Adjacent Colors

Try adjacent colors on the color wheel for a graphic design

Color Wheel
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On the color wheel, colors that are located next to each other are called adjacent colors. In graphic design, adjacent colors are good choices to use together because they harmonize with one another and they work well together. For example, adjacent colors green, yellow-green and yellow harmonize with each other. So do purple and reddish-purple and red. Each adjacent color has a little touch of the other colors.

The green has yellow in it, and purple has a touch of red.

Small color wheels don't show all the intermediate color shades. A too-basic-for-designers color wheel shows yellow and red as adjacent colors, but if you expand the wheel, you'll see the orange colors that come between them. 

Analogous Color Harmony

Of the several types of color harmonies, analogous harmony uses three to five shades of adjacent colors. The trio of red, red-orange and orange is considered an analogous harmonizing trio of adjacent colors. The selection of red, red-orange, orange, yellow-orange and yellow is also an analogous harmony. Analogous harmonies are made of colors that sit next to one another on the color wheel.

List of Harmonizing Color Schemes

Harmonizing color schemes are simple, but they can make a strong impression in graphic designs. There are 12 basic 3-color harmonizing color schemes:

  • Red, red-orange and orange
  • Red orange, orange and yellow-orange
  • Orange, yellow-orange and yellow
  • Yellow-orange, yellow and yellow-green
  • Yellow, yellow-green and green
  • Yellow-green, green, blue-green
  • Green, blue-green and blue
  • Blue-green, blue and purple
  • Blue, blue-purple and purple
  • Blue-purple, purple and red-purple
  • Purple, red-purple and red
  • Red-purple, red and red-orange

The color wheel is simply a jumping-off tool. These simple color schemes only give you a start on a design. Once you find the harmonizing color scheme that works for your design, you'll spend time looking at charts that may contain hundreds of ink colors (for print) or web colors (for websites) to select just the right shade or tint of the basic color to use in your design. Trust your design instincts to pick the shade that looks right to you. Stay away from using your adjacent colors at the same brightness levels though. Usually dialing the intensity of one or more of the colors back works better in a design. 

When Harmony Isn't the Goal

What if instead of having all your colors harmonize, you want something to jump out at the reader. Then you want to select a color opposite one of your harmonizing colors on the color wheel. The color opposite yellow is blue. Blue is called a complementary color to yellow. The term complementary means they work well together, but they are not close in color. In fact, they have nothing in common. They provide a striking effect when used together, but one that gets attention.