How many times have you used this circle called a Color Wheel to choose the best colors for your presentation?
Very rarely or never, unless you are a professional designer of course. The rest of us rely on our judgement to pick slide colors, which sometimes leads to horrible disasters like the slide below (This is a recreation of an actual slide, not made out of some wild imagination. This was the exact color scheme and design of the slide, only random text has been added in place of the presenter’s content):
More of such true examples can be shown here, some worse than others, but in our readers’ health interests it is best that we avoid it. In defense of the presenter, choosing colors that look good together is easier said than done. That’s why, a brief knowledge of color harmonies and the color wheel can go a long way in avoiding such embarrassments.
Before we help you put Isaac Newton’s color wheel into action, it’s best that you also know the meaning of some color terminologies that designers loosely throw around in their talks. (This will help you impress the handful of beautiful designers next time you are conversing with them 🙂
Color Terminologies You Ought to Know
Here are the terms most commonly used to describe the physical properties of a color:
Hue: Hue is the color itself, the name that we give to a color. Red, blue, green for example. So don’t have a confused look if a designer happens to use the word hue in some conversation. There is no difference between the two. On the basis of hue, we divide colors into Warm Colors and Cool Colors. We will get to that once we have finished all the color terminologies.
Value: Value is the lightness or darkness of a color as measured on a gray scale. So, in terms of value, color can be divided into Light Colors and Dark Colors.
Saturation / Intensity: When we talk about intensity, we talk about the purity of a color i.e. its saturation. A completely saturated color is 100% of that color. A 100% yellow is completely saturated but as soon as you add white to it, it looks duller. On the basis of intensity, we divide colors into Dull Colors and Vivid Colors.
Shade: The darker version of a color is called a shade. Different shades of a color can be created by adding varying amounts of black to a color.
Tint: The lighter version of a color is called tint. You add white to a pure hue to create different tints.
Tone: Here you add gray to a color to create different tones of that color.
Warm Colors Vs Cool Colors
Warm Colors, as the name suggests, remind us of sunlight and heat. Red, yellow and orange are warm colors and look as if they are approaching us. These colors create a very strong, dynamic mood and are perfect for those presentations where you want your audience to feel excited, happy and hungry (Restaurants have been using this trick since ages to lure us and gulp mouthfuls).
Cool Colors, on the other hand, tend to recede from us. Violet, blue and green are cool colors and have a calming effect on us. Tourist ads often show beaches and expanse of blue sky to tempt us to ditch our stressful lives for a while and run to those destinations for peace and relaxation.
Here’s how the two colors are represented on the Color Wheel:
Color Models: RGB, CMYK and HSV
RGB Color Model: If you recall your school class, there are three primary colors of light- red, green and blue. RGB color model is an additive color model as red, green and blue are added in various combinations to produce a wide spectrum of colors. Red and green light combine together to create yellow, blue and green add to produce cyan, and red and blue add together to produce magenta. All three colors of light- red, green and blue- mix to create white light. This color model is used in television screens and computer monitors.
For design purposes, we however speak in terms of primary colors of pigment- Cyan (or blue), magenta (or red) and yellow. That brings us to the CMYK model of color.
CMYK Color Model: CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key) is a subtractive color model. That is, they are produced by subtracting from the primary colors of light. When red is subtracted from green and blue, it becomes cyan. When we subtract blue from red and green, we get yellow. And when red and blue are joined and green is subtracted, we get magenta. All three add together to create black or the key color. Here, we differentiate between the primary, secondary and tertiary colors:
- Primary Colors: Red, yellow and blue are called the primary colors of pigment. These cannot be formed by combining any other colors. These are pure colors and all others are derived from these.
- Secondary Colors: Orange, Green, and Violet are secondary colors. These are formed by the mixing of two or more primary colors.
- Tertiary Colors: Red-Orange, Yellow-Orange, Yellow-Green, Blue-Green, Blue-Violet, and Red-Violet are tertiary colors since these are produced by the mixing of two or more secondary colors.
HSV Color Model: HSV (hue, saturation and value) is an improvement upon the RGB color model. Improvement in the sense that it is more user-friendly while RGB is meant for machines. You already understand the difference between hue, saturation and value by now. You can vary the saturation and value of colors to create dynamic color schemes.
