One of the first questions that you will need to address when you begin to create a website is which colors to choose for the design. Not surprisingly, a website’s color palette is one of the first things that site visitors notice, which is why it has such a fundamental part in the overall web design process.
In addition to their influence on the website’s look and style, colors also play a significant role in the site’s performance. In other words, the colors you choose for your website can actually impact its success in terms of visit duration, returning users, click rates, sales, etc. Online, colors are more than meets the eye, and you need to take this into account when you make your own site.
Let’s face it. Some of us can’t even match our shirts to our pants, so how do we proceed with choosing the perfect color combination for a professional website? This is where color theory comes along. Color theory is an important concept in art and design, and is informed by optics science. Broadly speaking, color theory gives graphic artists the tools to create successful color combinations. Professional web designers also rely on color theory in their work, and now you can too! Here’s what you need to know:
Color Theory for Beginners
At the heart of color theory is the Color Wheel. You probably have seen this fella’ before, it looks like this:
The color wheel is an illustrated organization of the colors based on the relationship between them. The base of the wheel is comprised of the three primary colors – red, blue and yellow. Added between those are the secondary colors – green, orange and purple.
In the elementary color wheel, which has 12 colors, the additional six tertiary colors are added, formed as a mix of the primary and secondary ones – yellow-green, green-blue, blue-purple, purple-red, red-orange, orange-yellow. Also common is the 24 hues color wheel, which has a more elaborate breakdown.
Warm vs Cool Colors
The color wheel is divided into two general categories: The warm colors, which revolve around yellow, orange and red (including most brown hues), and on the opposite side are the cool colors, revolving around blue, green and purple (including most gray hues).
There’s no right and wrong in choosing warm or cool colors. The choice depends on the effect you want to achieve. Warm colors are considered to be stimulating and to convey action and vitality. Cool colors, on the other hand, are considered to be tranquil and have a calming effect.
Whether you choose to work only with cool or warm colors depends on your brand identity and on the atmosphere you want to create on your site. Of course, combining warm with cool is also a possibility, and if you choose to pursue this you have several options to guide you.
Combining Colors the Smart Way
Successful color combinations follow a set of color schemes, most of which are based on the position of the colors on the wheel itself. For instance:
Complementary Scheme: This formula takes two colors that are positioned exactly opposite from each other on the color wheel, like red with green, or yellow and purple. Using two contrasting colors together flashes them out, making them more lively in your design. To create a full scheme, add a neutral color to the complementary duo. Neutral colors are the ones that you don’t see on your standard color wheel, like beige, light browns, light grays, black and white.
Analogous Scheme: In this formula you use three colors that are adjacent to each other on the wheel, like orange, yellow-orange and yellow, or purple, purple-blue and blue. Any three colors that sit next to each on the wheel harmonize well, because of their closeness.
Color Triad: Ready to use some geometry? The color triad scheme takes any three colors on the wheel that are of an equal distance from each other, forming a perfect equilateral triangle. Possible combinations would be yellow-green, orange-red and purple-blue, or yellow-orange, red-purple and blue-green. This scheme tends to be very vibrant, so you want to create a balance in which one of the three colors is the dominant ones and the other two are the supporting ones.
Split Complementary Scheme: With this formula, you start by choosing one color and adding the two colors that sit right next to its complementary color (creating an isosceles triangle). Possible combinations here would be red, yellow-green and blue-green, or purple, yellow-orange and yellow-green. This scheme offers a refined contrast, one that isn’t quite so bold as the regular complementary one.
Tetradic Scheme: Here you will be forming a scheme out of two pairs of complementary colors, making a rectangular shape on your wheel. For instance, you could combine yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-purple and red-purple. This scheme is particularly rich. You don’t want color-chaos on your website, so pick one color to set the tone and the rest to add a nuance.
Monochromatic Scheme: As the name implies, this scheme utilizes different hues of the same color. You could use a wide spectrum that includes the darkest and lightest hues of that color or narrow it down by using the tones around either the dark or the light area. Monochromatic color schemes have a clean and minimalist visual impact.
Achromatic Scheme: Your classic black and white, possibly accommodated by gray (but not as the dominant color).
Colors on Websites – Implementing the Theory
We talked quite a bit about the different schemes and their abstract effect. Now it’s time to see how these combinations are actually used in web design. We selected a number of websites with different color schemes that should help you put words into actions:
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