Sometimes it’s hard to rely on your own sense of whether two or more colors look right together. Your instinct tells you that the combination is almost there, but something else inside of you says that maybe you’re not seeing the entire picture.
This is where the concept of color theory can help, providing you with a basic system for picking colors that complement and enhance each other.
First, become acquainted with a simple chart-like item known as the color wheel. You can explore and experiment a higher-tech version of the older printed color wheels by visiting various online sites, including one called Adobe Kuler (recently renamed Adobe Color CC).
Then, learn the basics of the wheel itself: Red, yellow and blue are the primary colors (which you likely learned in grade school). Orange, green and violet – colors that are made by mixing various primary colors – are called secondary colors. Colors such as red-violet and yellow-orange are tertiary colors because they mix a primary color with a secondary one.
The fun part of using the wheel is that the colors are strategically positioned in “pie slices” so that you can easily choose various combinations. For instance, if you want to choose a complementary color scheme, simply choose one color that you like and then look for its natural mate at the point on the wheel directly opposite the first one you chose. Need three colors that are close in hue? Go for an analogous scheme, which incorporates the two colors to the left and right of one you choose on the wheel. A split complementary scheme uses three colors – one that you choose, and the two that are adjacent to the first one’s complement on the opposite side of the wheel.
If some of that sounds confusing, don’t worry. All it takes is a little practice. By clicking around here and there on the Adobe site, you will eventually find ways to custom-create a color scheme that looks pleasing to you. And, at the same time, is all your own.