Color Theory and Website Design Cover Image


Color theory is a fundamental concept used by web and graphic designers alike.

Ever wondered how interior designers create color schemes for their rooms?

You can be sure they are using their knowledge of color theory.

Knowing just a small amount about this subject will help you in many more ways than you might realize.

I have written this article to give you an introduction to color theory, in particular for its use in web design.

I’ll be covering some common terms associated with color theory in addition to examples of websites that utilize different colours to portray different meanings.

Color Wheel

Color Wheel - color theory

The color wheel, also known as the color circle, is an arrangement of colors based on their hues.

The color wheel is designed to show different colors’ relationships i.e. primary, secondary, tertiary (I’ll be explaining these terms in the next section).

Artists and designers alike have used the color wheel at one time or another to create various design schemes for a wide variety of projects.

This is why it is important to familiarize yourself with the concept of color theory and the terms associated with it.

You can make use of your newly acquired knowledge in the fields of web design and graphic design.

You could even use it to give you inspiration for a color scheme for a room in your house; be it the bedroom that hasn’t been painted since you moved in or the living room that has become a truly boring place to be.

Color Categories

Color theory divides colors into categories such as primary, secondary and tertiary (which we mentioned above).

Below I have explained each category including how they are formed and examples of each category:


Consist of red, yellow and blue.

These are defined as colors that cannot be formed from any combination of other colors.


Consist of green, purple and orange.

These colors are formed from the mixture of two primary colors. For example: mixing red and blue produces purple etc.


These colors are formed by mixing together a primary and a secondary color.

For example: mixing yellow with green produces yellow-green.

Color Terms

In order to familiarize yourself further with color theory there are some common terms that you’ll frequently come across.

Here I’ve made a list of the most common ones with an explanation of each one:


Hue is the term given to each color of the spectrum.

Another way of thinking about it is that hues are colors that have not been mixed with white or black.


A tint is a color or hue that has white added to it in varying degrees to make it lighter.


The opposite of a tint, a shade is a hue/color that has black added to it in varying degrees making it darker in color.


In the middle of these two terms, a tone is a hue/color that is mixed with grey.

Color Schemes

Now that you’ve become more familiar with color theory, it’s time to learn it’s applications in deciding color schemes.

Color schemes are used to create a palette from which web and graphic designers work within to create their web designs, their posters, logos and other designs.


Monochromatic color schemes are formed using a single hue/color of different tints and shades.

These colors go well together and are appealing to the eye.

These types of color schemes are used to create balance and simplicity while looking clean and elegant.

However, a drawback of this scheme is the lack of emphasis on any particular color which results in a lack of contrast which can be a deterrent if you wish some aspects, of your website for example, to stand out.


A complementary color scheme is achieved by choosing two hues/colors on opposite ends of the color wheel.

These color schemes produce high contrasting results which attracts users visually.

Contrasting warm and cold colors works very well for creating contrast.

For example: by choosing a color scheme of a warm red color and a cool green color you create a vibrant, dramatic effect.

That said, it is not wise to use a complementary scheme in large amounts in particular with text; a green background with red text on your website will make your audience wince and leave your site as quickly as they have arrived.


A triadic color scheme is formed by choosing three hues/colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel.

This type of color scheme offers a vibrant and contrasting result while still retaining a form of balance and harmony.

To best make use of this color scheme in your designs it is wise to have one dominating color that is used more than the other two colors.


Analogous color schemes are created by using hues/colors that are located next to each other on the color wheel.

This is a particularly harmonious color scheme.

While it is similar to the monochromatic color scheme it produces richer results when used effectively.

As these colors are beside each other on the color wheel they match well and provide little contrast.

Again it is recommended with this color scheme that you choose one dominant color and leave the other two for accents.

Colors – their meanings and website examples


blue color palette
Via Canva’s color palette generator


Blue is seen as a trustworthy and dependable color.

The use of blue can create a sense of order.

Research has found blue to be the most popular color used in design for education.

Lots of professional companies choose blues not only in their websites but in their logos also.

Think about it: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Skype, Behance, Mashable.

What do all of these have in common? The color blue!


green color palette
Via Canva’s color palette generator


Green is seen as a tranquil and refreshing color.

It is also seen as a sign of growth, healing, abundance and prosperity.

Shades of green are used to create a balanced and harmonizing effect.

As a result of greens being associated with nature and vitality it is a popular choice for health and beauty.


yellow color palette
Via Canva’s color palette generator


Yellows convey happiness, energy and optimism.

It can also spark creativity and stimulate the mind.

Yellows are bright and energizing warm colors.

Because of the vibrancy of yellow, it can be hard on the eyes if used in large amounts and consequently is seldom used as a dominant website color.


red color palette
Via Canva’s color palette generator


Shades of red can have many connotations if you think about it.

Danger signs are red to keep us away from certain things that could harm us.

The red traffic light means STOP.

Red also encourages action and confidence.

Using red in web design to make certain important areas stand out can work to great effect if not over used.


black color palette
Via Canva’s color palette generator


Black symbolizes a number of things such as elegance, strength, formality and authority.

Many websites use black in their web designs to great effect.

They use black to convey a sense of luxury and professionalism.


white color palette
Via Canva’s color palette generator


White is a clean and neutral color.

It can indicate cleanliness in medical type websites and simplicity in technological websites.

Some web designers use little color other than white to create very professional looking websites.


So that covers the very basiscs of color theory to get you started with your next design project. Creating an effective color palette to work from will result in a more professional and appealing design.

I hope you found this article useful and if you have any comments or questions, just let me know.

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