Complementary Colors

Colors which balance or complete each other, that is, when complementary color rays are combined they produce white, and when complementary color pigments are mixed their chroma is changed and they neutralize, or gray each other. Placed side by side they enhance each other by contrast. Complements are found opposite in the color circle. See diagram which is suggested by the sequence of the spectrum (Fig. 29).

White is a pigment representing the highest value or light.

Black is a pigment representing the lowest value or darkness absorbing all light.

Fig. 29.   Color complements.

Fig. 29. - Color complements.

Gray is an impure form of white, therefore, neutral. It is a mixture of the opposites, black and white, or of pigments of opposite hues, which always neutralize each other.

The color couples or complements are (in hues) : Green and red-purple ; blue and yellow-red; purple and green-yellow; red and blue-green ; yellow and purple-blue.

When these pairs are tested by the Maxwell discs they approximate white as nearly as pigments can. Maxwell color discs are discs of the standard colors made with a radial slit in order that one may be placed over another with varying degrees of area. The discs are used on a wheel, which, being spun rapidly, produces the effect of combining the color rays. It is used to test the relative proportion of different colors in combinations.

Plate I

Commercial and theoretical notation of colored samples

Commercial and theoretical notation of colored samples

Pure Color

Any color of high intensity or chroma.

Standard Color

A color as it appears in the spectrum, at its maximum; (it is only approximated in pigments).


The general effect of a color or group of colors, the result of the combination of hue, value and chroma. This is a much misused term.


A high value of a color, that is, near white and above the value of the standard hue.


A low value of a color, that is, near black and below the value of the standard hue; a term commonly misused to indicate hue.

Warm Color

Color which gives a sensation of warmth. Colors containing red and yellow.

Cold Colors

Opposites of warm colors or those containing blue. The color sensation of green is neither warm nor cold unless combined with yellow or blue.


A gradated series of values, etc., by comparison with which the degree of a quality may be established.

Color Scheme

A selected group of colors. Used interchangeably with the term color harmony.

It is only by actual experience in the use of the mediums of an art that one can understand that art. Although the exercises in color may be limited, they are essential in order to develop the faculties of seeing color and appreciating its use. This is accomplished by analysis and synthesis. Let us proceed from definitions to problems consisting of exercises and plates.