Theory of Colors

Theory of Colors and the Color Wheel


Newton considered only spectral colors as fundamental colors. However, in stark contrast, Goethe’s followed a more empirical approach and recognized the essential role of magenta in a complete color circle, developed by him, a role that it still has in all modern color systems. In this article we will go through the main features of the color circle and all the terms associated with them.


Primary, Secondary, Tertiary Colors & the Color Wheel

The color wheel shows the relationships between various colors.

The primary colors are Red, Yellow and Blue. The primary colors cannot be made from other colors. These are shown inside the innermost triangle and are separated by 120 Deg in the Color wheel.

The secondary colors are Orange, Green and Purple. These are made by mixing the primary colors.

  • Red + Yellow = Orange
  • Blue + Yellow = Green
  • Blue + Red = Purple

Secondary colors are shown on the Color Wheel above as three outer triangles of the hexagon.

The Tertiary colors are created by mixing a Primary color with a Secondary color. These are shown in the outer circle of the Color Wheel and located between the Primary and Secondary colors they are made from. Secondary colors include

  • Yellow + Orange = Yellow Orange (between Yellow and Orange)
  • Red + Orange = Red Orange (between Red and Orange)
  • Red + Purple = Red Purple or Red Violet (between Red and Purple)
  • Blue + Purple = Blue Purple or Blue Violet (between Blue and Purple)
  • Blue + Green = Blue Green (between Blue and Green)
  • Yellow + Green = Yellow Green (between Yellow and Green).

In the name for Tertiary Colors, first the name of Primary Color and then the name of Secondary Color is mentioned.

Complementary Colors

Complementary colors are the colors which are diametrically opposite each other on the color wheel. Examples of complementary Colors are

  • Blue and Orange
  • Red and Green
  • Yellow and Purple.

From the above, you will notice that Primary color and the secondary color not involving the Primary are complementary to each other. Blue and Orange (made from Red and Yellow, thus not involving Blue) are complementary to each other. Similarly Red and Green (made from Blue and Yellow, not involving red) are complementary to each other.

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