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How to use a colour wheel

A colour wheel is designed to help simplify colour selection, allowing you to work with basic colour scheme guidelines, such as complementary, split complementary and analogous, to quickly develop colour schemes.

Resene Colour Wheel

The best way to create colour harmony is with a colour wheel. The wheel was developed from the colour spectrum and helps decorators and designers co-ordinate colour and develop different types of schemes.

Sir Isaac Newton created the first colour wheel hundreds of years ago by splitting white sunlight into red, orange, yellow, green, cyan, and blue, then connected the ends of the colour spectrum together to demonstrate natural colour progression.

A century later Johann Wolfgang Goethe studied the psychological effect of colours and discovered that some colours gave a feeling of warmth and others a feeling of coolness. Using these results he created a colour wheel based on the psychological effect of each colour with one side being the plus side of red, orange and yellow and the other side being the minus side of green, violet and blue.

Colour theory was developed further by Johannes Itten, a Swiss colour and art theorist at the Bauhaus. He modified the colour wheel using red, yellow and blue as the primary colours and modified these further to twelve hues including secondary and tertiary colours.

The Resene colour wheel, introduced some years ago and still available today, works on the same theories as those developed by Johannes Itten.

The twelve hue wheel is divided into the three colour areas below:

Monochromatic colour scheme


A one-colour scheme can incorporate several values of that colour to keep it from looking monotonous. Various textures can help enhance the single colour scheme.

Related/analogous colour scheme


This scheme uses three to five colours and includes one of the three primary colours. The related/analogous colours are the colour segments showing on either side of the primary colour. Varying the value and intensity of the colours is beneficial.

Complementary colour scheme


These schemes use colours that are opposite each other on the wheel, such as blue green and red orange. The result is usually vibrant and lively. It works best if one colour dominates and the other serves as contrast.

Triadic colour scheme


This scheme uses three colours that are equidistant on the colour wheel, such as red orange, yellow green and blue violet. One colour can be used as the dominant colour and the other two as accents.

Split complementary colour scheme

Split complementary

This scheme is one that uses any colour from the colour wheel in combination with the two colours that are directly on either side of the colour opposite the one chosen, such as blue and violet with yellow orange.

Achromatic colour scheme


These are colours in the white through to black range. Achromatic schemes are restrained and sophisticated.

Resene colour wheels are available from Resene ColorShops or order your copy from our online shop.


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Welcome to our World of Colour!™
Colours shown on this website are a representation only. Please refer to the actual paint or product sample. Resene colour charts, testpots and samples are available for ordering online.   See measurements/conversions for more details on how electronic colour values are achieved.

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