A variation of this color model is the HSL Color Model. Here, L stands for lightness or luminosity. It’s not the same thing as value. Value is perceived as the "amount of light" which can be any color while Lightness is best understood as the amount of white.
PowerPoint provides both RGB and HSL color models when you are choosing color for shapes or text. You can move the arrow up and down (see the screenshot below) to try variations of a color. When you move the arrow up, it shows the lighter versions of that color, when you move down it shows darker. You can see the difference in the new and current square box. Press the OK button when you have spotted the right color.
Color Harmonies: Most popular techniques to create Color Schemes
Finally, we come down to choosing the best color combinations for our slides. Now that we know the basics, it will be easier for us to appreciate the tremendous variety of color choices that the color wheel offers. These color choices have been proved to be pleasing to the eye. Called color harmonies or color chords, they consist of two or more colors with a fixed relation in the color wheel. So, here they are:
Complementary Color Scheme: This scheme is made up of those colors that are opposite to one another on the color wheel. Just pick any color on the color wheel and trace its exact opposite. So, if you choose orange-yellow, blue-violet would be its complementary color.
These two colors produce the maximum contrast and give a very dynamic and vibrant look to your slides. Here’s a slide created using the complementary color scheme:
Note: Pure complementary colors can often look jarring. Too much contrast can hurt the eyes, so it’s better to go for gradients of those colors to soften the look. You can, therefore, use the color wheel below to choose the complementary colors. The above coffee image looks quite jarring while the one below having a tint of orange-yellow and shade of blue-violet creates a beautiful contrast and gives a rich look to your slide:
Split-Complementary Color Scheme: This scheme is a variation of the complementary color scheme. But here instead of choosing the opposite color on the wheel, you pick two colors that lie on the either side of the complement. So, if you choose red-orange, blue, green and red-orange it would together make one split-complementary scheme.
Here’s a slide designed using the scheme. Split-complementary colors have a good contrast but not as high a contrast (which often creates a jarring look) as the complementary scheme.
Analogous Color Schemes: Analogous colors are placed adjacent to one another on the color wheel. Take any three adjacent colors on the color wheel to try out this scheme. So, if you choose orange-yellow as the dominant color, then yellow and orange would together make up the analogous color scheme.
As opposed to a vibrant look produced by the complementary color scheme, the analogous color scheme creates harmony and cohesiveness since there is a unity of shades. For instance in the slide below, we took yellow-green, yellow and green to deliver a powerful “Go Green” message. Notice that instead of bright yellow in the background which would appear vibrating on the screen, a lighter shade was opted for which lends a soothing look and feel to the overall slide.
Triadic Color Scheme: This color scheme is made up of three colors equally spaced on the color wheel. Create an isosceles triangle to choose any 3 colors for your slides. All these contrast beautifully to create a rich look for your slides.
Look at the richness of the slide created using the triadic scheme. The vibrancy of the red, yellow and blue colors creates a youthful, refreshing look. You can let one of these colors be the dominant color in the slide and use the other two to add richness and color.
Tetradic Color Scheme: Two pairs of complementary colors together create this scheme. Draw a rectangular shape across the color wheel to pick the 4 colors. This scheme balances out cool and warm colors.
Here’s a slide that uses this scheme to differentiate four rectangular boxes without looking too colorful:
Monochromatic Color Scheme: This scheme is based on variations of a single color. The variations can be lighter (tint) and darker (shade) versions of that color.
This scheme is great when you want to establish a strong mood and use your brand color. It is also great when you want a clean look on your slide. But as a negative and for obvious reasons, the color scheme lacks contrast. The primary color can therefore be paired with neutral color such as black, white or grey to highlight some important element. Just as it is done in the slide below:
Achromatic Color Scheme: An achromatic color scheme is one that is colorless using only blacks, whites, and grays. This creates a sophisticated and classic look but since it is devoid of any color, it looks lifeless and is thus avoided in slide design. This slide looks pretty decent with achromatic scheme:
With this, we come to an end to colors, color wheel and color harmonies. But actually, there can be no end to this topic. The deeper you go, the more you’ll learn about it. Color is purely subjective but it is too strong a factor to be left to guesses and intuition. Unless you want to create a disaster slide like we showed in the beginning! You don’t want to see that one again and we are pretty sure you do not want to be guilty of creating such a one either.
So, copy the color wheel image, keep it next to you on the slide and then choose the colors wisely.
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