the greatest amount of colour contrast. Because of this, you should be careful about how you use the complementary colours in a scheme.
It’s best to use one colour predominantly and use the second colour as accents in your design. The complementary colour scheme is also great for charts and graphs.
4. Split Complementary
A split complementary scheme includes one dominant colour and the two colours directly adjacent to the dominant colour’s complement. This creates a more nuanced colour palette than a complementary colour scheme while still retaining the benefits of contrasting colours.
The split complementary colour scheme can be difficult to balance because unlike analogous or monochromatic colour schemes, the colours used all provide contrast (similar to the complementary scheme).
The positive and negative aspect of the split complementary colour model is that you can use any two colours in the scheme and get great contrast … but that also means it can also be tricky to find the right balance between the colours. As a result, you may end up playing around with this one a bit more to find the right combination of contrast.
Triadic colour schemes offer high contrasting colour schemes while retaining the same tone. Triadic colour schemes are created by choosing three colours that are equally placed in lines around the colour wheel.
Triad colour schemes are useful for creating high contrast between each colour in a design, but they can also seem overpowering if all of your colours are chosen on the same point in a line around the colour wheel.
To subdue some of your colours in a triadic scheme, you can choose one dominant colour and use the others sparingly, or simply subdue the other two colours by choosing a softer tint.
The triadic colour scheme looks great in graphics like bar or pie charts because it offers the contrast you need to create comparisons.
The square colour scheme uses four colours equidistant from each other on the colour wheel to create a square or diamond shape. While this evenly-spaced colour scheme provides substantial contrast to your design, it’s a good idea to select one dominant colour rather than trying to balance all four.
Also called the tetradic colour scheme, the rectangle approach is similar to its square counterpart but offers a more subtle approach to colour selection.
No matter which colour scheme you choose, keep in mind what your graphic needs. If you need to create contrast, then choose a colour scheme that gives you that. On the other hand, if you just need to find the best “versions” of certain colours, then play around with the monochromatic colour scheme to find the perfect shades and tints.
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