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Color Harmony

When it comes to color, it’s all about harmony and luckily there are some simple rules that produce pleasant combinations for different needs and purposes. Color harmony is essentially what gives your design or artwork much of its soul. Here are some tips and useful information for achieving color harmony:

What is Color Harmony?

In color theory, color harmony basically refers to the aesthetically pleasing feeling that certain color combinations evoke. The aim of color harmony is to provoke a positive aesthetic response that is in parallel with the context and purpose of the design. In other words, color harmony is a pleasing juxtaposition of colors so that the design or the artwork looks cohesive, orderly, interesting and logical while it is also aesthetically appealing to the eye. 

Color combinations have been extensively studied since ancient times. The associations between colors have long been examined and various cultural meanings have been attributed to colors. In the modern times, color harmony formulas depend on a more or less scientific approach, namely the color wheel. The combinations that are perceived to be matching all have a certain relationship or pattern with each other on the color wheel.

Different Types of Color Combinations

While they are not strict formulas, there are some basic guidelines for achieving color harmony. One of these guidelines would be to use a certain type of color scheme. These specific color schemes are tried, tested and guaranteed combinations. The following color schemes are the most popular:

Monochromatic Color Scheme: This type of a palette uses only one color and its lighter or darker variants (tints or shades).

Analogous Color Scheme: In an analogous color scheme, at least three adjacent colors from the color wheel are applied.

Complementary Color Scheme: In such a palette, exact opposites from the color wheel are used. This combination provides the highest contrast.

Split-Complementary Scheme: As a variation of the complementary color scheme, the split-complementary uses not the exact opposite of the base color but the two adjacent colors to its complement. Such a combination avoids the sharp contrast of complementary colors. 

Triadic Colors: Such a scheme is composed of three colors equally spaced within the color wheel, forming a triangle.

Tetradic Colors: Tetradic color schemes are formed by four colors equally distanced on the color wheel. Therefore, they consist of two opposing sets of complementary colors and produce a sharp inner contrast.

Color Temperatures: Warm and Cool Colors

While color combinations are a defining aspect in terms of color harmony, color temperatures should not be overlooked. The human eye is inclined to perceive colors as if they have temperatures. And these ‘temperatures’, namely the use of warm and cool colors play an important role in achieving harmony. 

The warm colors are perceived as energetic, striking and intense. These colors are placed on the red-yellow-orange part of the color wheel. The cool colors are perceived as calm, more sophisticated and soothing. These colors are placed on the blue-purple-green part of the wheel. Meanwhile, white, gray and black are neutral in terms of color temperature.

The Key Color

One of the most important concepts in color harmony is the key color. As the name suggests, the key color is the focus of your design project. It will be the color that you cannot change and the one that you want to focus on. All the other colors will be in a certain relativity with your key color, orienting around it. Therefore, the key color is what has to be determined first.

Shades, Tints and Tones

Shades, tints and tones are what provide a design with a layered, rich and more sophisticated look. Shades are darker versions of the original color, created by adding black. Opposingly, tints are lighter versions produced by adding white. Lastly, tones are created when the original hue is mixed with gray. All of these create a transitional and pleasing visual experience while not changing the original hues (their places on the color wheel).

How to Get Harmonious Colors

As you may have realised by now, artists and designers don’t just randomly select whatever color they instinctively wish to use. In order to create a harmonious and logical design in terms of color, one should consider a few steps beforehand.


Planning is the key to harmonizing colors in a given design. You should sit back and take a considerable amount of time to think about the purpose and the mood of your design project. Do you need warm or cool colors? Is your design for a product that requires a whole lot of energy or do you need to convey a very calm message? Does your design or the logo of your product impose a certain color that would affect the whole color scheme? Do you have to avoid certain types of colors and sharp contrasts? All of these questions and probably a lot more have to find their answers before you start selecting your colors.


It is true that all of the color scheme formulas listed above are in harmony within themselves. However, even if you stay within the given limits of a certain color scheme, you could still lose balance and create chaos instead of a pleasant harmony. Again, decide beforehand on which colors will be dominants and which will be accents. Don’t be afraid to use hints, shades, tones and to play with the saturation of the colors. Remember that harmony should contain a balanced stimulation; it should neither be too little nor extreme.

Light or Dark?

Another issue that should be considered in color harmony is the amount of lightness or darkness that the purpose of your design requires. Don’t forget that every color can be darkened or lightened without changing its place in the color wheel. 

Psychology and Culture

As a more general tip, before selecting a color scheme, one should consider the context of the design in terms of psychology and culture. Remember that certain colors are perceived to evoke certain emotions and meanings. Also, colors may have different meanings in different cultures. A correct color scheme should be able to address these issues as well.


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