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What is a tertiary color pattern?

A tertiary color pattern refers to a color scheme that combines primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. Primary colors are red, yellow and blue. Secondary colors are created by mixing two primary colors together, resulting in orange, green, and purple. Tertiary colors are created by mixing a primary color with a secondary color that is adjacent to it on the color wheel. This results in colors like yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green, and yellow-green.

How are tertiary colors created?

Tertiary colors are created by mixing a primary color with a secondary color in varying proportions. For example:

  • Red (primary) + Purple (secondary) = Red-purple (tertiary)
  • Yellow (primary) + Orange (secondary) = Yellow-orange (tertiary)
  • Blue (primary) + Green (secondary) = Blue-green (tertiary)

The tertiary color will take on qualities of both the primary and secondary colors. More of the primary color leads to a brighter, more saturated tertiary, while more of the secondary color mutes it down. Playing with different mixing ratios allows for a wide range of subtle tertiary shades.

What is the color wheel?

The color wheel is a circular arrangement of colors designed to demonstrate color relationships. The three primary colors are placed equidistant around the circle. The secondary colors are then placed in between the primary colors. Finally, the tertiary colors fill in the gaps between the primary and secondary colors.

Looking at a color wheel shows how colors relate to one another and help select color schemes. Colors that are opposite each other on the wheel are complementary colors, creating high contrast when used together. Colors that are next to each other are analogous colors, creating harmonious schemes. Triadic color schemes use three colors equally spaced around the wheel.

What are some examples of tertiary colors?

Here are some common tertiary colors and how they are created:

Tertiary Color Created By
Red-orange Red + Orange
Yellow-orange Yellow + Orange
Yellow-green Yellow + Green
Blue-green Blue + Green
Blue-purple Blue + Purple
Red-purple Red + Purple

These are just a few examples, as adjusting the mixing ratios allows for many subtle variations of tertiary shades.

What is a tertiary color pattern?

A tertiary color pattern is a color scheme that primarily uses tertiary colors. Some examples of tertiary color patterns include:

  • Analogous tertiary color scheme – Uses 3-5 tertiary colors that are adjacent on the color wheel
  • Complementary tertiary scheme – Pairs 2 complementary tertiary colors (opposite on the wheel)
  • Split-complementary tertiary – Uses a tertiary color plus the 2 tertiaries on either side of its complement
  • Triadic tertiary – Uses 3 tertiary colors equally spaced around the color wheel

Tertiary color patterns add subtle interest and vibrancy. The combination of a primary and secondary color gives tertiary schemes a sense of brightness and depth. Using multiple tertiary colors creates gradients and bridges between the colors.

What are the benefits of using a tertiary color pattern?

Some benefits of using tertiary colors in a color pattern include:

  • More variety – Allows access to a wider palette of colors
  • Subtle gradients – Tertiaries can create smooth color transitions
  • Vibrancy – Combination of primary and secondary adds brightness
  • Harmony – Tertiaries relate strongly to the color wheel for harmonious schemes
  • Nuance – Slight variations in tertiary shades add interest
  • Accessibility – Can replace primary/secondary shades to improve accessibility

Overall, tertiary color patterns inject brightness, personality, and nuance into a color palette. The subtle variations add movement and depth, taking a color scheme to the next level.

How can you create a tertiary color pattern?

Here are some tips for creating tertiary color patterns:

  1. Select a primary color to use as the foundation
  2. Identify 2-3 adjacent secondary colors on the color wheel
  3. Mix the primary color with the secondaries to form tertiary colors
  4. Experiment with different proportions to create subtle tertiary shades
  5. Arrange the tertiaries using analogous, complementary, triadic, etc. schemes
  6. Use tints and shades of the tertiaries to add depth
  7. Add neutrals like black, white, and gray to soften or ground the scheme

Start with a limited palette of no more than 5-6 tertiary colors. Use the 60-30-10 rule to select one dominant color (60%), secondary colors (30%), and accent colors (10%). Test for sufficient contrast between background and text colors.

What are examples of using a tertiary color pattern in design?

Here are some ways tertiary color patterns are used in design:

  • Graphic design – Creating brochures, posters, signage, and branding with bright, vibrant tertiary color palettes.
  • Interior design – Coordinating paint, textiles, and furnishings using an analogous or complementary tertiary scheme.
  • Landscape design – Planning gardens, parks, and outdoor spaces with tertiary colors from nature.
  • Fashion – Putting together eye-catching outfits combining tertiary hues in one palette.
  • Web design – Using split complementary tertiaries for bold accent colors against a neutral background.
  • Packaging – Making products stand out on store shelves with vibrant tertiary color combinations.

The key is balancing the vibrancy of tertiaries with enough neutrality and contrast for visual clarity and appeal. Tertiary color patterns add excitement while still providing the harmony, legibility, and accessibility needed for effective design.


Tertiary color patterns provide the visual excitement of bright primary and secondary colors combined with the nuance of soft, subtle gradients between the shades. The resulting color schemes are vibrant, harmonious, and engaging. Using the color wheel as a guide makes mixing tertiary colors and creating color patterns intuitive. With some planning and experimentation, tertiary color schemes can be incorporated into any design to take it to the next level.