Complementary Triad Color Schemes


Complementary Triad Color Wheel

A Complementary Triad Color Scheme is a three color variation of a simple Triad Color Scheme.

Just as the name implies, start with any two Complementary Hues directly across from each other. Then choose your third color halfway between the two in either a clockwise or counterclockwise direction.

It still forms a triangle shape, but only uses one half of the Basic Color Wheel.

There are 12 possible combinations in a Complementary Triad Color Scheme as you rotate around the wheel.

Twelve choices multiplied by three points of view totals -
36 unique palettes!

Choosing one of your three complimentary triad colors to be the dominant, 'Mother Color' completely changes the overall effect.

For example, a Red + Yellow/Orange + Green color plan will be much different than a Green + Yellow/Orange + Red color plan. Even though you are using the same three colors, the overall palette will change as the emphasis is placed on mixtures with an alternate Mother Color as its root.

Example of a Complementary Triad Color Scheme


Complementary Triad Color Scheme Swatch

Here Red has been selected as the Mother Color.

Directly across the Color Wheel is its Complement Green. Clockwise halfway from Green is Yellow/Orange to give you the third choice in the threesome.

Red + Green = Khaki Green or Brownish Red
Red + Yellow/Orange = Bright Orange
Red + Green + Yellow/Orange = Warm Brown

A Complementary Triad palette is fairly easy to harmonize. Two pairs of Hues are always relatively close to each other so they go well together. In our example, Red is only two spots away from Yellow/Orange. Green is also only two spots away from Yellow/Orange.

Since the third pair Red and Green are Complementary Colors, you are able to create beautiful neutrals which go well with either of the other two colors.

In this paint swatch example, you can see how adding a tiny drop of the Red Mother Color to its Complementary Green immediately neutralizes the brightness. If you ever want to tame down any color that is too bright, simply add a TINY drop of its complementary color.

Notice when you add the Red to Yellow/Orange, you simply brighten things up because they are so close to begin with.

The warm Neutral Brown to the right of the Red is a combination of the three colors and will always be a harmonious neutral.

If you wanted to reduce the brightness of the newly created Orange on the bottom row, simply add a tiny drop of Green. This will automatically begin to shift the brightness toward Brown because the new Orange contains Red.

Remember that you can extend your range of paint colors even further by adding various amounts of White, Black or Grey to create Tints, Shades or Tones.

Painting Tips for Complementary Triad Color Schemes

  1. A handy rule of thumb is to use neutralized colors for about 60% of the area. Then use mid-intensity color for about 30% and bright accents for about 10%.
  2. Use the Mother Color method to harmonize by adding a TINY drop of it to every mixture.
  3. Always remember to make one of your colors dominant by using it for the largest areas.
  4. Use various intensities of that dominant color, by adding different proportions of the two other hues. Then vary the values by adding white to lighten or black to darken and grey to tone down.
  5. For contrasting accents, choose one or both of the non-dominant color. Make sure it has a tiny bit of the dominant Mother Color mixed in to soften it a touch. Otherwise these accents will jump out to the eye a bit too much.
  6. Experiment with various balance of mixtures on a piece of paper or in your sketchbooks before you start working on a project. It will give you a better feel of the full range of colors you can achieve.

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Check out these Color Schemes


Near Complementary

Split Complementary


Modified Triad

Rectangular Tetrad
Square Tetrad
Adjacent Tetrad
Analogous Complementary