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A Introduction to Colour Theory for Art

Introduction to colour theory colour powders | Max The Mutt

The first thing you need to know about colour theory is that, as the name implies, it is a theory. In other words, while colour theory has many aspects that are accepted as fact, it remains as a set of guidelines for using colours together in harmony, including for art, animation, and design.

Many artists and animators have an instinct about using colours in harmony. Others need to constantly review the guidelines. In any case, we all can benefit from learning more about colour theory.

The Basic Terminology of Colour Theory

Before you can learn more, it helps to understand the some of the terms used in colour theory.


At its most basic level, hue can be thought of as the colour itself and its variations due to tint and shade.


Sometimes referred to as brightness or lightness, a colour’s value is determined by its overall brightness. A simple example is, using a colour of a green hue, the colour’s value could be high, (or brighter, or lighter) and commonly called a ‘light green’; or low (or darker) and commonly called a ‘dark green’.


Sometimes referred to as saturation, the chroma of a colour is its intensity. A green of a higher chroma will appear richer and a green of a lower chroma will appear duller.

The Colour Wheel

Colour wheels are used to get a visual representation of the relationship between colours and are a basic tool for choosing colours in your art and animations.

To show the relationship between colours, they are divided into three basic categories on a colour wheel.

Primary Colours

Primary colours are defined as those colours that cannot be be created by mixing other colours on the wheel. The primary colours on the wheel are red, yellow and blue.

Secondary Colours

The secondary colours on the wheel are those that are created when you mix two primary colours together. The secondary colours on the wheel are green, orange and violet.

Tertiary Colours

When you mix a primary colour and a secondary colour together, you ge a tertiary colour. There are six basic tertiary colours on the wheel, including yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green & yellow-green.

Using the Colour Wheel for Colour Harmony

The colour wheel can be used to choose colour combinations, or pallets, for your work that appear more aesthetically pleasing. Colour harmony can be achieved by using any of three basic colour classifications that are easily found on a colour wheel.

Complementary Colours

Any two colours that are diametrically opposed on the colour wheel are considered complementary. These colours offer the greatest visual contrast between each other.

Triadic Colours

If you’re looking for colour harmony among three colours, try a combination of triadic colours. They are three colours that are equidistant for each other on the wheel. The three primary colours are considered triadic.

Analogous Colours

Analogous or related colours are the combination of a main ‘root’ colour and two or more colours that in close proximity on the colour wheel.

With even a basic knowledge of colour theory, you can begin to understand the importance of colour harmony in your work. Colour theory is part of the curriculum in all diploma programs, be it Animation, Concept Art or Illustration, at Max the Mutt College of Animation, Art & Design.