The term colour theory refers to a set of practical guidance regarding the mixing of colors and the visual effects that the resultant combination brings out. In the early days, researches showed that theory of color principles first appeared in Leone Battistas’ writings and those of Leonardo da Vinci, but in the recent days, research work shows otherwise. Color theory is presented to have traditionally begun in the 18th century during the works of Isaac Newton who created the theory of colors. He went ahead to study the nature of primary colors that later on developed through independent artistic traditions. Before the 20th century, color theories were built from pure or ideal colours that were merely characterized by sensory experiences. This was in contrast with the current principles that are formulated on the basis of physical world attributes.

In formulating the colour theories, three major problems have arisen with the first being the confusion in behaviours of light mixtures otherwise called additives and that of paints, dye, pigment mixtures and ink otherwise known as subtractive colours (Machejdik & Allan, page 12-23). This problem is due to the fact that material substances’ absorption of light follows different rules from those perceived by the eyes. The second problem arises from the failure to describe strong luminance effects that are that contrasts colours that are reflected from surfaces. These colours are always in contrast with the colours of light. The third problem revolves around the description of colours through categorization or historical grouping. This makes colours be conceived as generic rather than their effects seen as a contrast on three basic levels which is light, saturation and hue.


Isaac Newton’s colour wheel is often used to describe colours considered to be complimentary that always cancels each other’s hue in order to produce an achromatic mixture. The achromatic mixture consists of black, white and grey colours and in colour theory, there is the harmonious use of opposite colour within the colour wheel (Ou-Li-Chen & Ronnier, page 6-34). The classic colour schemes within the colour wheel are as discussed below:

1) Monochromatic Color Scheme- this uses light variations and single colour saturations. It always looks elegant, clean, produces soothing effects and is always easy on eyes. This is due to the green and blue hues.

2) Analogous Color Scheme- uses colours adjacent to each other on a colour wheel with one dominant colour while the rest enrich the colour scheme. It is similar to the monochromatic scheme only that it has nuances effect.

3) Complementary Color Scheme- in the colour wheel, there are two colours that are opposite each other and looks best when warm colours are placed against cool colours. A good example is when blue or green is placed against colour red and has a high contrast.

4) Split complementary Color Schemes-it is always a variation of the standard complementary colours that use the main colour with two that are adjacent to its complementary. This has the effect of producing a contrast that is of higher quality while at the same time ensuring that there is no strong tension within the complementary schemes.

5) Triadic colour Scheme- it makes use of three main colours that are equally spaced around the colour scheme. The scheme is commonly associated with artists due to its strong visual contrasts while at the same time retaining its colour richness and harmony. It might not be as contrasting as the complementary colour scheme but it appears more balanced and very harmonious.

6) Tetradic or Double Complementary Color Scheme-it is considered the most varied colour scheme since it uses two pairs of complementary colours. It is difficult to harmonize the colours when equal amounts are used thus looks unbalanced most of the time. Either, a colour should be chosen as the dominant one so that it subdues the rest of the colour which then makes it balanced.


The theory of colours observes a strict adherence when it comes to its analysis. The colour theory only concentrates on the analysis of the relationship between pure colours. It does not take into account the various colour lightness or saturation (Sangwine, Stephen & Robin, page 6-24). Even though the colour scheme uses any tints, shades and tones the colour theory concentrates only on the hue component of colours. When used in art work, colour theory classifies colours into cool, warm and neutral colours. The warm colours include red, orange and yellow colours. They are associated with things like fire, sunset and fall of leaves. Yellow and red colours are also considered primary colors and this means that the warm colours can never be created through a combination of any warm and cool colours. They are used to design energy, happiness, passion and enthusiasm.

The cool colours include purple, green and blue and are always subdued when compared to the warm colours. In art, they are used to design nights, nature and water. They are also used to create a calming effect that is reserved or relaxing (Sangwine, Stephen & Robin, page 7-30). The colour blue is the primary colour while the rest can be created through the combination of blue and any other warm colour. This makes green colour take on some attributes of the yellow colour while purple takes on red colour attributes. There are also neutral colours that serve as backdrop colours in art and design. The neutral colours are used to create sophisticated layouts and are always affected by the colours surrounding them. They include black, grey, white and brown colours.

Works Cited

Agoston, George A. Color Theory And Its Application In Art And Design. Vol. 19. Springer, 2013.

Machajdik, Jana, And Allan Hanbury. “Affective Image Classification Using Features Inspired By Psychology And Art Theory.” Proceedings Of The 18th ACM International Conference On Multimedia. ACM, 2010.

Ou, Li‐Chen, And M. Ronnier Luo. “A Colour Harmony Model For Two‐Colour Combinations.” Color Research & Application 31.3 (2006): 191-204.

Sangwine, Stephen J., And Robin EN Horne, Eds. The Colour Image Processing Handbook. Springer Science & Business Media, 2012.

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