Color Theory: The Basics

Color can evoke emotion, capture attention, and send a message. That’s why choosing the right color is so important. It may also explain why picking colors that go well together can be an exercise in frustration. Some colors pair up nicely, some don’t, and who the heck knows why.

The great thing about using Photoshop is that you don’t actually need to know why certain colors go together. Instead, thanks to a circular diagram called a color wheel, you can easily identify which colors live in sweet visual harmony. A color wheel won’t turn you into the next Matisse, but for most mortals it’s the tool of choice for deciding which colors to use in a project.

Before you take the color wheel for a spin, you need to understand a few basic color concepts. Consider this section Color Theory: The Missing Manual:

  • A color scheme (or color palette) refers to the group of colors you use in a project or painting. Just take a look at any book cover, magazine ad, or website and you’ll see that it’s made from a certain set of colors (usually between three and five colors, plus white or black). The designer usually picks a main color (like blue) and then chooses the other colors according to how they look together and the feeling they evoke when they’re viewed as a group. There’s a whole science behind picking colors based on what they mean to us humans and how they make us feel. For example, hospitals are typically bathed in pale blue or green because researchers have found that ...

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