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Paint with the Color Wheel

Select paint colors by using the color wheel as your guide. This tool, favored by interior designers and pros, is a no-fail way to select the perfect color combinations.

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Every decorative color pairing can be defined by where it resides on the color wheel -- a circle that organizes all hues around the basic foundation of primary colors, red, yellow, and blue. The good news is that you don't have to be a professional to benefit from the color wheel. Once you learn how to use it and its hundreds of color combinations, you'll never again be stumped about what colors to try in your home and what paint colors to choose.

When picking paint colors, the most common concern is, what goes with what? The color wheel answers that question. It's organized with red, yellow, and blue as equidistant spokes in the wheel. Colors verge between spokes. Between blue and red, for example, are the purple shades. Between blue and yellow are the green shades. You can rely on this segmentation to pick a monochromatic scheme (all shades of one color), an analogous scheme (colors next to each other on the wheel), or a complementary scheme (colors opposite each other). There is a lot of science behind the color wheel relating to the way our eyes take in and perceive colors. The clear, simple message is that these color-wheel-prescribed pairings work, and you can use them room to room, as this house shows.

Learn more about the color wheel.

Read on for more examples from the color wheel.

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Monochromatic

The easiest color scheme to understand, but perhaps the trickiest to pull off, is the one-color palette. You simply have to pick shades of the color that speaks to you. It can be hard to get right because a room filled with just one color can feel boring or overwhelming, depending on how you handle it. This bedroom shows a monochromatic palette that succeeds thanks to a variety of shades and textures. The palette sticks to the pale yellow wedge in the color wheel, but includes various tints that range from ivory to gold. A livable cream canvases the largest portion of the room, the painted walls. Then, upholstery fabrics are a slightly deeper shade of butter. Dark yellow in the duvet pattern is a lively accent that keeps the scheme from being dull. Finally, metallic silver and pale gold in the lamp base, nailhead trim, and bench add textural variety to the narrow color scheme.   

Get the Look: Monochromatic

Analogous

To build an analogous color scheme, choose among neighboring shades on the color wheel. These hues work well in conjunction with each other because they share the same base colors. The key to success for this scheme is to pick one shade as the main, or dominant, color in a room; it's the color you see the most of. Then choose one, two, or three shades to be limited-use accent hues. This living room demonstrates an analogous scheme of reds, yellows, and oranges. The dominant shade is a livable yellow paint used on the walls. Its neutral version is beige, which covers the sofa. Because red and orange pillows and artwork share the same golden undertones, they suit the yellow walls. All the hues work in harmony. Metallic accents are in line as well, with warm gold and bronze picked for frames.

Get the Look: Analogous

Complimentary

To find complementary colors, look at the wheel and choose hues that are directly across from each other. These colors work well together because they are opposites, and they balance each other visually. Blue and orange are an example of a complimentary pair. Or, a red-yellow shade like pumpkin balances a blue-green shade like teal. You can pick any shades in these complementing color wedges that appeal to you. For instance, in this bedroom, the complements are orange and blue, but the colors play out as coral and watery blue. The key is to not let one color overtake the other. Coral appears more prominently, while the blue appears in smaller doses. Other elements in the room do not tip the scales: creamy furniture and walls serve as a palette cleanser, and the wood tones are consistent with the coral.

Get the Look: Complementary

More on Color

Now that you know how colors can work together, put it into practice. Learn how to put together a color scheme.

If you're selecting several paints for the walls, ceiling, trim, and other surfaces, you'll want to make sure all the colors work well together. Check out our guide for getting the right paint color combination.

Need a little inspiration? Check out our designer color palettes.

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