COLOUR (ii) – At the end of the rainbow: colour wheel and chromatic combos

Colour wheel and chromatic combos

Colour wheel and chromatic combos

I remember being a little girl – circa 1984 – and being in love with this cartoon called Rainbow Brite (Iridella in Italian).

Stars and colours

There is always a faithful horse in these situations


Men are always the weak sex.

Men are always the weak sex.

I’m sure this is the first memory of me and colours: each character was the walking symbol of a shade, and after 31 years, I see their figures and it’s vivid just as it was back then. Iridella was mesmerizing: she had the most beautiful costume and a corset the colours of the rainbow.  Just like smells and perfumes, from a very young age, colour has a huge impact on our life. Imagine being colour blind: how would the world look like to you? (This is how).
Colour is subjective. Or is it?

Clowns are scary in all shades.

In the same way, every time we think of sadness and evil, we evoke an image of darkness, lack of light and colour. The same is true in marketing and consumer products. And to achieve the perfect combination, designers work towards mastering the Wheel of colour. But before that,

…what are the basics of colours?

Primary colours: those colours that cannot be created through the mixing of other colours. They are colours in their own right: RED, YELLOW and BLUE. Primary colours can be mixed together to produce secondary colours: blue +red = purple; yellow + blue = green; red + yellow = orange. An important rule of the colour wheel is that opposite colours on the colour wheel usually work well together as a colour scheme – these are referred to as complementary colours.

Cool and warm.  (from Canva)

Cool and warm.
(from Canva)

In theory, complementary colours, when mixed, will complete the visible spectrum: thus, two light rays of complementary colour will produce white, and two paints or inks of complementary colour will produce black or grey – says the National Gallery glossary on painting. In practice, complementary colours are defined as colours that have maximum contrast for each other. The fundamental complementary pairs for painters are red/green, yellow/violet, and blue/orange, but each intermediate colour also has its unique complementary. The colour wheel arranges all the colours of the visible spectrum so that complementary pairs are opposite each other.

1908 and they knew all this.

Traditional wheel

Traditional wheel

As we read in Canva’s blog: understanding color relationships is fundamental to great design. Knowing how to navigate the color wheel can help you understand why certain colors look good together but others don’t. Visual marketing is a fantastic example of this. Did you know that in the first 90 seconds someone forms an impression, up to 90% of the outcome is based on color alone? 

Brands and colours go hand in hand

Brands and colours go hand in hand

Colours are always the same but as we all know… some are especially en vogue in specific times and eras and just go out of fashion in others. What’s the trend at the moment? Fashion is a good example: after two years’ worth of choosing bright jewel colors, The Pantone Institute of Color has surprised the fashion world with its 2015 color of the year. The winner is a dark, rusty brown identified as “Marsala” 18-1438 TCX. Although the name connotes the color of the rich, earthy wine from western Sicily, less complimentary adjectives link Marsala to rusty warships, deteriorating ruins, liver, dried blood, mystery meat (as we read on Color Combos).
Marsala and all its emotions. Can't you smell it, almost?

Marsala and all its emotions. Can’t you smell it, almost?

Combining colours is very much a matter of taste. Yet these are the main types of colour schemes we can consider when thinking about the use of colours to be fit for purpose – from amazing Smashing Magazine where you can find examples of shades too.



Monochromatic color schemes are made up of different tones, shades and tints within a specific hue. These are the simplest color schemes to create, as they’re all taken from the same hue, making it harder to create a jarring or ugly scheme (though both are still possible).


Analogous color schemes are the next easiest to create. Analogous schemes are created by using three colors that are next to each other on the 12-spoke color wheel. Generally, analogous color schemes all have the same chroma level.

Rainy London Translations' page uses shades of red and yellow.

Rainy London Translations’ page uses shades of brick red and ochre.


Complementary schemes are created by combining colors from opposite sides of the color wheel. In their most basic form, these schemes consist of only two colors, but can easily be expanded using tones, tints, and shades.


Split complementary schemes are almost as easy as the complementary scheme. In this scheme, instead of using colors that are opposites, you use colors on either side of the hue opposite your base hue.


Triadic schemes are made up of hues equally spaced around the 12-spoke color wheel. This is one of the more diverse color schemes.


Tetradic color schemes are probably the most difficult schemes to pull off effectively.

How to go about it?

