The Basics – Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Colours

Red, Blue and Yellow are the primary colours and we will remember this from our early years at school. These colours are so important as they cannot be achieved by mixing other colours – in their purest form they stand alone.

Secondary colours are made by combining two of these colours. Orange is created by mixing red with yellow, green is made by combining yellow and blue and purple comes about by mixing red and blue.

The decorator colours come next.  These are the tertiary colours which as they are more complex become more interesting and muted.  The Olive and Caramel range of colours is created by combing orange and green.  The Terracotta and Rust range which is so natural is achieved by combining purple and orange and the slate range, the most contemporary of the tertiary colour range comes about by mixing green and purple together.

Tints, Shades and Muted tones

Of course with all these colours we can manipulate them further by adding varying degrees of white to tint the hue or black to shade the colour. This process makes them easier to use in any form of design. A bright primary red becomes a soft tone of pastel pink or a deep rich exotic shade. All of these colours can be muted further by adding varying degrees of a neutral grey or they can be combined with the complementary colour to create fabulous rich colours, perfect for interior decorating.

You can see from starting here with a bright zingy Lime what happens when we shade with black and tint with white.

Colour Palette Rules

There are certain rules to follow for creating a successful colour palette. Resene Paints has an excellent website which is a great source of information.The following illustrations are from their resources and show paints from their vast colour library.


These are the simplest colour palettes of all. You take one colour and then use it with various different tints and shades. This can be very effective as you can create a palette that has great tonal variation, for example black and white.Although these palettes can be very striking they can appear a little one dimensional and it is important with these schemes to introduce varying textures to complete the look.


These colour palettes are one step up from the monochromatic palette as you can select one or two colours adjacent on the colour wheel to the main colour. Of course you can then employ tints and shades to complete the palette. For example you may select a mid green as the starting point and introduce teals and navy colours into the scheme.


The opposite colours on the colour wheel are described as complementary. For example in the most tramadol online illinois basic format, purple and yellow; red and green; and blue and orange are all complementary colour schemes. These colours naturally work very well together however it is most important that they are combined in an 80/20 ratio. One colour must be the dominant hue in the colour scheme with the complementary colour being an accent.

Split Complementary

These colour schemes are similar to the above but you start with one colour, for example purple and you use a warm yellow with orange undertones and a cool yellow on the cusp of green to complement it.


This colour palette is the most adventurous of all as you take three colours which are equidistant on the colour wheel. As with complementary colour schemes, one colour must be the dominant one with the other two colours remaining as accents in the scheme.

Warm and Cool Colours

The colour wheel is split into warm and cool colours. Yellows can contain more green, making them cool yellows or they may have more orange in which case they will be warm. Orange is most definitely a warm colour, bright and convivial it is an excellent choice to warm up a living space. Reds of course are warm colours, evoking passion and excitement but once they move towards purple they can be cooler which is a good rule to remember if you want to use a rich red but in a warmer space. As with yellow, the colour purple can be warm if it contains more red, or cool if it contains more blue. A mid blue is a navy which can become teal if more green is added to the colour. Green is the coolest of all the hues as it is right in the middle of the cool side of the colour wheel. A great colour for meditation purposes as they eye doesn’t need to adjust to see it.

One of the most important items to consider when selecting a colour scheme for a space is the aspect of the area.  If it faces north or west and is light and open then a cooler colour scheme will be preferable.  Conversely a south or east facing room will need a warmer palette to make it more inviting.

You can see from these two images from Resene the dramatic effect that using either a cool colour scheme or a warm colour scheme creates in the same room.  These colours really dictate the mood of the space and this is very important to consider when you are decorating.  Imagine how you want to feel when using the space, calm and serene or warm and cosy?  Cool colours also recede making a space appear larger and warm colours generally advance, again creating a cosy and intimate space.

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