What do an apple, the laws of physics, and all the colors of a rainbow have in common? You are probably thinking of an iPhone or an iPad, but there is something else these all have in common too.
– What is it that you ask?
It’s Sir Isaac Newton.
The color wheel was discovered when he studied the effects of light passing through a prism. People had initially thought that prisms actually had the capability of giving color to light. By experimenting with the distances between a prism and a screen with a small hole, Newton was able to separate a single color from the visible spectrum. To further validate that the prism did indeed have light-coloring attributes, he placed a second prism along the light’s path and found that the color remained the same.
This gave birth to Newton’s original color theory – the colors of the rainbow – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.
The color wheel is placed in a specific order for a reason because color palettes aren’t randomly chosen. There’s actually a science behind it. To better understand the color wheel, think of it as a clock.
Primary colors – 12 (red), 4 (yellow), and 8 (blue)
Secondary colors – a combination of primary colors; 2 (orange), 6 (green), and 10 (violet)
Tertiary colors – a combination of primary and secondary colors; everything else in between
Neutral colors – white, grey, and black
To find out which combinations go well together, pick out a color and spin the wheel for options. Below are a few of the most basic schemes you can choose from.
Variations of lightness (tint and shade) and saturation (hue intensity) within single color
This is the easiest, simplest and most manageable color scheme to adopt because there’s absolutely no way for you to go wrong. It produces a soothing effect because it is clean and can be very pleasant to the eyes. If you’d like to establish an overall mood to your presentation, this will be perfect. The only problem is that it lacks any contrast.
Three adjacent colors are used
This is similar to the monochromatic scheme, but offers more harmony and a richer tone. Try to avoid using too many hues as they may destroy the harmony. Just use one dominant color and have the others supplement it instead. One disadvantage of the analogous scheme, much like the monochromatic scheme, is that it lacks contrast. It’s also important to point out that there is a division between warm and cool colors and you should avoid mixing these tones together. Warm tones are from red-yellow green (12-5 o’ clock), while cooler tones are on the remaining hours of the clock.
Two colors that are the direct opposite of each other
A complementary scheme provides contrast and increases attentiveness. This works best when one color complements or accents the other such as when a warmer orange is put against a cooler blue or vice versa. When compared to the first two palettes, it’s harder to achieve a sense of balance using this scheme; especially when you’ve desaturated warm hues (tints and shades). Therefore, you should desaturate a cool color to place more emphasis on a warmer color and avoid desaturating warm hues.
A variation of complementary; use two colors adjacent to the Complementary
Using this scheme will provide an even greater contrast without the added tension from a Complementary. As with a Complementary palette, avoid desaturating warm colors. Choose one warm color against two cool colors to provide emphasis (e.g. red against yellow-green and blue-green, or yellow-orange against purple and blue).
Three colors equally spaced out
Depending on which colors you choose, a triadic scheme can come out either refined or bold. This is most favorable among designers since it offers a strong contrast while maintaining a sense of balance and harmony. However, the contrast isn’t as strong as with the Complementary variation schemes. Choose a dominant color and desaturate one cool hue to provide a variation.
Two complementary pairs
A Tetradic scheme, also referred to as a Double Complementary, is the richest among all of the schemes. This is also the hardest to balance, especially when all four colors are used equally. Try to pick a dominant color and desaturate the remaining colors.
No matter what scheme you pick, it all boils down to personal preference and what visually looks good. Remember, you can be as bold as you want in designing your slides, but make sure they are not juxtaposed on your delivery style. So, the next time you see your kids’ crayons lying around the carpet, think of how each would relate to the color wheel and how they would come out on your slides. Be inspired by everything around you and be creative!
Images were taken from Duarte, N. (2008). slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations