“With great power comes great responsibility.” That’s what Spider Man would tell you if he was teaching you about color theory. When using our themes, the Theme Customizer gives you full control over the colors in your design; but how do you make sure that you don’t ruin a great design by choosing disharmonious color combinations?
1. Step One: Learn Basic Color Terminology
Hue – The hue refers to the position of a color on the color-wheel, each of which represents a certain spectrum of light. It’s what differentiates the primary colors of Red, Yellow and Blue, as well as all combination in-between. When you see the color blue, the term “blue” refers the hue. There are many forms of blue (light, dark, vibrant, and pale) each of which share the same hue despite being distinguishable in color.
Value – This refers to the relative lightness and darkness of a color. The value of a color is distinguished by its relationship to a scale of white to black. A light blue and a dark blue is an example of a single hue with two different values.
Saturation – This term refers to the relative “strength” and “weakness” of a hue. Colors with a higher saturation will appear more vibrant. Saturation should not be confused with lightness and darkness, which as stated above, relates to a color’s Value. For example, you can have a bright color that lacks purity due to the addition of light gray. The result is a light color with low saturation. On the same vein, you can have fully saturated colors that have drastically different Values. Colors are considered de-saturated as they near gray-scale and they hue itself becomes less dominant.
2. Use Complimentary Colors To Begin A Beautiful Color-Scheme
Starting off with complimentary colors is a great way to begin exploring ideas for your website’s color-scheme. Complimentary colors appear opposite each other on the color wheel. Simply picking two complimentary colors on the wheel and calling it a day, however, will likely result in a lurid, headache-inducing discord that will send your visitor screaming. The real trick to beautiful color combinations isn’t just the hue, but also the relative Value and Saturation of the hue in relation to the colors around it. Let’s go through a simple method I use to create color harmony:
In the above example, I begin with the complimentary colors Green and Red. Next I create a palette of green/red variations by taking my original two colors and adjusting their value and saturation. Next I add a second dynamic by experimenting with analogous colors (colors next to each other on the color wheel). By performing a slight hue shift of green, we are given an additional array of green-blue and green-yellow.
Finally I picked one color from each variation set using the following principle that I have found to be, for the most part, true: Colors generally look good together when their Values are varied, but their Saturations are similar. The end result is a color scheme based on classic complimentary color harmony with varied value and a similar range of saturation.
3. Using Analogous Color Can Also Result In Simple & Yet Beautiful Combinations
Using colors that are next to each other on the color wheel is also a great way to ensure that your colors don’t clash. These are called analogous colors. I often like using analogous colors in combination with monochromatic colors (grayscale colors). Basing a design solely on analogous colors can often feel a slightly stale.
Above I have created two different analogous color-schemes. One that uses Green and Yellow, and another that uses Green and Blue. By creating a simple gradation between the two colors, and use varying values as we did in our first example, we are left with a color combination that is simple yet stunning.
4. Avoid The Dreaded Color Discord
A discord is a color combination that clashes. The result is a terrible, unreadable and vibrating mess of muddy color! The most common cause of color clashing is combining colors that are too similar in value. Above is an example of the exact same three hues paired together with differing values & saturations. Even though the hues are the same in both examples, the version on the left is in glaring disharmony while the version on the right feels balanced. The colors on the left vibrate as your eyes struggle to find the defining line between each hue. Avoiding this simple mistake will solve 90% of your color problems 🙂
The Moral Of The Story?
The next time you are inside the theme customizer adjusting your website’s colors, don’t just make your text and background orange because that’s the color of your logo. Think about the type of orange you are using and how it will relate to the rest of your design. Better yet, try thinking about creating harmony with your orange logo by pairing it with something different based off the principles above! How about a dark, de-saturated blue?
I hope you found this post useful. Don’t forget to color responsibly 🙂