Colour theory: A jargon-free designer's guide

A representation of three colour spaces in colour theory
(Image credit: MirageC via Getty Images)

Colour theory is one thing that all artists and designers need to have an understanding of. Colour often becomes an intuitive choice for many, but understanding how colour is formed and the relationships between colours, can help you use colour more effectively in your designs and pick the right palette for your projects. Understanding colour spaces is also vital for anyone doing digital work.

You'll probably recall some of the basics of colour theory from school. There are three primary colours – red, yellow, and blue – and any colour can be created by mixing these three colours in varying quantities. But it turns out this isn't quite the whole story (although it's still workable enough to be taught to five-year-olds). In this guide, we'll walk through what you need to know about colour theory, explaining some of the jargon and design terms that come up along the way.

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Sam Hampton-Smith

Sam is a designer and illustrator based in Scotland, UK. He splits his time between art and design, motion and video and writing for various creative titles. He has written a book about web design, Pro CSS3 Layout Techniques and contributed to typography book, Fonts and Typefaces Made Easy.

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