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What are the 3 main color schemes?

Color schemes are combinations of colors that are aesthetically pleasing and create visual harmony. Choosing the right color scheme is an important design consideration, as colors can evoke certain emotions, convey meaning, and direct attention. While there are endless possibilities when mixing and matching colors, most color schemes fall into three main categories: monochromatic, analogous, and complementary.


A monochromatic color scheme uses variations of a single base color. This can include different tints, tones, and shades of the color. For example, a monochromatic blue color scheme may consist of navy blue, royal blue, sky blue, and baby blue. Monochromatic color schemes promote unity and cohesion, as there is only one dominant color.

Color Hex Code
Navy Blue #000080
Royal Blue #4169E1
Sky Blue #87CEEB
Baby Blue #89CFF0

Some benefits of monochromatic color schemes:

  • Simplicity – easy to coordinate and mix and match
  • Cohesiveness – colors work together seamlessly
  • Versatility – can be adapted to suit any tone from elegant to playful

Monochromatic color schemes are commonly used in minimalist or modern designs where a clean, simple aesthetic is desired. They can also portray sophisticated elegance when done in darker or muted tones.


Analogous color schemes use colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. They usually contain one dominant color, along with others in similar hues that sit adjacent to it. Analogous color schemes create a rich, harmonious look as the colors naturally transition between each other.

For example, a green analogous scheme might include colors like yellow-green, green, blue-green, and blue. The colors have a vibrant, energizing effect while remaining balanced and unified since they are so closely related on the color wheel.

Color Hex Code
Yellow-Green #9ACD32
Green #008000
Blue-Green #008080
Blue #0000FF

Benefits of analogous color schemes:

  • Harmony – colors are compatible and pleasing together
  • Gradation – smooth, logical transitions between hues
  • Dynamic – vibrant and energizing yet balanced

Analogous colors work well in nature scenes or designs where energizing color is desired while retaining harmony. They can bring a colorful, vibrant look while remaining soothing and serene.


Complementary color schemes use colors opposite from each other on the color wheel. Common complementary pairs include red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and purple. When paired together, they create the strongest visual contrast of all the color schemes.

Complementary colors accentuate and intensify one another when placed side-by-side. This striking contrast can be jarring if not balanced well, so be sure to use one color as the dominant and the other as an accent. Complementary colors convey a fun, vibrant, and high-energy mood.

Color Hex Code
Red #FF0000
Green #00FF00

Benefits of complementary color schemes:

  • Contrast – colors are opposites and attract attention
  • Intensity – complements make each other appear brighter and more saturated
  • Vibrancy – energizing, stimulating, and fun

Complementary colors are best used when you want elements to stand out from each other. They work well in advertising, graphic design, and for highlighting important features. But use them strategically so they don’t clash.

Choosing a Color Scheme

When selecting a color scheme, consider the overall tone, look and feel you want to achieve. Here are some typical associations with each type of color scheme:

  • Monochromatic – Sophisticated, elegant, soothing
  • Analogous – Vibrant, energizing, warm
  • Complementary – Striking contrast, fun, youthful

Also think about practical factors like where the colors will be used. For example, dark monochromatic schemes may not work well for text-heavy documents. Complementary color combos are attention-grabbing and effective when used strategically, but can be jarring if overdone.

The emotions and meanings behind colors also impact the impression they give. While reactions are subjective, some common associations include:

  • Red – Passion, excitement, intensity
  • Orange – Cheerfulness, creativity, energetic
  • Yellow – Happiness, optimism, warmth
  • Green – Nature, stability, growth
  • Blue – Calm, peaceful, trustworthy
  • Purple – Sophistication, spirituality, mystery

When building a palette, use these connotations to select hues that align with your goals. With some thoughtfulness and experimentation, you can develop color schemes that suit your purpose, brand, and target audience.

Using Color Schemes Effectively

Here are some tips for implementing color schemes successfully:

  • Choose a dominant color that aligns with your brand identity or message
  • Use 60-70% dominant color, 30-40% secondary/accent colors
  • Limit to 2-4 colors for simplicity
  • Ensure enough contrast between colors
  • Use complementary colors in small doses to make them stand out
  • Try varying saturation, tone and shade of colors for visual interest
  • Apply colors consistently across branding for cohesion
  • Consider color psychology and cultural meanings of hues
  • Ensure colors work across all applications (print, digital, etc)
  • View designs in black & white to check contrast

With experience, combining colors harmoniously will become intuitive. Reference tools like color wheel cheat sheets, brand style guides, and digital or physical palettes to get ideas when first starting out.


Color schemes based on monochromatic, analogous, and complementary colors provide endless options for creating aesthetically-pleasing and meaningful color combinations. Consider the emotions, associations, and impressions you want to convey, and select dominant and accent hues that align with your goals. With experimentation and following basic color theory principles, you can develop color schemes that effectively attract attention, communicate ideas, and create visual harmony.