Science of Choosing Colors

The Color Wheel

The color wheel is the basis for all color reference. By understanding the arrangement AND the terminology, you can get off on the right foot when choosing color combinations.

Describing Color:

Hue – Described as being in the same color family.
Value – Relative lightness or darkness of a color depending on a neighboring color.
Intensity – The degree of color.

Primary colors are the pigment colors that all of the other colors are made from. These colors are blue, red, and yellow. Secondary colors are two primary colors mixed together. Tertiary colors are a primary color and a secondary color mixed together.

Color Families are groups of colors that are made from the same colors. Neutral Colors are gray , white, and black, that contain no other identifiable colors. Monochromatic colors on the wheel are one basic color (hue), but have different values (lightness (tints) or darkness (shades)).

Adjacent colors combine two or more colors located next to each other. Complementary colors are opposite each other. Red and green are complements, as are yellow-orange and blue-violet. Use a subtle color and a dominate color to avoid clashing. Triad colors are three colors that are used together, with one being the dominant color and the others being accent colors.

A four-color combination of equidistant colors, such as green, red, yellow-orange and blue-violet, is known as a “tetrad.” Enough! I can hear you say, how does this help me pick a color for my faux finishing technique!

OK, In practice, any color that lies on the opposite side of the color ring will balance and enliven your main color. Blue and orange may look harsh together, but blue works well with yellow, which is on the opposite (warm) side of the color ring. When you combine complementary colors, wander around the ring a bit. Sometimes it’s more interesting when the colors are not direct complements.

Harmonious combinations consist of colors that lie side by side on the color ring. Red, red-orange and orange are analogous (or related), and so are blue, blue-violet and violet. The key to an analogous scheme is a common color, say Yellow and related colors of yellow-green and yellow-orange.

Another basic guide to use is stay with similar intensities to link different colors. In other words, use clear colors with clear colors and grayed colors with grayed colors.

One-color combinations, referred to as monochromatic, may sound boring, but when planned well, can be serene and elegant. This is by far the safest approach when doing faux finishes. The complimentary colors can be used in your furniture and other fabrics, art work etc.

A trip to your local paint store will be a big help in selecting your colors. The color systems today are arranged so that all the working colors are grouped making it a lot easier to choose your color schemes.

Remember to start with your basic color, say you are stuck with canary yellow tile in your bathroom, or in the case of choosing a new wall color combination for a room, or a color that you like or need to work with. Decide if you are going with a monochromatic, or one color scheme, a Complementary color for a little more dramatic effect, or a Harmonious color combination, not quite as dramatic but more life than Monochromatic.

A nifty on-line tool for choosing color combinations is Flex Bon’s Java enabled color selector. Although designed for exterior color selections it is terrific for showing in real time different color combinations.

Another Great Tool is on-line thanks to Benjamin Moore Paints. You can choose your base color and your secondary color side by side. Keep changing until you have the combination you like. :-))

The names are enough to make your head spin. Choosing a paint color becomes even more baffling when you consider that most homes use at least three different shades — one for the siding and two or more for trim and accents such as doors, railings and window sashes.

A well-chosen selection of contrasting trim and accent colors can draw attention to architectural details and disguise design flaws. A poor selection can make a house seem flat and featureless — Or so garish that the color overwhelms the architecture. But, how do you decide?

Here are a few pointers to guide you as you choose house paint colors.

Historic Authenticity

If you are planning to paint an older home, you have three options.

1. You can hire a pro to analyze old paint chips and recreate the original color.
2. You can refer to historic color charts and select shades that might have been used at the time your home was built.

Or, you can fly in the face of history and choose bright modern colors to dramatize architectural details.
3. The third option can produce startling and exciting results. But before you buy 10 gallons of bubble gum pink, it’s a good idea to look at what your neighbors are doing.

Neighborhood Context

A fluorescent colored Victorian that looks splendid in San Francisco will seem wildly out of place in more conservative neighborhoods. Even if you are opting for a more subtle scheme, you’ll want to make sure that your colors are compatible with the houses next door.

Existing Colors

Your house is your canvas, but it is not blank. Some colors are already established. What color is your roof? Is there mortar or other siding that will not be painted? Will doors and railings remain their existing colors? New paint does not need to match existing colors, but it should harmonize.