The hint comes from fashion, once again and uses the power of the wheel.
The power of the wheeeeeel

The power of the wheeeeeel

1. Colors directly next to each other (i.e. yellow and yellow-orange; yellow and yellow-green; violet and blue-violet, etc.)
2. Colors that form right (90 degree) angles with each other (i.e. yellow and red-orange; blue and violet-red; green and orange, etc.)
3. Colors directly across from each other (i.e. yellow and violet; blue and orange; red and green, etc.)
4. Colors that form a T (i.e. blue, orange, and violet-red; yellow, violet, and red-orange; yellow, blue-green, and red-orange, etc.)
5. Colors that form an X (i.e. blue, orange, violet-red, and yellow, violet, blue-green, and red-orange, etc.)

And remember, colour does matter. Choose well.

Subconscious. It's all hidden down there.

Subconscious. It’s all hidden down there.

Read more:

Colour scheme tools:


COLOUR (i) – Chromatic history, perception & emotional baggage

This month we show our true colours!

Chromatic history and perception

Chromatic history and perception

ColourIt all started with a dress — it always does and then my bank account is on fire!
Just joking: it was just a mere few months ago when the Internet was broken about this dress and it was all about colour, one of my favourite branding-related topics. As BBC says, you can measure it, hold it and count it. […] But colour is not light. Colour is wholly manufactured by your brain. How do we know this? Because one light can take on any colour… in our mind. And optical illusions are just that. In the same way, in terms of the relationship between emotions and colour, nearly every adult assigned yellow to happiness, blue to sadness and red to anger (surprise and fear, which are the other two universal emotions, had no obvious colour).
In September last year I went to see an amazing exhibition at the National Gallery, called Making Colour. This was a real visual and interactive journey from lapis lazuli to cobalt blue, ancient vermilion to bright cadmium red, through yellow, orange, purple and verdigris to deep green viridian – in a series of colour-themed rooms plus one, devoted to gold and silver. I’ve always felt fascinated by the way that colour gets associated by our mind to concepts and I’ve already written about it before.
If they do it, there must be a good reason (via

If they do it, there must be a good reason (via

Buy  buy buy • via

Buy buy buy • via

In the same way, I cannot stop looking at this chart with all the shades in English:

Ah, that’s handy

or at this very Royal Pantone set:
Shades of Elizabeth

Shades of Elizabeth

so I’ve decided to share some interesting notes on colour.  How did the ancient cultures use colours? Were they available? And how did they stumble upon them? Especially for the artists of earlier times, the palette was extensively limited, and some of their colours were immensely expensive, while some were unstable and tended to fade or darken. In order to make their materials and put them to the best use, painters once had to be chemically literate. Blue and turquoise came from lapis lazuli and were seriously precious and hard to find, that’s why the Virgin Mary in Renaissance paintings was most of the time wearing a bright blue veil, a precious token to pay tribute to the uniqueness and the importance of her role.

Back to our times… think about how TV was in black and white just a while back. On the 20th April 1967 David Attenborough appeared on a news bulletin and explained that a gradual introduction of colour film was necessary so that engineers and production staff had time to familiarize themselves with the new service.

David means home even to me.

Colour does shape our lives as much as branding and shapes do.
I am a black kinda girl — even though in recent years I’ve developed a passion for red, mostly in its pillar-box hue.

A good profile pic on social media is key

A red lip is always right.

Energy, passion and character: this is the message oozing from anything that I see or get in this shade. That’s why I’ve decided to adopt it every day a bit more in my daily life and in my brand. Choosing a colour is as personal as it gets — yet, it’s crucial to identify the emotions that are connected to it to make sure your audience perceive the same message and the same vibe as you, in the way you wish to convey it. In the same way, we perceive some colours based on the meaning society attached to them — just yesterday I asked myself: what if I had a boy and wanted him to wear pink? Would it still cause a debate? 

My takeaways:

— colour is very important and remember, we do NOT perceive it all in the same way. If in doubt, run a survey and check if your readers / clients / friends see it like you do.
— colour can define a mission, a message, in short it’s a vehicle of meaning.
— it’s very culture-bound: white reminds of pureness, violet makes me think of lent, as a Catholic — yet, bright colours are conceived and used differently in India than in Norway, just to mention two examples.
— chromatic choices are important for user-friendly purposes ie. reading better on screen, clarity on paper, harmony in design and so on.
— we are emotionally involved with colours and we probably do not even know it: our behaviours as consumers are driven by that — just look at your house or your clothes to realise that we operate serial choices based on chromatic combinations.


If you need to read only one book about colour:  Bright Earth — the invention of colour, by Philip Ball. Unmissable. And for those with more time: