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Color Wheel, Classifications, Emotional Effects and Color Theory


Colors are the most appealing icons to anyone. Babies get attracted to colors only even when they have no concept of shapes. Just imagine what would be world without colors and God has created so much harmony and contrast in nature that they so many colors never look bad together.

Color Wheel

Let’s classify the colors in the following categories:

  • Primary Colors
  • Secondary Colors
  • Tertiary Colors
  • Classification of Colors
    1. Hue
    2. Intensity
    3. Value ( Tint, Shade)
    4. Color Schemes and Family

Primary Colors

There are three primary colors,

  1. Red,
  2. Yellow
  3. Blue

All colors are made out of these three colors.

Color Wheel

Secondary Colors

The mixture of yellow and blue makes GREEN,

The mixture of yellow and red makes ORANGE,

The mixture of red and blue makes PURPLE.

Green, Orange and Purple are secondary colors resulting from the mixture of primary colors.

Color Wheel

Tertiary Colors

Tertiary colors are intermediate colors made out of secondary and primary colors. A tertiary color is a color made by mixing one primary color with one secondary color, in a given color space such as RGB or RYB.

Unlike primary and secondary colors, these are not represented by one firmly established name each. Brown and grey are sometimes known as Tertiary colors.

Tertiary Colors

These examples very well illustrate how tertiary colors are made. The intermediate colors between primary and secondary colors.

Classification of Colors


Hue is the term used for the name of any color, e.g. yellow, orange, red, and blue all are hues. The main property of the color. In painting, hue is referred to as pure color. It might have many computing theories, but practically in design these theories are not as important to know as the color wheel.

Now what is a color wheel?

The answer can very well be explained by the following diagram:

Color Classifications

This figure completely tells you how primary colors become secondary and then tertiary, what is hue and then we will define what is tint and shade.


Intensity is the saturation or purity of the color, its brightness or dullness. In other words it’s the force of the color, full force might be a bright red color.

Color Intensity

You can very well see the brightness and dullness of red color in this example. The more intense the color is, the brighter it is.


Value is the lightness or darkness of the color. The lightest value of the color is almost white and the darkest value is almost black.

There are two types of value:

  1. Tint
  2. Shade

Tint describes colors that are near white in value. Pink is a tint of red, which means white has been added. Similarly mauve is the tint of purple. Let’s see how these tints differ.

Tint Colors

Tint Colors

As you keep on adding white to a certain color, the tints keep changing.

Shade describes colors that are near black in value. Navy blue is the shade of blue. Similarly maroon is the shade of red.



As for black, grey and white colors, black and grey are neutral colors with no saturation. For printing purposes remember WHITE IS NOT A COLOR. White is only used as background color which the printer does not identify and it will never work on white color. The printers either use RGB mode i.e. red, green and blue or more professionally they use CMYK mode, i.e. cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Whatever color harmonies or color combinations you are selecting, make sure you exactly know the modes and values since percentages of colors can only be defined by modes.

Emotional Effects of Colors

Colors have different psychological effects, positive as well as negative. This point must be kept in mind while choosing colors in your design since various colors convey varied meanings.


Red is the color of energy, it’s bold, it’s powerful, it’s vibrant. It has the longest wavelength (the distance over which the wave’s shape repeats). It’s the color of effectiveness, excitement and liveliness. All over the world we follow red traffic light to stop, its visibility is the strongest amongst all other colors because of its highest wavelength. On the other hand its negative impacts can be aggression, visual disturbance and strain. You live in a red room for a day and you will go crazy, it has to be complimented with other colors to make it subtle.


Yellow is a very emotional color, it is the color of self esteem, confidence and optimism. After red yellow has the longest wave length, appearing to be strong from a distance. World over yellow cabs can easily be seen, sunflowers, daffodils appear to be friendly. Contrary to this it also communicates few negative values like depression, hatred and anxiety.


Blue is the color of intelligence, vastness, royalty, serenity, coolness and tranquility. Sky appears blue and gives calm effect, water appears blue and gives peace of mind. Blue appears to be the favorite color of most of the people but on the other hand it is also a color of coldness, unfriendliness and unemotional.


Green is the most refreshing and cool color. Green is the color of life, fertility, reassurance, peace, harmony, balance. Nature is green and how soothing it is to our eyes. Not a single tree in this world is of the same green tint or shade, yet it appears to be so full of life and create environmental beauty.  As for its negative traits it is the color of Boredom, stagnation, blandness and enervation.


Violet is color of truth, luxury and spiritual awareness. It has the shortest wavelength therefore it is considered to be weak also. A color of introversion and suppression. It is associated with deep contemplation and royalty, meditation and quality.


Orange gives warmth, comfort, security, passion, fun and frolic. Due to the mixture of red and yellow it gives stimulation and sensuality. Use of too much orange gives a feeling of no serious attitude and gives a feeling of deprivation if used with black.


Pink is a cute color, very feminine, love and tranquility. Though pink is a tint of red but it soothes rather than stimulates. It gives comfort and suggests grace and elegance. Sometimes too much pink looks physically weak and appears full of flaws. It creates impact of inhibition.


Grey is a neutral color, not giving a direct psychological effect. It may represent emptiness and dullness. It gives impression of dampness and right tone of grey must be used otherwise it may make your composition depressive.


All colors are absorbed in black. Black is glamorous, graceful, efficient and security. Women wear black to attract, they look sophisticated. Black creates hindrance since there’s no light no reflection. It works perfectly with white thus the co relation is either alternation or repetition. Black is the color of mourning also. Too much black creates heaviness and scary look.


White is pure, clean, hygienic, innocent and simple. White is total reflection. It gives perception of space, too much clutter in a design can be overcome by using spaces of white. The negative effect of white is that it makes other colors used with it cold and unfriendly. Can create a diminishing effect.


Brown is the color of earth, rugged, serious, old, and ancient. Rustic look can very well be created with this color. Since brown is the combination of red and yellow with much larger percentage of black, it also gives the same seriousness as black but in a warmer way. It is natural and supportive but at the same time it is too non humorous and appears heavy.

Yellow is warm and friendly:

Yellow Color

Blue is cool…very well explained in the head line:

Blue Color

Red is bold, warm, energetic and powerful:

Red Color

Pink is feminine and graceful:

Pink Color

Violet is true and spiritual:

Violet Color

Green is color of nature, serene, calm and fresh:

Green Color

Orange is fun and frolic and stimulating:

Orange Color

Grey is adorned with brown, very earthy effect and making a serious composition:

Grey Color

Black background behind pink serves as very strong glamorous elegant base:

Black Color

Whatever colors you decide for your design, they should convey the true meaning of the brand. They should be appealing and only creative use of colors makes a good composition.

  • Color Wheel, Classifications, Emotional Effects and Color Theory
    [See the full post at: Color Wheel, Classifications, Emotional Effects and Color Theory]

  •  Dianne Poinski

    One of the best explanations of color theory I have come across. Simple and to the point. Saving this one!

  •  Lana Kole Studio

    One of the most uncomplicated, yet thorough explanations of color I’ve seen online to date. You did an amazing job! Thanks for sharing

  •  Litmusbranding

    I am agree with Dianne’s comment “One of the best explanations of color theory”. This article is a master piece, now with the tutorial this is priceless…well done

  •  aleena

    Thanks for sharing nice blog post, i like it so much

  •  Sandra

    I agree with previous comments – the best explanation ever, great job and fantastic reference material.

  •  Rebecca L. Johnston

    FANTASTIC read and even better REFERENCE!

  •  Maryrose

    its great?

  •  » Infographics on Color For Graphic Designers – NetNext Academy

    […] The color wheel is the simple tool which tells the graphic designer about the harmony between colors and to identify the coordination between different colors. It was introduced in 1666 and till today plays an effective role in defining colors and understanding the science of colors. […]

  •  Sikiru

    Simple and meaningful. Kudos!!!

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