Which colours look good together? Life is colourful. We see colours every day in nature, we use them while choosing our outfit, painting our houses, are affected by them when buying products, looking at art, photographs, movies.

But which colours actually look good together?

The colour wheel

When white light is bent or refracted by a prism, or by water droplets to create a rainbow, it separates into a continuous gradation of colours. By making these colours into a circle, we get a colour wheel, which artists use as kind of map of the colour universe.

The first thing to notice is that the colour wheel can be sliced in half, separating warm and cool colours. Warm colours often remind us of energy and joy, while cool colours convey calmness and peace.

As we work our way in towards the centre of the wheel, we explore different tones of the same colour. (Any colour that is “greyed down” is considered a tone.) A mixture of tones can be used to convey complexity, subtlety, sophistication.

What the wheel misses is the addition of black and white:

Tints are colours with white added. Using a variety of tints often conveys a soft, youthful and soothing effect.
A shade is any colour with black added. Shades can be deep, powerful and mysterious.

It can be fun to play around with tones, tints and shades of the same colour. If you want to involve more colours, here are a few more ideas to match colours, based on the colour wheel.

Complementary colours are any two colours opposite each other on the wheel. (For example, blue and orange.) Such combinations create high contrast, so are best used when you want something to stand out. You might like to try one of the colours as the main background (or main part of your outfit) and add small accents of the other colour. You might also like to play around with different shades and tints of both of these colours.

Split complementary colours use three colours. The scheme takes one colour and matches it with the two colours adjacent to its complementary colour. (For example, blue, yellow-orange and red-orange.) This is often a nice scheme to use because there is a good contrast of colours, without the clash of the complementary colour.

Analogous colours are any three colours next to each other on the wheel. (For example, orange, yellow-orange, and yellow.) Try to focus on tints of analogous colours and avoid combining warm and cool colours in this scheme.

Triadic colours are any three colours that are equally apart on the colour wheel. For example, red, yellow and blue. The triadic scheme is high-contrast, but slightly more balanced than direct complementary colours. With this scheme, and schemes involving, even more, colours, it is best to let one colour dominate, and just have small accents of the other colours dotted around.

Choosing colours

You may already have a sense of the colours you want to use, depending on your mood, or the emotion you would like to convey. For example, you might pick bright colours if you’re feeling cheerful, or darker ones if you’re feeling sad. Or perhaps you might like to play around with the colour wheel or find inspiration in nature.

Most of all, when choosing colours, try not to overthink it. Just wear and surround yourself with the colours that you like.