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The Color Wheel

Whether it was as far back as elementary school or as recent as that last time you tried to use Photoshop, most of us have seen a version of the color wheel at some point. The history of this essential guide for artists and designers goes way back to the early 1700s. Grasping the fundamentals of the color wheel will help significantly in your color combo choices, especially if you’re not well-versed in the universe of color theory.

The Color Wheel

A simple color wheel consists of 12 color hues arranged around a central hub. A color wheel consisting of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors

A color wheel consisting of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors

Primary Colors

All colors come from some combination of primary colors. The three primary colors are red, blue, and yellow. These three colors are essentially the parents of all the other colors.

Primary colors highlighted on a color wheel


Secondary Colors

Mixing equal parts of any two of the primary colors results in the creation of secondary colors.

Secondary colors highlighted on a color wheel.

Red + Yellow = Orange
Yellow + Blue = Green
Blue + Red = Purple

Tertiary Colors

Tertiary colors are those that come from mixing one of the primary colors with one of the nearest secondary colors. Tertiary colors are found in between all of the primary colors and secondary colors.

Tertiary colors highlighted on a color wheel.

There are six in total:
Red + Orange = Vermilion
Red + Purple = Magenta
Blue + Purple = Violet
Blue + Green = Teal
Yellow + Green = Chartreuse
Yellow + Orange = Amber

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