Brief Introduction to Color Theory in Web Design

Color theory is a set of rules and standards designers employ to communicate visually appealing color schemes in graphical user interfaces. To consistently choose the most elegant colors, designers use a color wheel and a wealth of accumulated features of human optical ability, psychology, and culture, among other things.

Why should you be concerned with color?

Your brain would burst with joy if someone offered you the keys to your ideal automobile for free, right? Certainly!

However, what if the automobile was painted in your least favorite color? Or was each panel a completely different color? Or how about if the interior was a combination of lime green & construction yellow?

You might be less excited, correct?

Colors have significance. They, like typefaces, convey a tone or emotional impact, which makes them a practical design element.

An introduction on the color wheel

Perhaps you’re thinking, “there are many more than 12 hues available.” You are correct—and they are all represented by a more sophisticated version of the color wheel.

Not only does the color wheel depict each primary, secondary, & tertiary color, but it also depicts their associated hues, tints, tones, & shades. The color wheel enables designers to build unique color palettes that encourage aesthetic harmony by seeing how each color relates to the color next to on a rainbow color scale. Let’s delve a little further into these color variants:


The term “hue” refers to a color’s pure pigment, devoid of tint or shade. In this sense, the hue may be thought of as the source of color. A hue is any of the six primary and secondary colors.


The term “shade” refers to the amount of black applied to the color. Shade, on the other hand, darkens a color.


In contrast to shade, tint represents the amount of white applied to color. Tint, on the other hand, lightens a hue.


The term “tone” refers to a hue that has been tint with both white and black. In other words, a tone is any color that has been alter by the addition of grey—as long as the grey is entirely neutral (only containing white and black).

Temperature of Color

Even if you consider yourself a self-proclaimed design novice, you’ve probably heard the words “warm, cool, and neutral” about color. This one is refer to as color temperature, and it is a critical factor to consider when studying color theory.

Warm colors are yellow and red in tone; cool colors are blue, green, and purple in hue; and neutral colors are brown, grey, black, and white. The hue’s temperature has a significant effect on our emotional reaction to it. Warm colors, for example, evoke feelings of enthusiasm, optimism, and inventiveness, whereas cold colors evoke feelings of serenity, tranquillity, and harmony. 

Color Models that are Additive and Subtractive

After we’ve mastered the color variations, we’ll move on to color addition and subtraction. Colors are classified into two types: those visible on the surface of objects and those created by light. The subtractive and additive color models are use to describe these two forms of color. 

The model of additive color (RGB)

RGB stands as red, green, and blue and is based mainly on the additive color model of light waves, which states that the more color added, the closer the color becomes to white. The RGB color model serves as the foundation for all electrical displays and is the most frequently utilize model by UI designers.

Subtractive color model (CMYK)

On either hand, CMYK is the subtractive color model, as it produces colors by light subtraction. The abbreviation CMYK refers to cyan, magenta, yellow, & black, and it is mainly use during physical printing.

The Four Distinct Color Schemes

Color schemes are create by combining various color families from the color wheel. This typically works best if you adhere to one of the following color harmony schemes. These cool examples of css gradient buttons will give you idea of color schemes.


color theory

A monochromatic color scheme comprises multiple hues, tints, and saturations of the single base color. They’re coherent yet risk becoming boring.


Complementary color schemes use two hues from opposing sides of the color wheel. Due to the stark contrast between the two colors, such designs may be pretty dramatic and recognizable. Additionally, there is split complementary, in which one primary color is combine with two complementary hues.


Similar schemes use three hues that are adjacent to the color wheel. Due to the tonal similarities, such systems may produce a cohesive, united feeling without the repetition associated with monochromatic schemes.


To create a triadic color scheme, draw an equilateral triangle on the color wheel (a triangle with all three sides the same length) and pick the three colors for the triangle’s points. This results in a system that is both diversified and balanced.

Tools and Resources for Color

Given the intricacy and flexibility inherent in color design, it’s unsurprising that designers have developed a slew of tools to aid in the process. Here are a few of our personal favorites.

Adobe Color

Adobe Color is position as the “bread and butter” resource for any digital creatives. It contains nearly every color palette available. Adobe Color is far more thorough than other color scheme generators—so don’t use it as your primary color scheme generator. Among Adobe Colors’ most valuable features is a color palette generator that automatically generates palettes from the photos you input.


color theory

Coolors is a convenient and beginner-friendly color palette generator that is ideal for familiarizing yourself with HEX codes. You may browse randomly generated color palettes, experiment with different tints and hues, and save your favorite colors to create your unique palette. However, it’s even more enjoyable to experiment with their generator. Once you’ve discovered a color you adore, just copy and paste it into an external application to begin creating!

The color palette for Adobe Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator Color Guideline distinguishes itself by its widely used ‘color guide’ function. After selecting a color, the color guide will automatically build a five-color palette for you. Additionally, it will give a variety of tints and hues for each color in the palette. When you change your primary color, the color guide automatically updates the complementary colors to ensure that your accent colors are complementary.


color theory

Kuler is an Adobe-developed application that aims to make the process of creating a color palette straightforward. With a few easy clicks, any color in the palette may be changed individually or selected as the foundation color. Palettes may be saved or published, and the site features a lot of excellent community entries. On the other hand, the UI may be tricky at times; changing the brightness of a single hue might affect the palette. In general, I would suggest this tool to individuals with a firm understanding of the principles and a healthy dose of endurance for when things don’t go as planned.

Final Thoughts

If you feel as though this was a lot of information to process, have no fear! You do not have to be an expert in color theory to be a successful user interface designer. Color theory is a strict discipline to which many individuals devote their entire careers. Understanding the fundamentals of color theory will assist you in comprehending the psychology involved in selecting the ideal color palette for your website or application.