Colour Harmony – Research

What is Color Harmony?

When two or more colours make sense being placed together, embodying the balance or unity of colours. When colours are in harmony, it is typically pleasing to the human eye. Designers use the colour wheel to create harmonies, which makes the wheel a basic element a necessity to be familiar with. Only when designers are familiar with the colour wheel, they can focus on creating aesthetically appealing colour combinations that explore the relationships between various colours.

What are the 6 main types of Colour Harmonies?

Direct Harmony

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The most basic harmony, pointing opposite to the key colour on the wheel. This ‘opposite’ color is referred to as the complementary color and is also known as ‘complementary harmony’. Almost all colour harmonies, except analogous, are variations of direct harmony.

The high contrast of complementary colours creates a vibrant look especially when used at full saturation but can be glaring if not applied properly. This is the most common color scheme and is easy to find in all sorts of designs. An example would be Christmas colours – red and green show direct harmony.

A single, intense complementary colour is useful to create a standing out effect. However, two saturated complementary colours used together could compete for attention.

Split Complementary


Split complementary colours are ones that takes the two colours directly on either side of the complementary colour. It gives a nicer range of colours while not moving too far from the basic harmony that can be found between the key and complementary colours.

It has the same strong visual contrast as the complementary color scheme, but less tension.  The split complimentary color scheme is a safe choice for most designs.

Triadic Harmony


Also known as ‘Triadics’ or ‘Triads’, this refers to the color two spaces to either side of the key colour’s complement. It is basically the use of three equally distanced colours on the colour wheel. This incorporates many different colours, and therefore is used best in soft touches, rather than strong, full ones, as too much of each colour can turn the design messy and overpowering.

The colors should be carefully balanced by allowing one colour to be dominating and the other two used to support it.

Analogous Harmony

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This colour harmony refers to colours that are directly on the left and right of the key colour. They usually match up quite well and create a serene and comfortable design. This color harmony can be pleasing to the eye, as it is aesthetically appealing, but it can also come across as monotonous due to the lack of colour contrast.

Use this colour harmony if your design is focused on similar colours.

Tetradic Harmony


Tetradic Harmony is similar to Triadic Harmony, except that there are four points, all equally distanced on the color wheel. When done subtly, it is a design simply using two sets of complementary colors, and provides a visually attractive range of colours.

This harmony is good when you have numerous elements that all need to stand out on their own, as each colour receives equal attention. One example would be movie posters with different characters that are equally important.

Monochromatic Harmony


Monochromatic harmony is a range of colours that are all evolved from the same colour – for example, a range of light to dark orange colours, like burnt orange, terracotta, ginger, paprika, tangerine, pumpkin and caramel.

This is good for designs that feature a single colour to portray a mood, but want to play things up by using different colours within the same one.

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