Interior Colors

It may seem comical to paint entire house based on the pattern of a pillow case, but this approach does make sense. The color of your furnishings will guide you in the selection of your interior paint colors, and your interior paint colors will influence the colors you use outside. Once again, your goal is to harmonize.


Depending on the size and complexity of your home, you may be choosing two, three or as many as six colors. In addition to the color you select for siding, you’ll want to select accent colors for trim and details such as shutters, moldings and columns. This can be tricky, because too many colors will overwhelm your house and too few will make it seem two dimensional.

Darks and Lights

Light colors will make your house seem larger. Dark siding or dark bands of trim will make your house seem smaller, but will draw more attention to details. Darker shades are best for accenting recesses, while lighter tones will highlight details which project from the wall surface. On traditional Victorian homes, the darkest paint is often used for the window sashes.

Harmony and Contrast

Contrasting colors will draw attention to architectural details. But, extreme contrasts will clash and actually detract from details. To be safe, consider staying within a single color family. For some accents, try using a darker or lighter shade instead of a different color.


A burst of a single color on just one part of your home may give it a lopsided appearance. Strive to balance colors over the entire building.


The more intense a color, the more likely it is to fade. After a few years, vivid blues and deep reds will seem more subdued. Dark colors also pose more maintenance problems. Dark colors absorb heat and suffer more moisture problems than lighter shades. And because dark paint fades, it’s difficult to touch up.


You thought you only had to pick colors? Sorry! In addition, you’ll also need to decide on the sheen of your paint — glossy, semi-gloss or flat. The glossier the surface, the more likely it is to show imperfections, brush strokes and touch up marks. On the other hand, glossy surfaces are easier to clean. Many homeowners opt to use flat paint for walls and semi-gloss or glossy paint for columns, railings and window sashes.

Color Deceptions

Color swatches look very different when they are brought out of the store and viewed in natural sunlight. Also, colors appear lighter on large surfaces than they do on small samples. It’s best to test your selected color in one area before buying gallons.

More on the Color Wheel…

The color wheel is divided into three categories: primary, secondary, and tertiary. The three primary colors are red, yellow and blue. These colors are considered to be foundation colors because they are used to create all other colors.

By combining two of the primary colors, three secondary colors are formed. They are orange, green and violet. The six tertiary colors are made by combining a primary and an adjacent secondary color. These colors are red-orange, red-violet, yellow-green, yellow-orange.

colorwheel - Science of Choosing Colors

coolwarm - Science of Choosing Colors Colors are also divided into cool and warm categories. The cool colors are green, blue and violet. Warm colors are red, orange and yellow. A tint of a color is made by adding white. A shade is made by adding black. tintshade - Science of Choosing Colors

Color Schemes

Related Schemes

Monochromatic – This color scheme uses a single hue. (example: red and its varying tints and shades)
Analogous – This scheme uses adjacent hues. (example: red, red-orange, and red-violet)

Contrasting Schemes

Complementary –complements - Science of Choosing Colors If two hues are opposite each other on the color wheel they are considered to becomplementary colors. When used together in a design they make each other seem brighter and more intense. (example: red and green)
This color scheme uses three colors: any hue and the two adjacent to its complement. (example: red, yellow-green, and blue-green) Split complementary – splitcomp - Science of Choosing Colors
Triadic – This scheme also uses three colors. They are evenly spaced from each other. (example: red, yellow, and blue)

Discordant Schemes

This color scheme uses two pairs of complements. (example: yellow and violet, blue and orange) Double complement –doubcomp - Science of Choosing Colors
Alternate complement –altcomp - Science of Choosing Colors This scheme uses four colors: a triad and a complement to one of the hues. (example: red, yellow, blue and violet)
This scheme uses four colors evenly spaced on the color wheel. Tetrad –tetrad - Science of Choosing Colors

If you’re looking for a Professional House Painter or Professional House Painting Contractor in the Port Orange or Daytona Beach FL area, look no further. Licensed and Insured: Florida State, LLC # L07000061421 Contact Jeffrey Whitmer by email [email protected] or phone (386) 214-5329